A pawnbroker of bad temper, who disregards the poor and the lower class possesses a great sum of money, most of which she doesn’t need, yet the sum would be of extreme help to a greater mass of people, perhaps able to save up to one hundred lives in poverty. The pawnbroker is a woman who doesn’t really have a family to mourn for her. Would it be ethical to kill her to beget prosperity and living for a greater number? Questions Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment. Few dozens of pages in we find out that indeed, he chose to do it, and the rest of the novel is devoted to the psychological and the ethical consequences to his actions. He questions whether rational arguments are enough to exhume the nature of moral values. Could relativism, or utilitarianism for that matter, account for all of our moral actions? What are going to be the controversial results of that?
With the questions above, Dostoyevsky is demonstrating how frequently man uses reason to justify evil (because what is of greater good than a well-formulated argument?) and that logical thinking might not always be of use when we consider ethical dilemmas. He intertwines this with a precise psychological depiction of Raskolnikov, and as many claim, a transformation of mentality and attitude to life that is evident through every part of the book (not a major spoiler). Also, the critique of social utopianism is present too, and it doesn’t differ much from the critique presented in Notes from the Underground, which isn’t surprising considering the two-year gap between those two works. Some prophetic significance is also applied to the nature of dreams, but there are ranging interpretations about their part in this novel.
For readers searching for a readable book with an interesting story, Crime and Punishment might be the best choice, if also the reader is starting Dostoyevsky; the suspense is there in many cases and the twists do not appear randomly at the end of the story, rather we are gifted with surprises throughout it. But, having read The Brothers Karamazov prior to this, I ought to admit that the more mature and considerate ‘version’ of the author is present with his Karamazov Brothers. A couple of the scenes in this book, which are almost major, do not have that stamp of realism on them which I initially expected and, rarely, it feels as if the novel was written in response to Raskolnikov’s behaviour – did Dostoyevsky lose control over his character? One stylistic inclination of his that I like is the fastidious emphasis on the faces of each of the characters, it gives them a status of existing agents.