Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is another classic of nineteenth century Russian literature. Written in a time of intellectual, socio-political, and moral upheaval in the Russian Empire, Dostoevsky’s work must be understood in the context of the debates of Russian nihilism and egoism. Russian nihilism and egoism are not about the absence of values and the meaninglessness of life. On the contrary, they are about the individual’s heroic struggle to destroy the existing order of moral, political, religious, and social oppression and usher in a better, more free, more equal, world that individuals can build.
That is who Raskolnikov is. He is the nihilistic-ego ready to embark on that heroic struggle of nihilism. As we know, he fails. After murdering the pawnbroker and her daughter, Raskolnikov sinks into despair; his crime has brought internal, psychological, punishment. Dostoevsky’s character development of Raskolnikov asserts that man is too weak to achieve what the nihilists claim. Moreover, far from creating a new morality they destroy all morality. Raskolnikov suffers as a result of his crime.
Suffering is the great theme of the work. Suffering is part and parcel of the world. We cannot escape it. But we can be redeemed by it. Many of the characters we meet all suffer in some way; but the redemptive and heroic suffering that brings about “salvation” is of women.
Enter Sonya. Sonya is the heroine of suffering. She suffers greatly throughout the work. And even suffers to be with Raskolnikov. Her suffering is an in-situ manifestation of the suffering of Christ. She is Holy Wisdom incarnate. Pleading for Raskolnikov to embrace God and reach for a New Testament (the book of life), Sonya’s suffering eases Raskolnikov’s suffering.
Raskolnikov confesses his crime and does hard labor in Siberia. Sonya doesn’t abandon him. She suffers with him, waiting for his freedom. The two eventually marry in love. Dostoevsky shows in Crime and Punishment that suffering, punishment, is inescapable. How we handle it, however, offers us the path to redemption. Redemption runs through suffering love, not the heroic illusion of the revolutionaries who only bring more suffering and misery in their barbarism masked as progress.
Hesiod, Paul Krause in real life, is the editor-in-chief of VoegelinView. He is writer, classicist, and historian. He has written on the arts, culture, classics, literature, philosophy, religion, and history for numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the author of The Odyssey of Love and the Politics of Plato, and a contributor to the College Lecture Today and the forthcoming book Diseases, Disasters, and Political Theory. He holds master’s degrees in philosophy and religious studies (biblical studies & theology) from the University of Buckingham and Yale, and a bachelor’s degree in economics, history, and philosophy from Baldwin Wallace University.
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