Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The passage in "Crime and Punishment", by Fyodor Dostoevsky
which best represents the rest of the story is found in
Part Five, Chapter IV, page 350, second to last paragraph.
At this point in the story, Raskolnikov has revealed to
Sonya that he is the murderer, and is trying to explain to
her his reasons for this action. He tells her of his theory
that if one has the ability to do a monumental action, and
only the lives of a few people stand in the way of this
goal, then it is permissible to end the lives of those
Raskolnikov refers to two types of people in his theory.
The first type are regular humans, who must abide by the
rules that are set for them by the laws of nature and of
man. There is, however, a second type of people who do not
have to live by these rules. These are the Superhumans, who
are destined to do amazing things, and therefore cannot be
restricted by any petty laws. It is in this second group
which Raskolnikov places himself.
In order to complete his destiny of doing a great thing,
Raskolnikov needs three thousand rubles, which he does not
have because he is poor. In his town of St. Petersburg
there is a moneylender who is very mean and whom
Raskolnikov views as a bane on humanity. He fosters the
idea that by killing her and taking her money, not only
could he raise the necessary funds, but he could also rid
the earth of such a horrible person.
Raskolnikov compares himself to such people as Alexander
the Great and Napoleon. He tells of how they had to kill
some innocent people in order to achieve their goals, just
as he has to kill the moneylender. In the aforementioned
passage, he explains to Sonya that Napoleon would never
have even thought of such minute details as innocent
people, because he was always totally focused on the major
picture at hand.
In addition to this point, Raskolnikov also says that had
Napoleon had to kill this woman, "he would have strangled
her, without giving her a moment to speak, and without a
moment's hesitation." What this means is Napoleon would not
have looked upon this murder as a sin, but rather would
have thought it to be a great opportunity. Moreover he
would not bother to hear the woman's complaints or
reasoning, for they would be insignificant coming from such
an un-monumental person.
This passage does more, however, than explain Raskolnikov's
theory, it also tells why Raskolnikov failed to "fulfill
his destiny." For as he is talking to Sonya, he realizes
that he is not one of the Superhumans, for he was not able
to overlook the fact that he took someone else's life. This
is the real point that Dostoevsky is trying to make.
The theory is not something that anyone can use. One
cannot, as Raskolnikov did, call himself a Superhuman just
because he thinks he is. So Dostoevsky is saying that
virtually every human being in history is only a "normal
human," and that only a handful of people in history will
be able to overlook human life in pursuit of a goal.
Raskolnikov is an example of an extremely smart person who
is unable to achieve the next level, and can only get a
glimpse what it is like.
Dostoevsky is sending a message with this story. It seems a
little corny, but he is telling the reader that it is
impossible to murder without having any remorse. He knows
this because it was with this story that he tried to do it,
yet he failed. So Dostoevsky is telling the common,
intellectual reader who might have some Napoleonic-like
dreams that it cannot be done. This story is an anti-murder
story, and this passage is the crux of it.
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