A Socio-Psychological Exploration of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment

By Uwasomba, C | Ife Psychologia, March 2011 | Go to article overview

A Socio-Psychological Exploration of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment


Uwasomba, C, Ife Psychologia


Abstract

Using a socio-psychological approach, the essay explores Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. The exploration highlights Dostoyevsky's heavy reliance on the use of psychological realism, showing in the process the intricate interplay between psychology, sociology and literature. In the novel, the reader comes across the merging of the philosophies of Hegel, Nietzsche, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Marx.

The essay concludes that Crime and Punishment is a mixture of four novels: the psychological novel, the novel of detection, the novel of character, and the philosophical Four voices, namely: voices of the existentialists, Marxian, Freudian, and Christianity are intertwined in the novel. Fyodor appears to be saying that the world is meaningless but it is through the Christian faith meaning could come to life.

Key words: Crime, Punishment, Existentialism, Society, Psycho-analysis, Dostoyevsky.

Introduction

Dostoyevsky's Crime and punishment (1866) is based on the writer's terrifying experience with summary justice and the cruel penal system of Tzarist Russia. It is a tale set in the dingy tenements, backstreets and dram-shops of pre-revolutionary St Petersburg, and concerns the actions or inactions of a murderer, Raskolnikov, who in setting himself in the role of a superman of Napoleonic and Nietzchean Hue, decides to commit murder as a matter of principle to pursue a higher purpose. The novel can be viewed as a detective novel but not one detecting the criminal, rather the motives behind the perpetration of the crime. It is also a novel that centers on psychological observations and analyses.

In this essay, an attempt is made to explain the uniqueness of Dostoevsky's form of writing by focusing on his characteristic devices and techniques as well as his relation to and use of existentialism. In addition, this explorative essay proposes to highlight the author's heavy reliance on the use of psychological realism. In the process the intricate interplay between psychology, sociology, and literature is showed. In addition, how Dostoyevsky has manipulated all the three areas to become the master craftsman in world literature is highlighted.

Dostoyevsky and the Human Condition

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky's writing (1821-1881) was influenced by Alexander Pushkin, the highly celebrated Russian poet who died in 1837. According to Frank (1976), Pushkin dominated Dostoyevsky's literary entire life. Dostoyevsky was of the strong view that Raskolnikov, the hero (anti hero?) of Crime and Punishment recreates the murderous folly of Pushkin's Herman in The Queen of Spades, who is equally obsessed by an idée fixe and equally ready to murder to obtain wealth and power (Frank, 1976:64). Pushkin was seen as a model for Russian writers. Like Dostoyevsky, Pushkin was both "a great virtuoso and something of a sphinx. Pushkin developed the art of exploring the world in terms of the experience and mental outlook of his creations." (Lord 1976:61)

Dostoyevsky's novels concern themselves with the behavioral patterns of several people from different walks of life. A fitting typology of the above description can be sighted in Dostoyevsky's The Possessed, which uses a large number of characters representing all classes of the Russian society. In the novel, he shows how an idle interest in nihilism causes robbery, arson, and murder in a Russian community. The "plot is exceedingly complex but this very complexity tends to emphasize a similar quality in the nineteenth century Russian life" (Welleck 1962:7).

Dostoyevsky is also known for his existentialist views. This is in spite of his involvement in radical socialist politics. Among his works, which espouse existentialist principles are The House of the Dead (1860), which was influenced by his experiences in Omsk labor camp and the compulsory military service he underwent for eight years, Notes from the Underground (1864); The Gambler (1866); The Idiot (1868); The Devils (1872) and The Brothers Karamazov (1880). …

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