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The Role of Power in Crime and Punishment Essay

In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment the main protagonist, Rodion Roskolnikov, is driven by a passionate admiration for “great men”; men who had power. This passionate admiration manifests itself into an illusion for Roskolnikov; an illusion that is created and perpetuated by constant reaffirmation of his intelligence by his loved ones and peers. In perusal of aligning himself to his hero, Napoleon Bonaparte, Roskolnikov spends his time patronizing the human race and glorifying his own existence.

It is because of his struggle to be a hero and his embedded feelings of self-righteousness that he chooses to murder the pawn broker Alyona Ivanova. After the murder of Alyona (and by default her sister, Lizaveta) Roskolnikov is unable to cope with the guilt of the murders and is unable to cope with the burdens that he has created for his friends, family, and girlfriend. Roskolnikov is named very aptly, the root of his name, “raskol” means to be split. This split is defined in his incessant search for power, but mirrored in his accidental search for love.

Roskolnikov first meets his girlfriend, Sonia, when he follows her father home. Sonia is forced to prostitute because of her families circumstances and although Roskolnikov lectures her at first, he then leaves her family money on their windowsill. Roskolnikov’s character is developed though many of these exchanges, wherein he gives more than he has to help other people who he believes are beneath him. These exchanges as well as demonstrating the kind side of Roskolnikov also provide him with internal differences that he cannot stand.

Sonia later becomes Roskolnikov’s girlfriend and Roskolnikov’s reason to commit his crime to the police. Ironically, within trying to stay above the desperation that Sonia’s family is in, Roskolnikov kisses the feet of the prostitute Sonia and also looks to her for advice about humility and morality. Pulcheria Alexandrovna is Roskolnikov’s mother and the main source of hot air blowing into Roskolnikov’s behind. Pulcheria believes that her son is the most wonderful person on the face of the Earth and she is completely oblivious to the person that Roskolnikov has become.

Although Roskolnikov attempts to maintain a nihilist outlook throughout the novel, he shows contempt towards his mother for her not being able to realize what “the crime” truly is. This feelings of contempt continue when along with Pulcheria comes Roskolnikov’s younger sister, Dounia. Roskolnikov is especially fond of his sister and this becomes a downfall of his own. Through his sister, Roskolnikov finds shame, shame that comes from giving hand-outs to people he sees are less fortunate than himself, due to the fact that his own sister is giving up her happiness to ensure that he has a room to stay in.

Upon witnessing and hearing of his sister’s sacrifices, Roskolnikov is able to understand that in his drive for power he has become more human that any person he has met. Roskolnikov also finds himself unhappy with the amount of selfishness that is required to be a “great man” and settles that his not one. However it is the relationship formed between Dmitri Prokofitch Razumihin and Roskolnikov that signifies what Roskolnikov gained from his power struggle. After killing Alyona, Roskolnikov goes to visit Razumihin.

Razumihin is a college friend of Roskolnikov, and although he is also in poverty, Razumihin is able to make the best of the situation by taking up publishing and translating jobs to pay his rent. Razumihin is the polar opposite of Roskolnikov and essentially Roskolnikov’s foil character, who represents not only how self-loathing Roskolnikov is, but how much a friend he can be. Razumihin is not without fault and when he is angered over Roskolnikov, Roskolnikov convinces him not to go out and get drunk.

This demonstrates Roskolnikov’s love for Razumihin as well as his love for his sister who he knows is in love with Razumihin. The connection between the two men serves as a poignant model in the book. This model represents the element in choice in determining ones fate and it also represents the unnecessary presence of power in a friendship or relationship that is based solely on love and reason. By introducing characters after Roskolnikov has experienced his first taste of ultimate power, causing death and getting away with it, Dostoyevsky is able to enhance the meaning of his work.

The meaning of work being that for every crime there is a punishment and that punishment may not come through the legal system, but rather through the goodness of the heart’s of others. Roskolnikov was wracked by his guilt, that is obvious, but his guilt was perpetuated by the good of others. Roskolnikov was not a truly bad or terrible person, rather he was plagued by self-interest. By demonstrating the persons in Roskolnikov’s life who love actively, Dostoyevsky presented the idea that true happiness comes loving actively and from loving unconditionally.

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