Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic, Crime and Punishment, and Vladimir Paral’s Lovers and Murderers describe a world of murder, dejection and profound human unhappiness. The two authors explore moral abjection and the destiny of mankind, as ruled by lust, jealousy and immoral instincts. As it shall be seen however, the two novels differ considerably in the way in which they treat the subject of crime, as well as in their point of view and the tone of the narrative.
Thus, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is centered on the idea of moral ambiguity. The Russian author uses an omniscient point of view in order to recount Rodyon Raskolnikov’s experiences before and after he commits the murder. The tone of the narrative is serious and meditative, as questions of morality and justice are interspersed throughout the events and dialogues in the novel. Vladimir Paral’s Lovers and Murderers treats the theme of murder in conjunction with that of love.
The narrative enters a world full of promiscuity and violence, focusing on a great number of characters and the interactions among them. Unlike Dostoevsky’s book that focuses on the portrait and experiences of the main character, Paral’s work is concerned with the plurality of voices. Moreover, the point of view shifts frequently from the omniscient narrator to the first person narrative, sometimes within the same phrase. Lovers and Murderers is a grotesque mosaic, with a discontinuous narrative and a satiric tone.
While Dostoevsky’s work raises questions of morality and social justice, Paral’s novel represents the spectacle of human life with resignation. There is no ethical conclusion to Paral’s analysis of human life and character: he chooses to describe the dynamic of humanity in its bleakest and most ironic aspects. For Dostoevsky, human life is also full of coincidences and accidents. Although, the limit between right and wrong is relative, ultimately, the novel emphasizes the belief in punishment and redemption.
In Paral’s novel, there is no clear delimitation between innocence and guilt: the characters are all fanatics, consumed by passions, jealousy and greedy cravings. Significantly, love and violence intermingle throughout the novel, marking the majority of the relationships among different characters. Paral shows therefore that human interaction is never completely innocent: people devour and are devoured sadistically by destructive relationships. Instead of ending in union and harmony, each affair ends in destruction and crime.
In Crime and Punishment there is the possibility of salvation and the triumph of love. Lovers and Murderers shows murder to be the companion of love, with no possibility for moral cleansing. Both novels therefore analyze morality in the context of the dynamics of society, emphasizing the interactions among different characters but with different conclusions. Sin and morality are seen as paradoxes in Dostoevsky’s work, but, ultimately sins can be redeemed after having been committed.
Paral’s novel illuminates the tableau of human relationships and the relativity of moral principles very differently: all the characters are fallen men and women, who abuse or are abused by others. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is concerned primarily with moral paradoxes, exemplified through the stories of various characters. The central story, that of Raskolnikov, is paradoxical. The protagonist is an extremely poor student, who struggles with his enormous debts to his landlady and with constant hunger and misery.
A proud and noble character, Raskolnikov is tormented by his unjust and humiliating social standing. Despite his intelligence, he lives poorly and is constantly besieged by material concerns. As the novel opens, Raskolnikov has already developed the philosophy that would lead him to murder: he muses that there are superior men who should be able to punish others for their sins. Interestingly therefore, the murder is intended as a punishment of the mean pawnbroker, in the name of social justice.
The first part of the novel captures Raskolnikov’s inner tension as he struggles to discern right from wrong. There follows the critical moment of the actual, double murder and afterwards his punishment and final redemption. The cyclical nature of his experience is symbolic: Dostoevsky points here to the paradoxes of morality. Raskolnikov’s act of murder is in itself meant as a punishment and may seem right in its context. To enhance the ambiguity however, Dostoevsky arranges for a double murder: the circumstances force the protagonist to kill Lizaveta as well, the pawnbroker’s innocent sister.
The novel offers yet other instances of moral ambiguity, such as the saintly and innocent Sonia who is forced to become a prostitute in order to earn money and save her hungered family: “And then I saw, young man, I saw Katerina Ivanovna, in the same silence go up to Sonia’s little bed; she was on her knees all the evening kissing Sonia’s feet, and would not get up, and then they both fell asleep in each other’s arms … together, together… yes … and I … lay drunk” (Dostoevsky 30).
Her mother in law, who had previously maltreated her, is now grateful and reverent towards the girl. Sacrifice and generosity are therefore accepted and appreciated in the novel. Her father, Marmeladov, is another example of moral equivocalness: a hopeless drunk, he is a good man who loves his family yet cannot conquer his own vice in order to save them. Marmeladov’s employer also acts generously, although he does so in vain: he offers him his job back, despite his dependence on alcohol, out of pity for his family.
Throughout the novel, morality is questioned, but there is sufficient evidence of the existence of good alongside with evil. The ambiguity that Crime and Punishment describes is one of form rather than substance. In Paral’s Lovers and Murderers morality is permanently mixed with sin. Women and men, coming from the dregs of society as well as from its highest ranks, live in utter disorder and promiscuity. Innocence and guilt are neither relative nor circumstantial. Significantly, the book is divided in numerous fragments bearing two alternative titles: “Conquerors” and “Besieged”.
In Paral’s vision, the world is not divided in right and wrong, but rather in abusers and abused. These basic roles are moreover easily interchangeable. The relationships seemed to be weighed on a scale, which always tips in favor of one of the partners. The relationship between Alex Serafin and Dasa is a relevant example: Alex conquers and even enslaves the rich woman but he is eventually rejected by the same woman that seemed totally dependent on him. The world of the inhabitants of building 2000 is devoid of moral principles and reasoning.
The men and women are driven only by impulses of self-gratification. Their affairs are violent and each partner, either abused or abusive, derives selfish pleasure from the communion. Love is rapacious, lustful and possessive: “Love is prey and everyone longs for his own destruction – let’s not want them to expose the necks themselves…”(Paral 187). If Raskolnikov’s world is marked by sin and punishment, Paral’s characters pursue their own pleasure and interests without having to pay for their deeds.
Raskolnikov murders the two women in his pursuit of justice, without deriving any personal gain from the deed, despite having found a considerable fortune in the ladies’ flat. In Paral’s novel, murder is only perpetrated as a crime of passion. In the case of Borek and Zita, murder is even gratuitous. The comparison between their story and that of Julien Sorel and Madame de Renal in Stendhal’s Red and Black, is extremely significant. While in Stendhal’s morality is extensively explored, Borek and Zita’s affair is devoid of any compunctions of guilt despite the fact that Zita is a married woman.
The line between love and murder is very thin: one of the partners is always the hunter who chases his victim. The moment when Borek finally conquers Zita and possesses her body is very relevant. The man feels that, instead of loving thoughts he develops murderous ones, without being able to discern between the two categories anymore: “I realized I was standing there like a murderer, insane because as a murderer I could not act otherwise, even though I had come as a lover, like a murderer or a lover, insane because I no longer saw any difference” (Paral 188).
If Crime and Punishment discusses moral ambiguity, Lovers and Murderers comments on the ambiguity of love and murder. Sexuality is always mixed with sadism and violence in Paral’s novel, so as to emphasize the fact that love is in fact abusive and possessive rather than disciplined and saintly. Marriage itself is a failure in the novel. An early scene in the novel points to the ultimate moral degradation of the characters. Thus, the poor working woman Madda pays a visit to Frank in his rich and sumptuous apartment.
When he asks her to put on a wedding dress as part of the ritual of lovemaking, the woman muses on her previous sexual degradation: “…and you don’t have to apologize for madman anything, my earlier lovers wouldn’t even take my clothes off, or even their own, a white wedding dress to church; I’ve made love with the dirty strap of contemptible overalls between our bodies” (Paral 32). Ironically however, her romantic hopes are bitterly deceived by her heartless partner.
Instead of offering the wedding dress as a symbol for love and purity, he uses it as part of a humiliating trick: when Madda is dressed and kneeling before him, Frank’s wife enters the room and it becomes clear that the woman was only used as amusement by the rich couple. In Paral’s world the beautiful dreams disintegrate very fast. Lovers and Murderers shows that moral choices and principles have to be settled among people and thus no intention or action is definitely pure.
Raskolnikov acts in the name of a higher principles, which he sees as commanding: “I didn’t kill a human being, but a principle! I killed the principle, but I didn’t overstep, I stopped on this side…. I was only capable of killing” (Dostoevsky 389). Raving with a guilty conscience, Raskolnikov tries to convince himself of the moral justifications of his deed. He didn’t kill another human being, his violence was directed solely against an erroneous principle. Besides Raskolnikov, the novel abounds in generous characters.
For instance, Dounia, Raskolnikov’s sister is willing to sacrifice her own happiness in a marriage she does not desire, in order to help her family. When the same Dounia is accused of trying to attract her employer and make him commit adultery, she escapes by her own generosity and nobility. Moreover, it is the employer’s wife that actually mends the girl’s reputation after having marred it, by showing the proof of her innocence to the world. There is no redemption and generosity in Paral’s novel.
The characters act upon their personal interests, without considering each others’ feelings. The life that the characters lead is the life of a jungle, where there are no rules other than personal survival and gratification: “They live only for the fulfillment of their eternal appetites: like animals running free in a jungle. For pleasure alone: like the courtiers of Louis XV” (Paral 164). People are not concerned with judgments of value and with ethical principles. Paral introduces his readers to the psychological jungle of humanity, where people follow only their instincts.
In Crime and Punishment, on the other hand, Dostoevsky explores sin and crime from a religious and ethical perspective. As critic Alfred Bem notes, Dostoevsky proceeds from the idea of a feeling of the original sin present in all minds: “To understand Dostoevsky’s thought one must allow for the presence in the human psyche of a feeling of sinfulness as such, independent of the existence of any concrete crime–what we might call the feeling of original sin. … We can assume, then, that the feeling of sin, of guilt can be present in the psyche unaccompanied by any consciousness of crime” (Bem 59).
Hence comes the moral ambiguity of the characters: however saintly in their morality and character, they can succumb to sin because the seed is already planted in the human psyche. Paral’s world is also dominated by sinfulness, but, in this case, the characters lose their nobility. They are all fallen, abject people, who live by their instincts rather than by principles. Moreover, Raskolnikov performs an experiment more than an actual murder. He wants to apply his philosophical theory to reality and see its effects.
Dostoevsky captures here the essence of humanity and its inherent rejection of murder. Ultimately, Raskolnikov is unable to commit his crime in complete cold bloodedness, despite the solidness of his arguments and theory: “Perhaps no work of literature presents so graphically a man testing and living, psychologically and even physiologically, a theory. Raskol’nikov’s theory, it will be remembered, is that crime is accompanied by sickness, by a loss of willpower and self-control, unless it is committed for sufficient reason by an ‘extraordinary man,’ in which case it is ‘no crime. ’” (Shaw 142).
It is not so with Paral’s murderers: they virtually live in a jungle, where, besides instincts and passions, there is only pathos without real substance. The point of view and the tone chosen by the two authors are also relevant. Raskolnikov’s story is told objectively, from an omniscient perspective. This narrative technique does not obscure the character’s inner turmoil, however. Dostoevsky pairs his omniscience with indirect speech, a device which helps to reveal the hero’s thoughts and emotions. Raskolnikov often speaks to himself and, in this way, Dostoevsky gives us access to his unmediated reflections.
For instance, he muses on his motivation for committing the murder, wavering between the feeling of guilty and the excuse he finds for his behavior: “I am putting my little brick into the happiness of all and so my heart is at peace. Ha-ha! Why have you let me slip? I only live once, I too want…. Ech, I am an ? sthetic louse and nothing more,’ he added suddenly, laughing like a” (Dostoevsky 389). Raskolnikov is indeed a criminal and an aesthete at the same time. While his crime is horrendous, his purpose gives it meaning to a certain extent.
As Julian Connolly remarks, the way in which Dostoevsky decided to use the point of view in the novel is very significant: “Dostoyevsky had originally intended to write an account of murder from the perspective of the murderer himself. As he worked on the project in November 1865, however, he concluded that such a perspective might be too limited, so he chose an omniscient, third-person narrative mode instead. Yet traces of the original design remain: much of the novel offers direct insight into Raskolnikov’s impressions and experiences.
” (Connolly 144). Thus, the author’s decision to mingle omniscience and first person narrative shows that he was preoccupied to investigate the moral dimension of his characters as well as the psychological one. His technique ultimately merges psychology with philosophy. In Paral’s case, the frequent shifts of viewpoint, allow for a curious exploration of the stories from the inside and outside simultaneously. Moreover, Paral’s story is told fragmentarily, with an alternation of voices and points of view.
The narrative shifts from the author to an interior monologue of one of the characters without warning, in the course of the same phrase. This provides readers with marks as to actual events and also to the thoughts of the characters at the same time. The novel features a great number of different narrative voices, as each of the characters introduced is also given a monologue. This technique enhances the novel’s mosaic structure and its grotesqueness. The characters’ interior monologues moreover show them to be egoistical and impulsive.
Most of their speeches are delirious and self-centered. The tones of the two works also differ and influence the reader’s perception of the stories. Dostoevsky’s tone is serious and restrained, focusing on the events, the psychology of the main character and the numerous implications of the experiences described. Paral, on the other hand, uses irony, black humor and pathos is order to describe the events in his book. Lovers and Murderers is therefore written as a black comedy, transmitting the author purpose of satirizing humanity in its pettiness and abjection.
The two novels deal with the common themes of murder and punishment, but do so in very different ways. Crime and Punishment investigates ethical, religious and psychological consequences of a crime, with an emphasis of humans’ liability to sin and moral ambiguity in the context of a society. Lovers and Murderers, on the other hand, emphasizes the human world as a grotesque spectacle, driven by the uncontrolled instincts and petty interests of men. Dostoevsky’s work analyzes and questions, while Paral’s observes and mocks. Works Cited:
Alfred L. Bem, “Guilt in Crime and Punishment. ” Readings on Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Ed. Tamara Johnson. Trans. Robert Louis Jackson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1998. 58 64. Connolly, Julian. “An Overview of ‘Crime and Punishment’. ” Exploring Novels. Gale, 1998. Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. New York: Vintage Classics, 2008. Paral, Vladimir. Lovers and Murderers. Trans. Craig Stephen Stevens. New York: Catbird Press, 2002. Shaw, J. Thomas. “Raskol’nikov’s Dreams. ” Slavic and East European Journal 17, no. 2 (1973): 131-45.
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