Sunday, September 26, 2010
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Ex-student Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov has a theory, and one that will change more than one life forever. He believes, with great conviction, that a genius has the moral right to commit murder, theft, and other crimes - just because he is intellectually "above" others. He believes this so thoroughly that he, believing himself something of a genius, murders a pawnbroker and her sister with an axe and steals the money they have accrued over the years. Just managing to escape, Raskolnikov sinks into a war with his conscience and a delerium that causes others to doubt him. After meeting a drunkard named Semion Marmeladov, Raskolnikov has bouts of generosity and conviction, helping their family with their debts, and then paying for Marmeladov's funeral when he is crushed by a wagon, all the while trying to justify his moral degradation. Then he meets Sonia, Marmeladov's oldest daughter, a young woman who has turned to prostitution to keep her family from sinking further into hunger and destitution. Raskolnikov befriends her, fascinated by the oxymoron she has created: a poor prostitute, sunk so low, who believes in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. In the end it is this, and his own raging conscience that bring him to justice.
This is my second Dostoevsky novel, and I cannot say how much I enjoyed it. I don't even know where to start, I have so much to say - there's so much to mention, to bring to the table. However, I think I'll start Dostoevsky's incredible (almost super human) ability to create characters.
Having read Dostoevsky before, I knew I was going to enjoy the characters. The characters in The Idiot stuck with me for a long time. In fact, as I write this, I can very clearly picture each character, what he/she was intended for in the story, and their personalities that are so impressioned into my mind. It is the same with Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov's character alone is a masterpiece. His strange thought processes, his convictions, his awareness of all going on around him, his dilerium after he murders Lizaveta, and the new convictions that come about because of it all make up who he is and where he's going. As I started the book I wasn't as taken with him as I was Prince Myshkin in The Idiot, but as the story progressed and he changed, I felt a great attachment to him. While Myshkin was on the more talkative side, Raskolnikov was quiet, one who observes and reflects rather than speaks his mind. I felt sorrow for Raskolnikov because of the choices he made, but I loved him all the same as he tried his hardest to come to grips with the horrors of what he had done.
Sonia's character is the more simple type, and a hard one to read about. After becoming a child prostitute at her step-mother's insistence, Sonia hates her life but continues living that way because her family needs the money. However, her simple and wonderful faith in Jesus Christ as a wretched sinner affects Raskolnikov in ways he cannot foresee at the time. Other characters in this story include Porfiry Petrovich, the police inspector, who, one word at a time, tries to squeeze the truth from Raskolnikov; Peter Petrovich, the fiance of Raskolnikov's sister Dunia; Marmeladov, Sonia's father; the mad Katerina Ivanovna, Marmeladov's wife; and Razmukhin, Raskolnikov's closest friend who wants to help and has a very innocent love for Dunia.
Dostoevsky's writing is the next aspect that just gets me, in every way: his sentence structure, the way he describes scenes and objects, how he introduces characters...the purity of it all should be recognized for as long as books are in print. I felt this way about The Idiot and I feel it now. Dostoevsky's writing makes you feel as though you're reading a dream. If you've ever wondered what a dream would be like if you could read it, I'm convinced this is it. It's perfectly smooth, like you're floating; and yet his topics are real, his characters are lively and relatable, and above all his stories pierce you deeply with their symbolism and their cunning. If only every author used a bit of Dostoevsky's methods in their works... If only the stories spoke of real and often dreadful things but still permeated with the kind of hope and love we see here, this world would cease to exist as we know it.