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Although Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment has a primarily social theme, it offers an interesting approach to the Christian interpretation of man. Through the self-destructive experiences of Raskolnikov, the reader is drawn to see the fallacy of human individualism when carried to the extreme. However, Dostoevsky also provides a hopeful message which teaches that through humility and love, even the most vile of men can be reformed. Raskolnikov finds the path to reformation through Sonia, who teaches Raskolnikov about love’s power to release one from the chains of guilt. When considered with this theme in mind, the epilogue to Crime and Punishment is a powerful and necessary addition which enhances the overall structure and theme of the novel.
At the beginning of the novel, the reader becomes acquainted with Raskolnikov. One can see evidence of Christianity in his character immediately after he commits murder. After attempting to prove his theory of an “extraordinary individual,” Raskolnikov is afflicted with guilt. He realizes that his theory is wrong and begins to seek relief from his troubled conscience. Dostoevsky writes that Raskolnikov “drove away thought” and “he only knew, one way or another, everything had to be changed” (150). The idea that Raskolnikov must change his life in order to find peace of mind is clearly Christian. One of Christianity’s main teachings is that comfort is found through converting to a new behavioral pattern. As the novel progresses, Dostoevsky shows that Raskolnikov’s psychological illness is not going to heal on its own. Through the many failed attempts to forget his crime, the reader quickly understands that an internal change is necessary for Raskolnikov to find peace.
The author provides the key to inner change in his main character through conversation with the drunkard Marmeladov. Although drunk, Marmeladov aptly quotes several Bible passages and then explains his beliefs about the Lord and Judgment Day. Marmeladov claims that the Lord will summon all the drunkards at the end of His judgment and will direct an explanation for doing so to the wise and clever ones saying, “I receive them, O wise and clever ones, because not one among them considered himself worthy of this” (21). From this the reader can see Dostoevsky’s stance that the humble are greater than the wise and clever. This idea also has a Christian foundation. A story can be found in Christian teaching about Jesus Christ answering the question “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Christ answers by saying that “whosoever…shall humble himself as [a] little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1,4). Dostoevsky lays out the solution to Dostoevsky’s problem: he must humble himself if he wants to escape the debilitating guilt he feels.
The author strengthens his argument that humility is key to relinquishing feelings of guilt by describing Raskolnikov’s inability to abandon his pride. Even after being reminded of his conversation with Marmeladov, Raskolnikov still tries to fight his guilt on his own. He thinks to himself, “Now for the kingdom of light and reason and … and freedom, and power…and now we shall see! Now we shall match wits!” (182) As if that were not obvious enough, Dostoevsky writes that Raskolnikov says this “arrogantly as though he were addressing some dark force and issuing it a challenge” (182). As the story continues, the reader is shown that Raskolnikov cannot overcome his guilt by reason and again slips into a delirious state of inner panic. By showing the reader more of the main character’s egotism, the author gives greater credibility to the idea that humility is a necessary step to finding comfort for one’s guilty conscience.
Dostoevsky also uses Sonia to help Raskolnikov find the path to redemption. She acts as Raskolnikov’s double. She too is a great sinner and in need of moral redemption. However, in contrast to Raskolnikov, she is at peace with herself. Once readers understand her secret for success, they can assume that it will also work for Raskolnikov. Sonia recognizes her unworthiness before God. At one point she asks, “What would I be without God?” (309) This viewpoint allows her to realize the true source of human worth and further allows her to love others unconditionally.
At first, Raskolnikov mocks Sonia and calls her a “holy fool” (309). Later he confesses to her, but still allows his ego to get in the way as she describes the steps he must take to find peace. Towards the end of the book Raskolnikov decides to do what Sonia has advised him to do, and confesses his crime. However, at the last second, Dostoevsky tells the reader that “the words…which had perhaps been ready on his tongue, died inside him” (500). Raskolnikov cannot push aside his ego, and the book ends with the main character stuck with a guilty conscience.
This is where the epilogue’s importance comes in: within its short pages, the reader sees the end result of the path that Dostoevsky has laid out for Raskolnikov. While in prison in Siberia, Raskolnikov is still plagued with guilt and egotism. He does not feel remorse for committing his crime. Rather, he feels ashamed that “his pride was deeply wounded” (515). In fact, he “could find no specially terrible guilt in his past” (515). He considers his crime to be a “blunder, the sort of thing that might happen to anyone” (515). Dostoevsky further points out Raskolnikov was only ashamed that his guilty feelings came so easily and that “he felt no remorse for his crime” (515). This obvious egotism ties the epilogue in with the rest of the novel. It begins where the book left off. The reader sees the same character flaw in this section as can be seen throughout the entire novel. Dostoevsky does well to keep the theme and structure consistent as he moves into the epilogue.
At the end of the epilogue the reader, at long last, witnesses the change of heart that Dostoevsky has been calling for in his main character. Raskolnikov finally drops his pride and throws himself at Sonia’s feet. Dostoevsky explains that “there was no longer any doubt he loved her” (521). Raskolnikov has forgotten his ego and allowed newfound love and humility to grant him a feeling of “light of a renewed future, a resurrection to a new life” (521). The reader reads that Raskolnikov no longer tries to reason away his guilt and “life replaced logic” (522). The concept that happiness is found through forgiveness and love is a strong Christian teaching. Humility and love empower an individual with the ability to start anew, and to find happiness in life.
Dostoevsky finishes his argument that the solution to overcoming moral guilt is the development of humility and love in this epilogue. The epilogue’s Christian undertones mirror those found in the rest of the novel. These undertones attach the epilogue to the rest of the novel and act as an effective continuation to the Christian argument that Dostoevsky lays out in Raskolnikov’s story. The epilogue completes the novel. With it, the reader is able to bring together all the aspects of several different characters and apply them to fully understand one of Dostoevsky’s great messages in Crime and Punishment.
Crime and Punishment. Fyodor Dostoevsky. Translated by Sidney Monas. Signet Classic Printing. Feb. 1999
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