Morality vs. Crime and Punishment

AP English IV


“The old woman was merely a sickness… I was in a hurry to step over… it wasn’t a human being I killed, it was a principle! So I killed the principle, but I didn’t step over, I stayed on this side. (Dostoevsky 274).” Raskolnikov is the main character in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Other important characters in Crime and Punishment include Sonia, a timid prostitute, and Marmaladov, an alcoholic public official and Sonia’s father. This elliptical quote describes Raskolnikov’s fractured state of mind. He is troubled by his guilt throughout the book for committing two murders. He believes the only thing that matters is success in one’s endeavor’s rather than the actual murder itself. Raskolnikov feels himself to be superior to the rest of society, somewhat like a “superman.” Raskolnikov is an existentialist in that what he believes is moral differs from that of the rest of society. Existentialism is a philosophical movement or tendency, emphasizing individual existence, freedom, and choice ( Morality, existentialism, and alienation from society are essential themes in Crime and Punishment

The moral side to Raskolnikov’s mind requires forgiveness in a Christian manner. Because he finds himself to be a Superman, then it is congruous to believe he has a desire for morality. He asks himself two hypothetical questions: “If one could push a button which would kill a Frenchman, a foreigner who does not know, and as a result benefit the rest of the world, should I do it? Is there such thing as a Superman, such as Napoleon, who feels he has the right to step beyond conventional morality?” ( From the beginning of the book to the end, a game is being played inside of Raskolnikov’s head. His mentality seems unjust and vice to the rest of society. As the game is being played, Dostoevsky makes it become a reality, that of which one must face the consequences of. In the novel Raskolnikov views the person he murdered as a “louse, and wonders if he really deleted someone from society that mattered. “ You are quite simply disgusting, whether you are right or not, and so people don’t want to have anything to do with you, they chase you away- so, go! (Dostoevsky 284). From what is understood in this quote, it seems that maybe Raskolnikov has come to realize that what he did was immoral and nauseating.

Because Raskolnikov thoughts are illogical, he is considered an existentialist. “God!” he exclaimed, “but can it be, can it be that I will really take a axe and hit her on the head and smash her skull… slip in the sticky, warm blood, break the lock, steal, and tremble, and hide, all covered with blood (Dostoevsky 59)?” Raskolnikov is lying on his bed pondering the crime he has just committed. He is somewhat disillusioned by his actions. This quote is foreshadowing his instability and the guilt that he ends up facing through the rest of the book. By committing these crimes, Raskolnikov has separated himself from the rest of society. He thinks of people as tools and uses them for his own personal benefit. After the murders he becomes more reclusive because of his half-delirium and overbearing guilt.

Much of the novel is concerned with Raskolnikov’s gradual breakdown and deconstruction of this identity in the face of his alienation from others. Only when he confesses his guilt to Sonia, a woman with whom he falls in love and sees as a fellow transgressor of morality, does he start on the path of reentering society. It is in the Epilogue of the novel, in Raskolnikov’s apartment, that he truly realizes he loves her. Sonia is Marmaladov’s daughter. Raskolnikov believes himself to be superior to Sonia because she is a strumpet and must be in order to keep her family alive. It’s interesting to see how Raskolnikov views morality. He thinks that Sonia had a choice whether or not to become a prostitute in order to save her family. Raskolnikov also knows that Marmaladov takes the money that his daughter saves up and goes on a five day drinking binge despite that fact that his family is starving and sickly. Raskolnikov’s irrationality in his thoughts also defines him as