Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky
Final Inquiry Questions
First level of inquiry:
What is the book’s most important event? When does the character change?
Raskolnikov does not change until the last pages of the novel, during his early time in Siberia, when he recognizes Sonya’s loyalty to him and that he can finally be close to her and love her.
What a very strange moment it is because he was separated from society and people, including friends who tried to help him and his own mother and sister who loved him unconditionally. He is usually cold and annoyed by everyone and content to be alienated from the world.
After he begins his prison sentence, and he breaks down, there seems to be a regeneration of his soul, which interestingly takes place around Easter: he realizes his need for God, for Sonia, and for people in general.
Second level of inquiry:
What is the author trying to convince you of?
Dostoevsky is trying to convince us that everyone is a criminal in some way, although some are crimes because they are illegal and some are sins against God; but only some are successful and some are not because some get away with it and others succumb to their guilt and confess.
Who else is a criminal? Aliona, who cheated people and abused her sister, Lizaveta; Marmeladov, who neglected his family; Luzhin, who manipulated and took advantage of Dunya; Svidrigailov, who destroyed his wife and exploited children; Or Sonya, who practiced prostitution?
Who is not a criminal or sinner in some way? The only difference is that Raskolnikov gave in to his guilt. He was weak, he says, and could not commit suicide; instead he confessed in order to live out the consequence and return to society.
What does the central character want? What is standing in his way? What strategy does he pursue in order to overcome this block?
On the one hand it seems that Raskolnikov is seeking to test his theory that some men are superior to others and above the law of man; and maybe he is, too. Other men are “made of bronze” because they go on to become great and powerful military generals and leaders in which everything is permitted, even crime and sin.
After he commits the murders and robbery, he learns that he is not made of bronze, but of flesh, and his guilty conscience destroys him.
He must confess his crime, first to Sonia, then to his sister, and almost publically, but finally to the police. He must live out his punishment and suffer the consequences.
So in this case it seems that there is something more that Raskolnikov wants. And I think it could be his desire to be reunited with society; to be accepted again by people; to be worthy to be loved by others; and to be reconciled to God. Of course, once he begins his sentence, he finally breaks down, enabling him to open up to Sonia, the other prisoners, and to a relationship with God.
Third Level of Inquiry:
Is there an argument in this book? What is the idea? Do you agree? Is the book true?
This question is going to be the death of me. For the last three days I have sat dumbfounded looking at it. So I decided to read the Introduction, the section I put off reading because it was not written by the author, and I was able to pull out one idea and consider it an argument: “Human nature – not the material world or…enlightened self-interest – determines behavior.” Dostoevsky rejected the idea that one’s environment determined his behavior.
For example, Razumikhin was in the same position as Raskolnikov: a poverty-stricken student, living in abysmal conditions, and, yet, he was encouraging, empathetic, and resourceful. He was hopeful and happy about the future. Still able to maintain a moral compass, Razumikhin is even offended to hear of Raskolnikov’s article on his theory that some can commit murder and get away with it since they are above the law.
Another example was Sonia who was just as impoverished and hopeless and living as a prostitute, but she was also encouraging, loyal, thoughtful, and good-hearted toward others. At one point, Raskolnikov tells Sonia that she is going to drive herself to suicide under such conditions, but I think she believes she is sacrificing herself for her family; she lives for others. (It’s still not godly behavior, of course.)
One other example is Raskolnikov’s sister, Dunya, who is also living in poverty, yet she is able to maintain a moral foundation and even present herself honorably.
But other characters, such as Luzhin and Svidrigailov, who seem financially well-off or better than the rest of society, didn’t have a moral leg to stand on. Luzhin, who could manipulate and use others, ended up being rejected by Dunya. And Svidrigailov did not have a moral foundation and was able to go either way looking like a really generous person while committing perverse acts. He is referred to as “a parody of the concept of the “natural man”.” His life is valueless, and he commits suicide.
Hence, if Dostoevsky is arguing that man’s behavior is a result of his sinful nature, then I wholeheartedly agree. From a Christian worldview, man is born in sin and must be taught from his youth to control himself from his impulses to sin; some get it, and some don’t.
But to blame one’s bad behavior on his environment does not explain why there are people in poverty with less opportunity or education who are godly, God-fearing, honorable, hopeful, and law-abiding citizens. It also does not explain why the elite, who are wealthy, worldly, and experienced, can also be morally corrupt.