advertisement
advertisement

Raskolnikov, an impovershed student in 19th Century St. Petersburg, conceives a plan to kill and rob a shrewish hag of a pawnbroker. He justifies his plan because he is an ubermensch and she is a louse. The world will be better off if she is dead and he is able to finish his education. Killing and robbing her will accomplish both purposes. After all, the ubermensch owes it to society to commit any crime that will ultimately benefit society. The crime is perpetrated and the rest of the book deals with Raskolnikov's angst over his guilt and his redemption through suffering. Almost every major character in the book is more likeable that Raskolnikov.

The philosophy of Dostoyevsky's book seems to be primarily a refutation of Hegelian and proto-Nietschian philosophy and an affirmation of Christian values. Along the way he also manages to work in a rebuttal of social-Darwinism.


advertisement

Having known, prosecuted, and defended hundreds of murderers, I was much taken by Raskolnikov's psychological progression from crime to atonement. Much of his self justification rang true to my experience. I have known many killers who thought of themselves as superior beings above the law, and many others who justified killing on the grounds that the victim lacked human worth. So long as the killer can keep the victim dehumanized, the killer can live with the deed. When the killer begins to regard the victim as a fellow human, guilt sets in and many confess--often years later. Raskolnikov's behavioural symptoms did not, however, ring true to my experience. Although some killers are guilt-ridden to the point of distraction, they can usually control themselves much better than Raskolnikov. His actions practically shouted his guilt.

The interplay of the large cast of characters gave the book great psychological depth, but Dostoyevsky didn't beat the reader over the head with the psychology. He didn't tell you what the characters were thinking. Their actions showed you what they were thinking. In my experience, most modern psycho-dramas ladle out the psychology in huge dollops.