Thursday, 7 November 2013

A Reflection: Crime and Punishments

This is it, the third and final "big one". By that I mean, the final book on my Challenge List written by one of the top Russian masters and, I would have to say, out of the three: War and Peace, Ana Karenina and Crime and Punishment, it is my favourite. As I mentioned in my post of Ana Karenina, I prefer more "action" writing than description writing. I would define "action" writing as actual writing of action taking place in the novel or dialogue that drives the plot forward. This novel had much more "action" writing resulting in a good paced, forward-moving plot. Because this was a translation (due to my lack of bilingualism), I still felt that I lost a lot of what makes Dostoevsky's work so intriguing and "masterful". However, the overall plot itself was still highly interesting and fun to read.
It helps, perhaps, that I began reading this novel on Halloween. The gruesomeness of the beginning of the book fits right in with the backdrop of the annual celebration of the dead. As we follow the protagonist’s, Raskolnikov's, thoughts we are lead to believe that we are reading the story of a mad man. Given that the title of this novel is Crime and Punishment it is assumed that this novel will revolve around a crime and a punishment. We quickly identify what the crime is, but what will be the punishment? Is it his own torment of mind, his illness, or, the law? At the beginning of the novel, it is assumed the purpose of the crime is to obtain money. As the readers, we understand the destitute and desperation that many of the characters are living through, but after the crime is committed, Raskolnikov continually finds himself in situations where he is given money, and he chooses not to accept it. We actually see this even before he commits his crime when he gives the last of his money away to a family he just met. Once the crime is committed there are numerous opportunities that Raskolnikov could easily take advantage of, but subconsciously (whether he realizes that he is always avoiding these opportunities is unclear) he finds reasons to turn them down: there is his friend Razumikhin who is willing to share his work on translating pamphlets (one of which comically explores whether or not a woman is a human being) , there is the woman in the street that hands Raskolnikov a coin (although if Raskolnikov had not committed the crime he would arguably not have been in the street at this time), there is his own mother and sister who send him money...etc. Slowly, however, Dostoevsky reveals that Raskolnikov had a different motive for committing his crime, a motive that revolves around theories and geniuses! All in all, I would have to say Dostoevsky does a great job of showing the different sides of a potential mad man or genius.
Before I end this "reflection" I can't help but mention the theme of fate that Dostoevsky so cleverly entwined in his narrative. Was the crime Raskolnikov committed his destiny planned from the beginning by something greater causing him to be in, what one would argue as the right place at the right time, or a conscious choice that he made which forced him to be in those places?
Needless to say, I really enjoyed this novel.

Up Next: A Hand Maid's Tale

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