“I used to analyse myself down to the last thread, used to compare myself with others, recalled all the smallest glances, smiles and words of those to whom I’d tried to be frank, interpreted everything in a bad light, laughed viciously at my attempts ‘to be like the rest’ – and suddenly, in the midst of my laughing, I’d give way to sadness, fall into ludicrous despondency and once again start the whole process all over again – in short, I went round and round like a squirrel on a wheel.”
– Crime and Punishment, Fedor Dostovesky.
From an icy, nineteenth-century Russia, protagonist Raskolnikov's voice of protest, fear and dread gathers his followers. Through Raskolnikov's eyes and thoughts, his sense of guilt, full of penance and malaise, illustrates what it's like to be human – a concept readers easily relate to even now, 150 years since his story was first penned.
The 23-year-old, failed law student finds himself facing his repentance and depicts his entire mental process, before and after his crime. Dostoevsky's words lead readers to discover the uncontrollable violence resting in the protagonist, caused by the banal and useless survival circumstances in which his society forces him to believe.
Raskolnikov's poverty, and sense of interior disappointment, have caused an extreme feeling of hatred against everything that was falsely real. He considers the cause of his illness, the wealth and wickedness of his victim, he kills and removes parts of himself: the rational, glossy and reflective characteristics existing in humankind.
The writer encourages us to reflect on the complex and psychological dynamic that dominates the life of Raskolnikov as well as how his emotions control his actions and passions. Inclined to goodness and peace, both physical and spiritual, the young man finds himself, instead dominated by such intense anger to the surrounding society, to condition his life, his habits, his convictions, his projects, but above all to making a brutal and totally illogical gesture.
Crime and Punishment is a message of reflection about the existential, but also touches on a religious, moral, legal, psychological and political level. Its message continues to find confirmation and admiration today, thanks to its modernity and Dostoevsky's immortal consistency. Dostoevsky teaches us how to analyse our history, our mistakes and our actions, but, perhaps more importantly, to metabolise and live acceptingly with who we are, who we were and who we will be. Crime and Punishment stands as a journey into ourselves, through a narrative taking place in Russia 150 years ago.
Words: Giulia Catani
Artwork: Portrait of Fedor Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov, 1872