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Free Study Guide-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free Booknotes
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Raskolnikov's Alienation:

Basically, Raskolnikov develops his far-fetched theories of crime (the idea of the "extraordinary" man) due to his utter isolation from society and his bitter frustration with his poverty. The claustrophobic setting of his tiny room adds to his sense of isolation. Raskolnikov's loneliness, both before and after the crime, underscores the idea of total alienation in Crime and Punishment. As the novelist points out, "He was tormented by the sense of separateness, of disunity with mankind, which he felt immediately after committing the crime." Raskolnikov's isolation has its roots in his underprivileged social status, as well as in his introverted nature.

Dostoevsky portrays the protagonist's criminal deeds as springing from the sense of humiliation and deprivation he experiences within the constraints of petty bourgeois society. In probing the abyss of Raskolnikov's mind, the novelist reveals the awesome loneliness that plagues his tormented hero. If his isolation from society is already considerable when the novel opens, he is further alienated from his fellow humans through his crime. He can neither speak of it to others nor come to terms with himself after the dual murders. By delving deep into the mind of this tortured criminal, Dostoevsky shows how this disadvantaged individual first has his dignity menaced by society. Then he reveals how Raskolnikov loses the last vestiges of human dignity by turning to crime. Hence, he becomes increasingly isolated as the novel progresses.

Raskolnikov's Suffering and Redemption:

Dostoevsky advances the notion of the "underground man" alienated from society in the portrait of Raskolnikov. Above all, through the protagonist, the novelist demonstrates the tragedy of such an utterly isolated individual. His tragedy consists of great suffering and a painful awareness of his own shortcomings. Even in his misery, he cannot escape the constraints of his social deprivation as one of the 'have-nots,' nor can he evade the consequences of his individual degradation as a criminal. Raskolnikov is caught in a truly tragic paradox. To develop fully as an individual in his bourgeois society, he must firmly assert himself (in his case, to the extent of murder). This act of murder, however, leads ultimately to his own self-degradation.

How to resolve this contradiction is the greatest source of Raskolnikov's mental sufferings before the murder. However, after the crime, Dostoevsky reveals the full horror of the particular 'freedom' that Raskolnikov has gained at the cost of another's life. He is never free from his constant fear of detection. The murder, thus, negates the very idea of freedom that Raskolnikov had hoped for. He is made to suffer all the torments of a totally directionless existence after the crime. He has lost his ability to distinguish good from evil and has suppressed all that is human in himself.

Through Raskolnikov's agonies of suffering, Dostoevsky reveals the tragedy of bourgeois individualism when carried to an extreme and its incompatibility with the fundamentals of human morality. Raskolnikov is made to suffer intensely before he can claim his redemption in order to reinstate the moral laws of society and to restore the ethical consciousness of the individual. His bouts of illness, sudden outbursts of anger, recurrent nightmares and the inability to confide in anyone are all symptomatic of his inner turmoil and mental sufferings. His redemption finally comes through the benevolent influence of the patient, long-suffering and submissive Sonia.

She makes him realize that humans are not mere parasites to be wiped out of society and teaches him the virtue and importance of love. With her silent support, he finally confesses.

Porfiry, too, plays a part in Raskolnikov's salvation. He respects the criminal's intellect and does not overtly humiliate him, but he persuades him to reveal his crime of his own accord. He slowly convinces Raskolnikov that his theories of crime and the "extraordinary" man are ill-conceived and unethical. Finally, after a year or so of imprisonment and isolation from his fellow prisoners in Siberia, Raskolnikov begins the slow and agonizing process of restoring his faith in humanity. Here, too, Sonia stands beside him silently as the redemptive figure, who moves him from solitude and suffering to salvation and regeneration. Raskolnikov's moral and social redemption, as well as his emotional rehabilitation as an individual, begins only at the close of the novel.

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