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The Murderer's Motives In Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment

2450 words - 10 pages

The Murderer's Motives in Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment

The beauty of Crime and Punishment is that there are no absolutes. It is a 19th century murder mystery, with the identity of the murderer clear, but the murderer's reasons far from being so. Although each chapter was replete with uncertainty, no other facet of the novel caused greater vexation both during the reading and even after its conclusion than what drove Raskol'nikov to commit the murder. That is not to say that he committed murder without purpose or reason, that he was just a cookie cutter villain with no purpose; instead, he is a multi-faceted character that is both likable and a scoundrel at once. The protagonist himself is unsure why he plans and carries out what he does. As he went to bury what he had stolen, he asked himself: "If it all has really been done deliberately and not idiotically, if I really had a certain and definite object, how is it I did not even glance into the purse and don't know what I had there, for what I have undergone these agonies and have deliberately undertaken this base, filthy, degrading business?" (Part II, Ch. 2, pgs. 92-93). The reader is not left completely in the dark, however, as motives were established. The caveat being that motive is plural, and motive is usually a mutually exclusive term. The first motive to be presented, and the strongest in the novel during Raskol'nikov's planning stages, was the issue of poverty. He was destitute, living in squalor, and in need of money to crawl out of his grave-like flat. After the murder was committed and Raskol'nikov came under suspicion, he came face to face with the inspector general, Porfiry Petrovich. Their discussion made the cut-and-dried appearance of the motive turn decidedly cloudy, as a result of Porfiry's presentation of an article written by Raskol'nikov many months before the crime was conceived and committed. The article contains his theory of "supermen" who are bound to advance new thoughts by any means necessary. It became clear through the conversation that he fancied himself a personification of his own theory on at least some level, and another potential motive merges. To further complicate things, a third motive was stressed in many parts of the novel, based on a feeling common to the Russian people, that of a will to suffer.

The motive encompassing Raskol'nikov's poverty is an obvious choice, as Raskol'nikov is destitute and lives in a flat so small and stifling as to be compared to a grave. This was even the reason he cited as his motive during his trial. He was a student in St. Petersburg, but was forced to leave the university for a time and due to the state of his mind had not taken any work, going so far as to convince himself that he could not take students (for tutoring purposes) on account of not having boots. He faced the further feeling of being a burden on his mother and sister, as he was sustained in St. Petersburg through money sent by them. This...

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