Essay on crime and punishment

Submitted By preet1396
Words: 1572
Pages: 7

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodr Dostoevsky, skillfully reveals the flaws of 19th century Russia through multiple complex themes. One of the essential themes expressed in the novel is the rationalization of crime. Dostoevsky deploys the intellectual trends sweeping through Russia at the time, such as utilitarianism and nihilism, in order to portray the framework of mind Rodya uses to justify his actions. Without such ideologies and his belief in the übermensch, Rodya would never think of committing the murder. Through his main character, Dostoevsky portrays the impracticality and inevitable failure of such philosophies. A belief in utilitarianism is a belief in maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering for the greatest number of people through any means necessary (Webster). The event that catalyzes and solidifies Rodya’s decision to kill the pawnbroker is when he overhears a student say killing the old lady would benefit more people than if she were to keep on living. Such a coincidence proves to Rodya that he is destined to carry out the action in order maximize the value to life for the most people. Although, at this point in the book Rodya’s rationale is still unclear, the discussion and analytical dissection of his article “On Crime” reveal his true inner psyche. Rodya emphasizes that as long as the greater good is kept in mind, any action is justified. He even goes as far to say that killing a few people is warranted if the number of people who benefit outweighs the number of people who died. Whereas the first murder of the pawnbroker serves its purpose of removing a louse from society, the second murder of the sister was done on with a self-serving purpose. The second, selfish murder prompts the reader to consider whether or not Rodya can hold true to his own ideologies. His hypocrisy renders his philosophy of utilitarianism an inherently utopian concept that cannot be seen in terms of black and white. Utilitarianism is one of the key layers of Rodya’s mental workings that contributes to the rationalization of the murder. Without the rationale of benefiting the most lives possible, Rodya could not have justified the killing of the pawnbroker as a non-criminal act. Through the protagonist’s flawed epistemology, Dostoevsky playfully mocks how man uses his own version of the truth to give reason to his actions while simultaneously convincing himself that what he is doing is “good.” If everyone were to justify their actions by claiming them to be utilitarian in nature, then there would be no “crime” because everyone’s perception of what is and what is not mutually beneficial is completely subjective. The world would be thrown into chaos and the justification for crime would become infinitely regressive, thus producing a reality where no one is benefiting and going against the very nature of utilitarianism. However, Rodya’s theory of utilitarian actions is best executed by his idea of the übermensch. Philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche believe that man should strive everyday to achieve the status of the übermensch, and Rodya attempts to do so. However, his perpetual struggle to become the übermensch proves to be impossible. His action is premised on the fact that there exist a select number of people whose immense greatness allows them to transcend rules and ethics that dictate society. Rodya cites Napoleon Bonaparte and Sir Isaac Newton as examples of the übermensch. Rodya argues that if “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 even be his duty... to remove those ten or a hundred people, in order to make his discoveries known to mankind” (206). In order to prove that he too is an extraordinary man who is above the moral rules that govern humanity, Rodya kills the pawnbroker. By committing…