Themes in the Opening Passage of Crime and Punishment
What important themes, characters, atmosphere and images are set out in the first chapter of Part one of Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' ?
From the very first word of this extraordinary piece of literature, the thoughts and transgressions of Raskolnikov penetrates the heart and mind of the reader with exceptional insight, skillfully constructed suspense plots and a dynamic, autonomous hero. It is true to state that 'Crime and Punishment' had a profound influence on the modern intellectual climate, sparking off a wave of existentialist writings, and it is not difficult to discover why. The intricate and enthralling exploration, carried out by Raskolnikov, of conflicting internal drives, personal motivations and philosophical justification of one's existence leads to the impulsive testing of his rights to transgress moral law.
In my view, it is possible to recognise the introduction, is somewhat tentative, of five major themes in the first chapter of this novel. The first is the persisting and amaranthine struggle between good and evil. One demonstration of this conflict can be viewed through the instability of society in Russia at that time. The need for a moral force in an irrational universe is the theme which drives Raskolnikov to committing his crime. He feels so strongly that the world is ravaged by worthless creatures that he feels it is his job as a citizen of the world to do what he finally does. His frustration is what prevents him from going completely insane as it manages to suppress the outward anger that he is holding inside of him. The supreme value of an individual is obviously the reason for Raskolnikov's seemingly proud and self-righteous mentality. The theme which is only partially introduced in the first chapter is the of the expiation of sin through suffering. Raskolnikov could be said to be punishing himself at the start of the novel by his decline into absolute poverty and his disregard for his appearance. However, it is only later on in the novel that the reader is able to see the true redemption carried out on Raskolnikov's part. The ultimate question that is raised in 'Crime and Punishment' is of how one is to live and what one is to live by, this is only answered, unfortunately, fragmentarily by the closing of the novel. The search for truth and self-fulfillment and the investigation of hidden motives are the main drives of the novel and are clarified at the outset. The intuitive understanding that Dostoyevsky had of the unconscious is manifested in the irrational behaviour of Raskolnikov and his obvious psychic suffering. The rage directed against the optimistic assumptions of rationalist humanism is passionate and strong and is introduced with courage in the first chapter. The themes of 'Crime and Punishment', however, can be amalgamated into a singular movement, that of existentialism. The stress on concrete individual existence and consequently...