Recently, I went through many of my favorite book blogs out of curiosity to see what you all think about Crime and Punishment. At this point, I've done this for several books before I've written my own post in order that I could try to offer a unique perspective. Yet when I wrote my first post about Crime and Punishment, I was not yet connected in this wonderful book blogging community. That said, I want to talk about what I believe to be the most misunderstood aspect of this novel - the motive behind Raskolnikov's murder.
I should warn you that this post may contain some spoilers, but I don't think it's a problem to acknowledge that the protagonist Raskolnikov commits a double axe murder. It happens early in the novel and would probably be written on the back of any copy of the book. The marvelous irony of the novel is that despite this gruesome crime, we love him anyway. It's certainly clear that he is guilty, but he has so many other good actions and good people in his life that we tend to forgive him. How is this possible? To understand this, I think we must uncover his motive.
Raskolnikov himself ponders this very question. He justifies the crime in his mind for a number of different reasons before he reaches the root cause of his action. At first, he tried to tell himself that he needed the money and he would be doing everyone a favor because the pawnbroker was a miserable person. However, this reasoning was quickly and resolutely rejected for several reasons. First, he didn't steal much money at all, and he buried the money he did take without using it. Second, he felt physically and emotionally sick about his crime, which negated the sense that her life had no meaning. Third, he himself dismissed the idea explicitly much later in a conversation with Sonia. Because of all these clear reasons, most people agree that this was not the true motive for his crime.
The most popular explanation for his murder is the theory of the "extraordinary man." We find out in the story that Raskolnikov had written an article about people being divided as either ordinary or extraordinary. According to this article, Raskolnikov believed that extraordinary people possess the ability to transgress the law without guilt or second-guessing. Thus, it is often believed that Raskolnikov killed in order to test whether or not he was one of these extraordinary people. Indeed, Raskolnikov himself indicates that this is his motive in that same conversation to Sonia, which is why so many readers accept this explanation. And yet rightly so, many of you are not satisfied with it. I read many responses in which people loved the book but were unsettled with Raskolnikov's motive. It didn't sit right with you, and I believe that's because it shouldn't. It doesn't make sense with the rest of the novel because it's not true.
In my mind, the real reason Raskolnikov decided to murder the pawnbroker is that he was suffering an existential crisis. This is a fancy and pretentious way to say that he was torn within himself between polar identities. He was trapped within his own philosophical thinking so deeply that he had lost the power to act in his life. His fiance was gone, he dropped out of his education, he stopped working, and he holed himself up in an old lady's attic to wallow in his own listlessness. It is clear from the very first page that Raskolnikov is already experiencing crisis and depression. Reread the third paragraph if you aren't sure. If Raskolnikov had merely tested a theory and failed, he would only have experienced crisis after the murder. However, it is absolutely critical to be aware that his crisis exists long before the murder. Raskolnikov murdered because he was so deeply entrenched in inaction that he desperately needed to do something. In his own words, "I wanted to dare, and I killed. I only wanted to dare, Sonia - and that's the whole reason!"
I don't want to lose you by making this too lengthy, so I will try to wrap it up. The other significant evidence of this motive is that he is not cured by his confession. If he was only miserable because he felt guilty, he should have been relieved once he turned himself in. But the mightily important epilogue tells us that he has reverted back to his initial state of listless depression. He has not found an escape from his existential crisis because his attempt (the murder) proved wholly unsuccessful. It is only when he lets go of himself and his need for control that he experiences redemption. And he does this through accepting the love of Sonia. I have heard many people complain that this ending is too happy or fairytale, but I think with a fuller understanding of the novel, you can see that's not its purpose. The point is that for the first time in the entire novel, Raskolnikov stops thinking about himself and gives himself over to another person. He has found a way to get outside of the polarizing despair of his identity and grasp a more holistic view of what life means. It's not about the romance as much as it is about the symbolic escape of one's self. This becomes his solution and his only relief from the despair that drove him to act in the first place.
If you worked your way through this whole thing, thank you. It's very significant to me because I love this book so much. And it would also mean a lot to me to hear your feedback, because that's what blogging is all about!