‘Crime the hardships of 19th century Russia’s lower class,

‘Crime and Punishment’ by Fyodor
Dostoevsky, published initially in 1886, follows the unsettled life and
moral dilemmas of an ex-student; Rodion Raskolnikov who is immensely
impoverished and formulates a plan to kill an acquisitive pawnbroker, Alyona
Ivanovna, and attempting to justify his actions not only to those who discover
his crime, but also to himself. Dostoevsky demonstrates
the hardships of 19th century Russia’s lower class, caused by
societal exclusion, through his use of the mentally fragile and impoverished
main character, the hatred Raskolnikov feels towards the upper class and the
idea of a proletariat revolution and Dostoevsky’s use of the character of
Katerina Ivanovna.

‘Crime and Punishment’ focuses on the disastrous effect of a
large gap between the rich and poor, or even the slightly more well off and the
poor, in 19th century Russia. Dostoevsky invites you to question
whether the narrator, Raskolnikov’s, intention to ‘clear his debt’ is futile
or if it can be justified by the apparent greed of the pawnbroker and attempts
to drain the narrator of more money. Dostoevsky’s novel
follows a structure of 6 parts, which serve as actual representations of the
slow breakdown of the central character after the murder in the first part, as
the segmenting of the narrative demonstrates the different stages of guilt and
grief that Raskolnikov endures until he announces his guilt. Dostoevsky also
included an epilogue to highlight Raskolnikov’s changed view of the murder,
from a heroic and noble act for the lower class to a brutal and unforgiving
deed, as well as providing the reader with some form of closure. Dostoevsky
also focuses on the idea that the threat of punishment by authority controls
those lower in society than them, and because they are afraid of punishment the
lowest classes become easy to control and influence. This is supported by the
Marxist view, as Karl Marx’s social, political and economic theories are the
basis of communism, and this novel focuses on the manipulation and exclusion of
working class, as well as the chaotic lives of those in the working class in
comparison to the capitalist class.

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The turmoil and tribulations of societal exclusion, in
particular the working class, are highlighted by Dostoevsky through the main
character, Raskolnikov, whose isolation from society is prevalent at
both the start and end of the novel. This is demonstrated by “He was so immersed in himself and had isolated himself … he
was afraid not only of meeting his landlady, but of meeting anyone at all… “,
and “He was crushed by poverty.” Dostoevsky’s
use of ‘crushed’ connotes that the narrator has been ruthlessly affected by
poverty in terms of money and standard of living, and it could be suggested
that this does have an impact on Raskolnikov’s mentality and what eventually
leads him to murder Alyona. This quote is from the beginning of the novel, and
highlights Dostoevsky’s use of language to demonstrate this segregation of the
main character, for example ‘immersed’ and ‘isolated’, highlighting his
alienated state as an impoverished university dropout, because society rejects
his lifestyle. This rejection increases his disgust of the upper classes of St
Petersburg, further increasing the exclusion of
his societal class, as their hatred paired with the unequal ground on which
they stand further damages the relationships between the classes.

In addition to this, Dostoevsky
also demonstrates that the hatred Raskolnikov feels toward the upper classes is
what drives him to murdering the pawnbroker as Dostoevsky
uses Alyona Ivanovna to represent the greedy nature
of the upper class. This, again, can be shown by “The old
woman was a mistake perhaps, but she’s not the point . . . it wasn’t a human
being I killed, it was a principle!…” and “All I managed to do was kill. And
I didn’t even manage that, as it turns out . . .” In
the first quote, Dostoevsky is demonstrating how Raskolnickov is justifying his
actions against Alyona, shown by ‘it was a principle’, highlighting how she was
simply a device in Raskolnikov’s plan to free himself from the confines of
poverty, and this is reinforced and justified by the Marxist perspective. In
the second quote, Dostoevsky uses ellipses and abrupt language to demonstrate
Raskolnikov’s fragile and Napoleonic mental state, because he believes success
is pivotal to life, however he is an unsuccessful murderer that is unable to use the crime to his advantage or
assuage his guilt.  This, in turn, highlights
the turmoil and tribulations of societal exclusion of the working class from
the upper classes because the despair-ridden, penniless character of
Raskolnickov has been thrust from society due to his financial circumstances,
forcing him to take drastic measures to survive.

Another way Dostoevsky uses
Raskolnickov to highlight the turmoil and tribulations of the societal
exclusion of the lower class in 19th century Russia is through the
concept of a proletariat revolution, or the revolution of the common man. This
can be shown by “Power is given only to him who dares to stoop and take it… one
must have the courage to dare.” In this quote, Dostoevsky shows Raskolnikov is
trying to find reasons why he isn’t worthy of Sonya’s love, while wanting to
share the burden of his mistakes but is afraid to put more pressure on Sonya.
Additionally, Dostoevsky is demonstrating that the ‘pursuit of power’ is the
reason behind Raskolnikov’s actions, due to his unstructured and unsettled life
in poverty. This shows that Raskolnikov’s killing of Alyona Ivanovna could be
considered to be a proletariat revolution because of his status, or lack
thereof, as a common man. The killing of the central symbol of upper class
greed connotes ideas of rebellion and revolution, as typically the purpose of a
revolution is to free those who have been oppressed by a higher authority, in
Raskolnikov’s case the gluttonous Alyona Ivanovna. This, therefore, highlights
the turmoil and tribulations of the societal exclusion of the lower class in 19th
century Russia because the common man, or proletariat, of this novel overthrows
the unfairly rich, Alyona Ivanovna, because he she was the source of his financial
oppression at that moment, which excluded him
from society. Karl Marx believed that a proletariat revolution would occur, and
must be violent, because the upper class won’t apprehend their power
democratically, leading to the rise of communism in Russia. Marx believed this
would then lead to a communist and classless society, which in turn would end
the struggles of those in the lower classes, those akin to the likes of Raskolnickov.

This idea can also be shown
through the character of Katerina Ivanovna, a lower class woman fixated on
becoming rich, possibly to mask her mental and physical illnesses. Dostoevsky
uses Katerina as a symbol of the envious disposition of the lower classes,
highlighting Dostoevsky’s view of the unsettled class system of 19th
century Russia. It could be argued that Katerina Ivanovna is the depiction of
the toxic nature that stems from the desire to be in the upper classes, as she
forces her step-daughter into prostitution, in order to continue living rather
than trying to do something herself. This can be shown by “What’s there to
save? Some treasure?” In this quote, Katerina is pressuring Sonya to sell
herself in order to feed the family, as they have no money, placing Sonya in a
difficult situation that forces her to transgress societal norms at the hands
of her maternal figures’ desperation and mental frailty. This highlights the
turmoil and tribulations of societal exclusion of 19th century
Russia’s lower class because poverty and inequality between the classes, paired
with mental illness that cannot be attended to because of this, has made a
mother force her child into prostitution, one of the most dangerous and
desperate professions, in order to survive. The Marxist view would place the
blame for this abhorrent situation on the upper classes and the capitalist
world because of their oppression and abuse of the lower classes, as well as
the lack of opportunity for the lower classes in Russia, due to their
exclusion.

To conclude, it can be argued to
a great extent that Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ highlights the turmoil
and tribulations of the societal exclusion of 19th century Russia’s
lower class through the character of Raskolnikov, as Dostoevsky uses him to
represent the lower class and the common man, and his financial oppression by
the pawnbroker, who’s greedy ways are what seemingly hinder him, from Raskolnikov’s
perspective. Additionally, Dostoevsky highlights this by demonstrating and
critiquing the poisonous nature of the desire to be rich, also believed and
addressed by Karl Marx in his theories, and how this exclusion from society not
only increases the gap between the richer and poorer classes, but also can lead
to disastrous measures being taken to survive in the unequal society of 19th
century Russia.

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