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The actions of Raskolnikov in Fydor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment illuminate the complexity of his character. Raskolnikov rationalizes his murders and evil deeds, and feels compelled to take action when fellow tenants suggest that the two old sisters are “…Cursed wr-r-etches!” (Dostoyevsky 101). He determines that some people do not deserve to live; therefore, he feels justified in carrying out the murders. Raskolnikov neither questions the morality of his actions, nor considers them as sins. Instead, he remains detached and objective. Exploring Raskolnikov’s motivations for his actions and the psychology behind his actions are the predominant themes in this chapter.
Prior to committing the murders, Raskolnikov is motivated by his unfortunate circumstances. Destitute and alienated in the emotionally-suffocating environment of St. Petersburg, Raskolnikov finds himself feeling compelled to take some form of action by murdering Alyona and, later, Lizaveta. Raskolnikov is motivated primarily by his dire financial circumstances. By killing Alyona, Raskolnikov knows that he can rob her and improve his life. Following her murder, Raskolnikov “[takes] the keys out at once,” (Dostoyevsky 95) and uses them to unlock a large box which contains “items made of gold, bracelets, chains, earrings, and hatpins” (Dostoyevsky 101). Interestingly, he feels no remorse for his two-fold crime of murder and theft; rather, it appears as though he cannot relate to his victim as a human being.
In fact, when Raskolnikov commits the first murder, he is “barely conscious of what he [is] doing, and [acts] almost without effort” (Dostoyevsky 94). His sense of alienation from the rest of the population in St. Petersburg allows him to feel as though he can reject legal and moral values. As Raskolnikov decides that there is “something made easy by her smallness” (Dostoyevsky 94), it illustrates how Raskolnikov feels superior against the dying Alyona. The harsh environment of St. Petersburg reflects Raskolnikov’s own callous actions. It is important to consider the setting of the murder, where much of the discussion and action take place indoors. This creates a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere. Also, Gogol’s Petersburg Tales refers to Petersburg “as the terrible masquerade of Antichrist” (Gogol 25). This description of St. Petersburg mirrors Raskolnikov’s actions toward the two unsuspecting sisters.
Dostoyevsky furthermore uses motifs such as dreams, symbolic doubles, and blood to give insight into Raskolnikov’s psychology and why he chooses to carry out the murders. The nightmare Raskolnikov has about the, “Poor little horse…” (Dostoyevsky 72) indicates Raskolnikov’s disturbed state of mind prior to murdering Alyona. Furthermore, the author describes that, “… the little horse was in a bad way” (Dostoyevsky 70). This symbolizes the brutality of murder and the helplessness of the innocent. Ironically, despite feeling uneasy about the death of the “… little horse…” (Dostoyevsky 72), Raskolnikov does not feel anything about the murder of the “innocent” (Dostoyevsky 102) Lizaveta.
In a symbolic sense, the two murders that Raskolnikov commits directly corresponds to the dual facets of Raskolnikov’s personality. Alyona represents the cold and vicious side of Raskolnikov’s characteristics. On the other hand, Lizaveta represents the submissive and more humane side of Raskolnikov. By murdering both of these two women, Raskolnikov stifles and destroys parts of himself. This is seen on various occasions throughout the chapter. Before killing Alyona, Raskolnikov is questioned by the old woman: “But why are you so pale? Look your hands are shaking” (Dostoyevsky 93).
However, before the killing of Lizaveta, Raskolnikov merely “grabbed the axe and ran from the bedroom” (Dostoyevsky 97). Furthermore, while killing Alyona, Raskolnikov, “…was scared he would lose his grip on the axe and drop it” (Dostoyevsky 94). Similarly, he had not felt anything while murdering Lizaveta. I conclude that because Raskolnikov “brought the butt of it down on the old woman’s head” (Dostoyevsky 94), he smashes the submissive and compassionate elements in his nature with greater ferocity and viciousness than he employs when killing Lizaveta.
Blood represents the inner suffering; however, it also enhances the theme of Raskolnikov’s ego. Blood is mentioned as a motif when he describes, “his hands … covered in blood and his fingers were stuck together” (Dostoyevsky 98). This enhances the theme of sin and later on redemption. However, in the scene of the murder, blood represents the pain. It is important to consider the pain of dying sisters. In Raskolnikov’s perspective it is a visual display of crime and guilt. Furthermore, later in the story, the blood found in Raskolnikov’s trousers [as mentioned in the handout] represent the crime he has committed. Once Raskolnikov has shed blood upon his hands, it can not be washed away.
As Raskolnikov carried out the murders of the two sisters, his action shows the immediate mental anguish of the murders on his mind. This leads to physical illness and eventually his own demise. The crime of the rapscallion Raskolnikov also reverberates on a much deeper, moral level inside his own head. I have gathered information on the different types of distances from a website named Agnosticism. (Take the poster #1 and explain). [Raskolnikov falls into three different types of emotional distances. First, the cultural distance, this is defined as looking or viewing others as if they were inferior.
As I have written on my analysis, Raskolnikov views himself superior against Alyona. Second, the physical distance, which states that killing someone when you could see fear in their eyes, is one of the difficult aspects of killing. As I have written on my synopsis of the chapter, Raskolnikov kills Alyona in a much closed space. Third, the moral distance, this is when a person doing the killing finds the enemy as morally wrong. Raskolnikov finds that Alyona is merely a burden to the society]. Thus, he ignores the ultimate rule of good and evil, the principles of justice, and also the rule of God under the Puritan Ideals. (Take the power #2 and explain) [There are two major Puritan Ideals. Both of these ideals are related to the murders Raskolnikov commits.
Raskolnikov’s act against God will eventually bring about his own demise]. Raskolnikov without hesitation and easily contemplates his deeds. He feels as though he will not make a mistake while putting his crime into actions. He feel as though his actions are not a crime. Then he believes that he will be able to carry out his crime without making any errors that will allow him to be eventually caught. We eventually see that Raskolnikov grossly overestimates his abilities to maintain himself and all the details of the murder.
Discussing the handout: [I wanted to mention that Dostoyevsky uses a lot of repetition to illustrate Rakolnikov’s mind. For example, as shown on the hand out quote number 3, “No, that’s not the right thing to do, either! I must go, go…” (99). Dostoyevsky predominantly uses repetition as a way to express Raskolnikov’s reflective side. As for me, I am able to draw out Raskolnikov’s thoughts and ego psychology by paying attention to the literary feature, repetition.