May 1, 2013
Term Paper: Guilt
It has been said that despite technological advances and society’s progress, emotions have always been the same; even the earliest cavemen felt happiness, sadness, guilt, and so on. Written in 1864, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment highlights the mental plight that Rodion (Rodia) Raskolnikov faces after committing murder. Although the novel was written almost 150 years ago, Rodia’s struggles can be understood by anyone thousands of years ago, as well as anyone thousands of years in the future because guilt is nothing new.
Guilt, which is defined as: the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime, stems from the acceptance that one in fact committed a crime. In Rodia’s case he faces such a heavy battle in his mind because he goes through two separate phases throughout the whole novel. One phase is the one in which he believes that he did nothing wrong and that Alliona deserved to be killed because she was not a good person. Phase one is one in which his guilt is only subconscious because his conscious mind believes that he did something right and he makes himself believe that he is above all others and in a sense heroic. Phase two is the one that brings him the most pain- the one in which he acknowledges that he committed one of the most heinous acts that a human could commit. Conscious guilt is the corollary of phase two. This mental split between the two phases builds up in his subconscious and does not let him live a normal life. He spends days on end battling whether or not he should cede to the guilt and confess to the crime and therefore face punishment, or if he should try to burry the hatchet and continue living his life. However, every time that he tries to listen to the part of his brain telling him to run away from the pain and get over it the guilt returns to torment him.
In portraying guilt through Rodia’s downward spiral in the 1800s, Dostoevsky proved to understand society and the human mind. There are many articles written on the psychological and physiological effects of guilt and many of those effects directly mirror everything that Rodia went through in the novel; his inconsistency of emotions and his oversensitivity are typical of someone living with guilt. The fact that he has to constantly hear about the crime continues to stimulate his questioning of his morality.
Guilt peaks when one has loved ones whose expectations one has to live up to. Rodia’s struggle increases whenever his mother and sister are around because he loves them and knows that he cannot let them down by being known as a murderer. As a result of that, he has to deceive them, which adds onto his guilt, thus making everything even harder for him. Rodia’s guilt consumes him more and more with each struggle that comes his family’s way.
Rodia’s guilt causes his stress to build up to the point where he has so much chaos in his mind that he treats those around him poorly. Razumikhin, who has been such a loyal friend to Rodia, consistently takes his mood swings and remains by his side. Rodia’s mood swings range from him being extremely generous such as giving the money to Marmeladov’s family and in the beginning of the novel helping the drunk girl, but his mood always swings back to being frustrated and unable to deal with society.
When people, like Rodia, have so much going on in their heads they tend to butt heads with most people. Rodia’s relationship with Luzhin has been shaky from the start, not just because he is protective over his sister, but because he cannot function in a regular society with people carrying on regular lives.
Dostoevsky makes it so that readers spend the whole novel wondering how could the people around society not realize how sketchy he is. Why is it that nobody realizes how uncomfortable he gets whenever the discussion about the murder arises? When he goes to the police station and faints after he overhears a discussion about the murder it seems quite obvious that there must be a reason as to why that discussion affected him so much. People begin to catch onto him but no one has enough proof to bring it up against him.
“Here a strange thought came into his head: perhaps all his clothes were covered with blood, perhaps there were stains all over them, and he simply did not see, did not notice them, because his reason was failing, going to pieces…his mind darkening.” (Dostoevsky, 91) By implementing the quote while Rodia is trying to get rid of the traces of the murder, Dostoevsky mentions guilt for one of the first times. Readers see Rodia’s mind being filled with guilt and his loss of control over his life and his sanity. The fact that he, himself, is able to notice this sickness stemming from the guilt shows that he will be in a constant battle over the act that he committed.
As Rodia begins to feel the guilt and understand that he has acted immorally, he begins to distance himself from his brain. However, no one enjoys the feeling of guilt; because of that, Rodia tries convincing himself that he committed a good act. He goes through moments where he feels that he should confess and others where he feels like he will just continue living with the guilt. As his mind continues building onto the problems that he is facing, he experiences a moment of clarity after Marmeladov’s death. “Pride and self-confidence were growing in him every moment; with each succeeding moment he was no longer the man he had been the moment before. What special thing was it however, that had so turned him around? He himself did not know; like a man clutching at a straw, he suddenly fancied that he, too, ‘could live, that there still was life, that his life had not died with the old crone.’ It was perhaps a rather hasty conclusion, but he was not thinking of that,” (Dostoevsky, 188). His interaction with Marmeladov’s family inspires him to be a better person. However, this newly found confidence could counteract his temptations to confess. It will not be long, though, until the guilt creeps back onto him.
The latter part of the novel highlights his inevitable retrogression and continuous mental battle over whether or not he should carry the guilt and remain “innocent.” He battles everyone around him and does everything to try and stay away from the punishment. Dostoevsky forces readers to ask themselves whether Rodia’s crime was malicious or like he believes, for the good of mankind. This question reaches a turning point when Dunia has a gun in her hands. Despite the fact the she could be acting in self-defense, she is unable to shoot Svidrigailov. Dostoevsky employs this scene into the novel so that readers can see the difference between Rodia’s handling of violence and Dunia’s. It was so easy for Rodia to commit murder and to attempt justification. So really, the question is: does he feel guilty because he committed murder, or does he feel guilty because society will frown upon him? Although the two types of guilt would cast different lights on Rodia, it is clear that he feels remorse for what he did, regardless as to why he feels this guilt; he cannot continue living that way. Dostoevsky throws illness, madness, family and friend drama, threats, fear, paranoia and more at Rodia until he finally decides to confess.
Guilt weakens one and destructs ones relationship with oneself. This is shown, when Rodia is incapable of confessing without the encouragement of Dunia and Sonia. Though they both encourage him to confess, insisting that it will help atone for his crime, he continues to contemplate continuing his life as a free man. He has grown accustomed to the guilt, which has stripped him of raw emotions and left him desolate. Finally, he confesses and the novel immediately ends. The fact that Dostoevsky built this crime up and did not have actual justice as punishment explained to the reader shows that the punishment that the novel was all about was in fact guilt.
Dostoevsky emphasizes Rodia’s weakness and lack of remorse over Alliona’s death through Svidrigailov’s suicide. Svidrigailov kills himself once he sees that his life is not going the way that he would like. Rodia, although he has gone through phases in which he contemplates guilt, is unable to end his life. Essentially, he chooses to live in jail and accept the punishment than to come face to face with his subconscious guilt and end his life. Even through the epilogue, Rodia’s guilt is inexplicable; he does not consider the murder a sin, but an “error.” This belief shows that he feels guilty as a result of the pain and suffering that he caused his family and his initial fear of punishment.
Rodia accepts his time in jail and during his trial does not try to justify his acts. Like Monsieur Meursault from Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Rodia accepts his fate and does not argue. This acceptance is his way of releasing the guilt, otherwise known as the stress affecting his loved ones. Dostoesvky shines a brighter light on Rodia’s life post-confession. He receives a relatively simple sentence and although he does not make friends in prison, his life is calmer, partly due to the fact that he does not have to deal with the pain and suffering imposed by the guilt. Rodia, who was once so bitter and separated from society, even falls in love. He realizes that he actually loves Sonia after having rejected her for so long. It seems like he has mental clarity once he confesses and he finally has the mental capacity for healthy relationships and happiness.
Crime and Punishment takes an extreme turn at the epilogue when the cold and depressing story ends with positivity. Rodia’s abrupt change in character comes from the months of suffering and isolation that he went through. His newfound faith allows Rodia to connect with other people. Through this change in attitude, Dostoevsky proves that one controls ones fate; once Rodia decided to confess, good things began to come to him and he finally had the guilt, which had been tormenting him, go away.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2007. Print.