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Crime And Punishment: Dostoevsky's Portrayal Of Anti Nihilism

1778 words - 8 pages

During the mid- to late- 1800s in Russia, a radical phenomenon swept the nation. The idea that life was meaningless and that there was no "mind" or "soul" outside the physical world infected the minds of Russia's elite and Russia's poverty-stricken. This became known as Nihilism. According to Whitney Eggers on "Philosophies in Crime and Punishment," "Nihilists argued that there was a distinction between the weak and the strong, and that in fact the strong had a right to trample over the weak" (Eggers). Nihilism is commonly linked to utilitarianism, or the idea that moral decisions should be based on the rule of the greatest happiness for the largest number of people. Raskolnikov, the protagonist in Crime and Punishment, is a Nihilist, which is his main reason for committing the murders. As a Nihilist, Raskolnikov is a man who "approaches everything from a critical point of view...who does not bow down before any authorities, who does not accept a single principle on faith, no matter how much respect might surround that principle" (Cassedy, 1639).
The author of Crime and Punishment, Fodor Dostoevsky, was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1821. In 1841, he graduated from military engineering school, but he soon left the military to pursue literature. Reform dominated Russia in the mid-1800s, and Dostoevsky held liberal, Western, views. Dostoevsky's ideas toward new radicals practicing Nihilism are paramount in Crime and Punishment, where he advances the idea that Nihilism is "detrimental to society and can lead to suffering and chaos" (Lin). Crime and Punishment takes the reader on a mentally perilous journey through the mind and actions of Raskolnikov, a Russian man who deals with tremendous guilt after committing murder. Dostoevsky uses Nihilist Raskolnikov and his reactions to the murders and eventual conversion to Christianity to refut nhilism in his novel. This rebuttal aids in the overall theme of Raskolnikov's redemption and sacrifice.
One is led to believe that the protagonist of a story should be the hero, saving damsels and defeating the villan. Though Raskolnikov does not act like a hero, he is a protagonist, just not one readers are used to. Doestoevsky delves deep into the mind of Raskolnikov, before, during, and after the vicious murder of Alyona the pawnbroker and her sister. It is concluded that Raskolnikov is a Nihilist, one who believes he is a great man destined to perform great deeds. This Nihilistic attitude is what propels our protagonist toward murder.
To understand how Raskolnikov was redeemed and found love through sacrifice, one must first delve into the mind of a murderer. Raskolnikov justifies his crime by saying he was the extraordinary man destined to remove the "louse" (Dostoyevsky, 73) from society. Raskolnikov thought the pawnbroker was wasting her riches, wearing tattered clothes and living in a boring appartment that had furniture that was "all quite old and of yellow wood" (Dostoyevsky, 17). This angered him because...

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