A Mind Torn Asunder

Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoevevsky’s Crime and Punishment battles the guilt resulting from his crime while perceiving himself as a superman, an extraordinary person who transgresses laws to benefit humanity.  His article in the Periodical Review details his beliefs on criminality, relating especially to the aspect of the separation between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Rasknolnikov’s theory parallels that of Hegel’s Superman; however, Porfiry mentions that a major problem exists in identifying the superior humans.  By interpreting coincidences as signs, Raskolnikov believes himself to be an extraordinary person, separating himself from the rest of humanity.  Applying his theory, he kills a pawnbroker in the belief that her death would remove a “louse” from society.  However, Raskolnikov’s beliefs are undermined by the guilt and illness he experiences after the murder, creating a split in which he desires to alleviate his guilt and also desires to affirm himself as extraordinary.  Raskolnikov’s inner conflict between his belief in his superman status and his quest for redemption reinforces the novel’s theme of the dangers of alienating oneself from humanity.

In the aftermath of the murder, Raskolnikov’s theory pulls him away from the help others offer him and nearly prevents him from salvation.  His keen friend Razumihin describes him as “just inhumanly cold and callous.”  For example, he alienates Dounia and his mother when they arrive, believing he does not need the help of others.  Raskolnikov asserts he is a savior.  When Sonia discusses religion with him, he wants to save her from believing in God.  However, in reality, Sonia will save Raskolnikov from the mental torment he experiences by helping him to love.  In addition, he is reluctant to confess his crime and attempts to outwit Porfiry, preventing him from bearing his cross to rejoin humanity.  Raskolnikov feels that he has done nothing wrong, further alienating him from others and increasing his feelings of emptiness.  He justifies the murder by saying, “It wasn’t a human being I killed, it was a principle!” According to Rodya’s theory, a true superman feels no remorse or guilt after committing a crime because he is a savior.  Raskolnikov, however, experiences both, raising doubts about his status.

Raskolnikov’s doubts about his superhuman standing allow him to walk the road to redemption.  His redeeming qualities are characterized in the warm part of his humanity.  An instance of this is when he gives money to Sonia’s family for Marmeladov’s funeral. Paradoxically, Razumihin also describes Rodya as “magnanimous and kind.” Additionally, an event that facilitates Rodya’s road to redemption is a poignant dream. In this eerie dream, he attacks the pawnbroker, but she does not die, underlining the perpetual and useless nature of his crime.  In addition, he also has a dream of drunkards beating a mare to death.  In this dream, Rodya’s warm and compassionate side is revealed, showing his desire to become human again.  A part of his psyche desires to reenter the warmth of humankind. Additionally, Raskolnikov realizes that he is not superhuman as he ponders, “…Didn’t step over, I stayed on this side . . . All I managed to do was kill.”  Furthermore, the caring nature exhibited by his friends, family, and Sonia towards him inspires him to see that his redemption lies in being able to love.

In order to find salvation, Raskolnikov journeys through a tormented path in which he is torn between his theory and his humanity.  Before he confesses, Sonia gives Raskolnikov a cross, symbolic of the burden he will bear in order to learn how to love.  He then encounters a literal and figurative crossroad, where he makes the choice to rejoin humanity.  Ironically, Raskolnikov realizes that he loves Sonia in a Siberian prison, a place of isolation, showing his true willingness for salvation and belief in humanity.  The delusions of his theory, however, are present in his subconscious.  Raskolnikov dreams of microbes that wipe the earth of humans except for a select few, highlighting the lingering appeal of Raskolnikov’s old beliefs.  The theory still haunts him.  Nevertheless, after a lengthy, guilt-propagated battle of principle against humanity, Raskolnikov’s salvation illuminates the painful process that people undergo after self-imposed alienation.

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