Upon picking up Crime and Punishment I am not exactly sure what I expected. I had listened to half of Anna Karenina on Audiobook a few years prior and I remember enjoying the way in which Tolstoy created vivid scenes through a brilliant combination of dialogue and narrative. I figured that since Dostoevsky and Tolstoy were both contemporaries in Russia, in the mid-1800s, they probably wrote in the same manner (Yes, I know this is ridiculous logic...yet, it seems to have worked in this case; so, to all those people who do not enjoy stereotypes and mass generalization, I say, "Ehh???").
I had also come across a handful of references to Crime and Punishment in multiple philosophical essays. Most of the time, these essays criticized Dostoevsky's viewpoint, expressed through C&P, that the ends justifies the means. Of course, seeing myself as one who would ideally like to see Kantian morality embraced throughout the entire world, I was also hoping to identify this and take issue with it.
Having just finished C&P, I can state that from a literary and artistic viewpoint I was blown away. I would describe Dostoevsky as the perfect mix of Dickens and Austen. He narrates as good or better than Dickens and his dialogue is even better than the dialogue of Pride and Prejudice. Reading C&P is a complete sensory experience, that keeps one entertained, intrigued, and thinking throughout the whole of the story.
Ostensibly, the story is about a man named Rodion Romanych, who goes by the name Raskolnikov, who kills an old lady and her sister in order to steal a few thousand roubles. However, as much as one always feels this storyline and Raskolnikov's guilt haunting every page, the story is much more: almost a compendium of stories describing what it was like to live in Russia in the 1800s. Everyone's story is told, whether that person is a merchant, a prostitute, an official, a student, an old widow, etc. etc. Through these stories, the philosophy of Raskolnikov is also put on display.
I say the philosophy of Raskolnikov, as opposed to the philosophy of Dostoevsky, because even though Raskolnikov is the protagonist; even though the reader finds themselves sympathizing and suffering with Raskolnikov; even though the reader finds themselves despising those persons whom Raskolnikov despises, Raskolnikov is not a good person. He is never set up by Dostoevsky to be a good person; he kills an old lady in cold blood, with the blunt end of an axe at the beginning of the story, then splits her sister's head open with the working side of the axe blade. Raskolnikov is not the vehicle one would use to express their own moral philosophy; yet, he might be the vehicle one would use to simply expose a popular moral philosophy of the time.
Other philosophers are right to identify that philosophy as an "ends justifies the means" take on morality; yet, this is not difficult because Dostoevsky does nothing to obscure Raskolnikov's ideology. Instead, he very clearly states it multiple times, as such in this paragraph:
"I merely suggested that an 'extraordinary' man has the right...that is, not an official right, but his own right, to allow his conscience to...step over certain obstacles, and then only in the event that the fulfillment of his idea--sometimes perhaps salutary for the whole of mankind calls for it...In my opinion, if, as the result of certain combinations, Kepler's or Newton's discoveries could become known to people in no other way than by sacrificing the lives of one, or ten, or a hundred or more people who were hindering the discovery, or standing as an obstacle in its path, then Newton would have the right, and it would be his duty...to remove those ten or a hundred people, in order to make his discoveries known to all mankind."
I do not want to spoil this story in any manner, as I believe that anyone who has yet to read C&P, should immediately take up the task and treat themselves to some of the finest literature they will ever read.
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