Saturday, March 5, 2011

Crime and Punishment

Although I read this book last week (Feb 20-26), I postponed its blog entry because I wanted to first finish reading A Concise History of the Russian Revolution by Richard Pipes, as I will explain below.

     Published in 1866, Crime and Punishment follows the St. Petersburg student Raskolnikov as he contemplates, commits, regrets and finally confesses a major crime. The novel is psychological in nature, following Raskolnikov's mental struggle, devolution and evolution. Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment after his release from a labor camp in Siberia, where he had spent five years because of his liberal political ideas.  While serving his sentence, his political and religious ideas underwent major changes as he became disillusioned with contemporary Western philosophical movements, and Crime and Punishment is written from his new perspective as a Slavophile and a devout Orthodox. Raskolnikov's dreadful actions are intended as an example of nihilism taken to its logical conclusion, yet the radical thinkers of Dostoevsky's day scorned the idea that Raskolnikov had anything in common with them. Russian nihilism (adhered to by Raskolnikov) encouraged the creation of an √©lite of superior individuals who are not subject to the morals or laws of society; in fact, they must rise above these restrictions in order to create a new and superior social order. Throughout the novel, Raskolnikov wonders if he, like Napoleon, is one of these so-called superior individuals. He tests his theory by committing a murder near the beginning of the novel, and the rest of the book chronicles his mental anguish and withdrawal from society. The nihilists and other radical thinkers of the day rejected this portrayal, saying that murder simply for the sake of murder was unrelated to their theories.

Unfortunately, Dostoevsky's foresight was proven true by the actions of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, specifically the Red Terror.  The Bolsheviks, like the fictional Raskolnikov and his hero Napoleon, believed that they were superior individuals undertaking the creation of a new social order by whatever methods necessary.  During the Red Terror, millions of innocent people were slaughtered.  This was not capital punishment as a result of supposed (or even fabricated) crimes; it was death for the sake of death.  Zinoviev, one of the top Soviet officials during the revolution, stated in September 1918, "We must carry with us [into the future] 90 million out of the 100 million of Soviet Russia's inhabitants.  As for the rest, we have nothing to say to them. They must be annihilated."  N.V. Krylenko, official of the Commissariat of Justice added,  "We must execute not only the guilty. Execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more."   During this time, mass executions were to be used as a tool to subjugate the unwilling masses while the Bolsheviks, who knew what was best for Russia and for the world, created their utopia.  Well, Raskolnikov, I'll see your Napoleon and raise you a Lenin.

Dostoevsky writes as a third-person omnisicient narrator in this novel, which was innovative at the time.  His penetrating psychological analysis and character development also set him apart as a novelist. I considered following Crime and Punishment with The Brothers Karamazov, but the latter is much longer and I have a few library books to finish this week as well.  That said, The Brothers Karamazov will be making an appearance on this blog within the next month or so.

Stats:
Tortured idealist student with no life experience (Lenin, I'm looking at you!): Raskolnikov
Best friend you don't deserve: Razumikhin
Moron: Luzhin
Mary Magdalene without the insanity: Sonya
Strong-willed sister:Dunya
Quotable quote: People are happy who have no need of locks. (Raskolnikov)
Okay, one more:  If you weren't a fool, a common fool...if you were an original instead of a translation...you'd come round to meet me instead of wearing out your boots in the street. (Razumikhin)
There was a lot of: mental anguish, fever, poverty-filled streets, illness, thinking, failed attempts at thinking
There should have been more:  I don't know, flowers and butterflies? It's called Crime and Punishment, for crying out loud.
This book makes you glad you don't have to: answer all the world's big questions
This book makes you want to: answer all the world's big questions   (See, you can drive yourself insane without even killing anybody first)

2 comments:

bren j. said...

"Failed attempts at thinking."
Stupid Bolsheviks! >:(
On the other hand....if not for them, I might've been born in Russia and forced to starve myself and compete in gymnastics just to feed my family.....

jatman1 said...

They are interested in Dostojewski?! Wonderfully. I would like to point out a hopefully interesting Dostojewski page to you:
http://dostojewski.npage.de/
One can translate the side also fast into the English language.