Morality is said often said to be the difference between man and its surrounding. Humans are one of the few organism to feel a need to help all those within their species, even if it defies the natural route of nature. However, this specifically contradicts the natural instinct of survival. Fyodor Dostoevsky shows this contradiction and the battle between rationale and emotion along with their roles in a poor society through Darwinism as his protagonist endures the internal struggle of living this life in Russia in the classic novel Crime and Punishment.
The internal struggle between the instincts of survival and morality define the protagonist of this Russian classic. Rodion Raskolnikov, or Rodia, has the rationale and intelligence which sets him apart from those around him. He is naturally smarter then others and understands his spot within the society that surrounds him. Living in the lower end of Russian society, many suffer, hunger, thirst, or die. It is a part of life that is accepted. Rodia’s internal struggle manifests in this place, his understanding of the natural way of life in which some die or suffer while others live is contradicted by his inept desire to help despite it being futile.
Rodia’s conflicting desires is one of the prevalent themes found within Dostoevsky’s novel. These internal conflicts deal with Darwinism and how it is found in todays society. Charles Darwin was a scientist who is accredited with the discovery of the theory of evolution. In his theory, Darwin defines the notion of natural selection, also sometimes referred to as survival of the fittest. This is applied in nature, it describes the way in which a species advances. When an animal is born with some kind of defect, or if it is unable to change to the environment around it then it dies. Only those that are able to change or are able to survive within their environment are able to reproduce and make more children, hopefully passing these genes that are important for the species’ survival, thus survival of the fittest. Over time these changes occur and theoretically the species evolves. This is seen with all organisms including humans. According to this, mankind should be the fittest organism of the evolutionary progression. As a follower of Darwin, Dostoevsky incorporated these ideas and placed this theory in the realm of Rodia within his society. Somewhere along the evolutionary path humans developed morality, which distinguishes the species. However, is this a survival trait? Dostoevsky analyzes this with the lower class, intelligent but struggling Rodia.
The first portion of the book is made up of several key moments in which Rodia is left with a decision. Weather to help someone who needs help, because they need money and are suffering, or to let them fend for themselves and take care of himself. Rodia is torn between this decision. For the purpose of survival Rodia shouldn’t help others, especially because there is no obligation to. However, Rodia continuously does; allowing his morale conscience to overtake that of survival. This struggle however is so strong that despite his seemingly altruistic actions he remains infuriated at his sympathies finding himself suffering because of it. Any money or charity given away means less for him and thus continues his own suffering.
The truly peculiar thing about Rodia is his division. Does it make him a good person, a bad one, or something different all together? His good gestures are that of a good man and as the protagonist the audience is forced to feel for him as he does these good deeds. However, he hates himself for it after the gesture is done. This is seen in when Rodia tries to help the young drunk girl in the street. Rodia is conflicted with these polar opposites. He understands that this is a regular conundrum and that girls such as this one constantly suffer in his society and that there is nothing he can do to influence a change in that. However, he also feels empathy, he sees the young drunk as the frightened girl that she is and feels compelled to help. In the end, as expected, he helps the girl and protects her but still walks away bitter and feeling as if he has not created an impact. Rodia not only lives at polar ends of this evolutionary and morality spectrum but he lives both to the fullest. He is obviously smarter then most and lives most of his life with rationale justification, he continues living in this style even when making these hard decisions. However, even on the other end of the spectrum with morality Rodia does not do the bare minimum but consistently helps as much as possible. Thus Dostoevsky is able to illustrate the two realms of this human decision. However, when looking at this in terms of Darwinism are these decision good? Which is the right one? And how does Dostoevsky want the audience to see his split protagonist? When helping these people out the audience looks at the good natured side of Rodia. They see compassion, empathy, and generosity, all traits of a lovable protagonist. In day to day life this kind of person would be respected and considered better then most for their good qualities. These are the people appreciated most within a society as kind hearted and caring and yet Rodia rejects it and resents himself for it. According to Darwinism, his rejection of this is what makes him the “fittest”, theoretically it should be what makes him better then most. His independence is what helps him survive. This is what people should be like to continue evolution and make people continuously better.
If we look at Rodia’s independence as a unique survival skill, than that means that empathy is the opposite, and thus hurtful to himself and the people that act in such a way. If animals were to sacrifice themselves to help those weaker in the pack they would all die. The strong would sacrifice themselves and the weak would eventually find themselves on their own and die. Natural selection is thrown out in a society where no one can die because they are all protected. Furthermore, they are all reproducing only adding to this cyclical mess. Rodia symbolizes this division. His humanity hinders him despite his full understanding of its uselessness and he fails to escape it.
Rodia’s empathetic division is furthermore symbolic of our own society. Dostoevsky shows the poison of empathy within our society through Rodia. Our society has police, fire fighters, hospitals, homeless shelters, therapy, and so many more institutions whose sole purpose is to help people live better, stronger, and longer despite any disadvantages they may have. These act as safety nets which don’t allow the weak to fall through. No natural selection can occur if everyone is equally fit. Thus we poison ourselves with more problems such as caring for the old, protecting the weak, and over population. Rodia sees these problems within his society and still tries to help those weak ones because he can’t bare not to. He adds to society’s problems and his own because of his empathy. This is further shown by the lack of money he has later on because of his uncontrollable kindness.
Dostoevsky writes Rodia as an intelligent man who has a fuller understanding of society and its shape as it revolves around him. Generally, like most people, he tries to live happily and help those in need, even if at a personal cost. Unfortunately for Rodia, his costs are marginally larger because of his own state of poverty. However, because Rodia is well versed in Darwinism, as he symbolizes it’s place in society, he also understands the need and will to survive. Survival of the fittest does at time mean the old and weak die for the young and strong. This instinct should be an advantage to any organism as it overcomes another obstacle, through killing or stealing, to help itself. However, does Darwinism and its concept apply in human society? As Rodia is poor and hungry he discovers that the old woman who he pays rent to has a small sum of money. She is a mean woman whom no one enjoys and yet she has this sum that Rodia needs. Survival is prioritized and he kills her for the money, however, he also kills her sister as she witnesses the crime. It is this scene that changes the rest of the book. Up until this point Rodia was helping people at his own risk and cost, he had not hurt others for his own and, although the first is bad it was for survival but murder is illegal. Morality then comes to play a large role in the analyzation of Darwinism in human society through Rodia.
It is the next chapters which truly represent the heart of Darwinism in a moral and modern society. For the next two parts of the novel Rodia’s emotions grow quite exponentially and he finds himself more anxious. As a realist and Darwinist he finds he be has done the right thing for himself and society. However, Rodia begins to have uneasy nights and find himself nervous around others especially at the mention of the murders. “Can this be the punishment already beginning? Indeed it is,”. Rodia becomes plagued by guilt, haunted by the morality hidden away in the back of his mind. His sickness further shows this and he ultimately becomes unable to interact with society in a inauspicious way as he becomes too anxious or sick with guilt as he even faints when it gets to be too much. Morality, although once a guiding light and tool for functioning in society has hindered Rodia through guilt. Therefore, it is not a tool of evolution as it prohibits survival of the fittest as his emotional state has taken control of him. However, Darwin’s solution is not any better. Killing off others and breaking the law for one’s own gain works in the natural world but is another harmful trait in a modern society as it ultimately leaves most imprisoned, thus unable to continue procreating meaning they aren’t passing down their genes and don’t fit Darwin’s definition of fit. In a way this could be considered the only way to truly be fit in today’s society, the avoidance of jail or death before procreation. On a basic level this is seen in the natural world, live, eat, procreate, and die however, the way in which to go about doing this is what has changed since our pre-morality period.