Exposing Nihilism in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

1706 WordsJun 18, 20187 Pages
A paragon of realist literature, Fyodor Dostoevsky deftly exposes nihilism in his novel, Crime and Punishment, published in 1866. Its protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov, is intelligent yet bitter and unfeeling, having denounced his morality and bonds with society. He embodies the qualities of nihilism, the desertion of all emotional and ethical concerns. This philosophical doctrine is historically ubiquitous, particularly with the Nihilist Movement, one of Imperial Russia’s Great Reforms, and the growing apostasy and atheism of postmodernity; both instances aptly highlight the abandonment of virtue, individual and societal. Raskolnikov is an impoverished ex-student living in St. Petersburg, the grimy, plagued, and urbanized capital of the…show more content…
Raskolnikov summarizes, “An extraordinary man has the right...to overstep...certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfillment of his idea (sometimes, perhaps, to the benefit to the whole of humanity)” (Dostoevsky 226). Raskolnikov murders the pawnbroker, because he wants to prove his experiment correct, that he can effectively transcend the law for a higher purpose. Understandably, Porfiry inquires, “What if some man or youth imagines that he is a Lycurgus or Mahomet - and suppose he begins to remove all obstacles...he has some great enterprise before him and needs money...and tries to get it” (Dostoevsky 230). Raskolnikov is precisely the figure Porfiry is describing; he imagines himself to be of equal status to ‘extraordinary men’, such as Napoleon, Machiavelli, and King Solomon. The cruel method which Raskolnikov employs to fulfill his “great enterprise” demonstrates nihilism. After Raskolnikov realizes his crimes served no ‘higher purpose’, he is extracted from his delirium at last. “Everything takes on a new physiognomy, and a new meaning to him...his whole soul is metamorphosed and in constant discord with the life around him” (Melchior); consequently, he becomes more accepting of relationships, which he so ardently avoided before. He is quickly enamored with Sonia Marmeladov. After hearing his confession, she “is terrified at his self-abasement…[and] begs him to rise”

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