Analysis Of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime And Punishment: The Theme Of Physical And Spiritual Death

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The novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky contains an underlying theme of salvation. The main character, Raskolnikov, struggled with sinful intentions and actions, which caused him to die spiritually. His spiritual death resulted in rebirth through a spiritual revival, which he found after an internal struggle with guilt and conviction. Raskolnikov’s death and regeneration of spirit mirror the biblical allusion of Jesus giving new life to Lazarus.

Raskolnikov endured an intense struggle with morality. In his younger years, religion was an apparent part of his life. As stated in a letter from his mother, “Remember, dear boy, how in your childhood, when your father was living, you used to lisp your prayers at my knee, and how happy we all were in those days” (Dostoevsky 61). As he grew and experienced the world on his own, he rejected religion and adopted more nihilistic views. He believed himself to be superior to the average man. His heightened sense of superiority altered his sense of morality. Raskolnikov believed that by murdering a rich pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna, he would benefit the greater good. From his perspective, “it wasn’t a human being I killed, it was a principle! So I killed the principle, […]”(Dostoevsky 389). Though he initially thought his act was justified the uncalculated murder of the pawnbroker’s innocent sister intensified his guilt. His previous religious foundation quickly caused him to question the validity of his initial justification. After he took the pawnbrokers life he stated, “but I didn’t step over, I stayed on this site . . . All I managed to do was kill. And I didn’t even manage that, as it turns out”(Dostoevsky 389). Raskolnikov’s awful sin of taking two lives caused him mental and physical illness, resulting in a fatal battle for his soul. His eternal life hung on the brink of eternal death and destruction after his decision to murder Alyona Ivanovna and the unforeseen tragedy of murdering her sister. Raskolnikov’s heart and mind were guilt-ridden and his bodily health suffered due to his sin.

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Preceding the murder Raskolnikov met a young woman who was forced into prostitution to support her family due to her father’s drunkenness. Though Sonia was a prostitute she viewed religion as a necessity. Similar to Raskolnikov Sonia knew that her actions did not reflect her faith but knew that she would be forgiven if she repented and would later advise Raskolnikov to do the same. Though done in to provide for her family, prostitution is viewed as a sin in the Christian faith. Due to their similar situations Sonia had empathy for Raskolnikov. Sonia and Raskolnikov both committed blatant sins motivated by what they both considered to be good reasons. Sonia held a deep understanding of Raskolnikov’s situation and the guilt-ridden state he endured after his sin. This empathetic understanding was pivotal to Raskolnikov’s salvation.

His loved ones noticed not only the shift in physical health but in his spiritual and mental health. His mother and sister worried about his well being, and this is reinforced in the narration. “ In the first few moments, he thought he must be going mad. A dreadful chill enveloped him […]. He was seized with a violent fit of shivering […]” (Dostoevsky 75). Dostoevsky reveals the heightened severity of Raskolnikov’s afflictions by using words such as violent and seized, giving the perception that this was an overwhelming sensation where physical illness manifested itself through subconscious thought as shown through his relapsing into abstraction. His brewing illness and avoidance of Christian practices erupted into an overbearing detriment to his health, causing Raskolnikov’s mother to invoke Jesus’ name and urge her son to seek spiritual guidance.

The allusion to Lazarus rising from the dead and experiencing a rebirth mirrors Raskolnikov’s journey to salvation. The biblical allusion refers to the biblical story where Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, became deathly ill. Lazuras’s sisters went to Jesus to plead healing for their brother. While Jesus made his journey, Lazarus died from his illness. Due to this, Instead of healing his illness Jesus miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead. In contrast to Lazarus, Raskolnikov’s rebirth occurred spiritually, for he committed a blatant act of sin against God for what he perceived as the greater good. Subsequently, this influenced his sense of morality, blurring the lines between good and evil, as seen with Raskolnikov “…relapsing into abstraction, and when he again raised his head with a start and [looked] around, he could remember neither what he just had been thinking, nor which way he had come” (Dostoevsky 50). The author’s use of the words relapsing into abstraction shows the erosion of Raskolnikov’s moral foundation, resulting in moments where he lapses into a void of abstract thought that has little or no value. This is seen in his failure to recollect his actions or thoughts. Raskolnikov’s need to rid the world of Alyona Ivanovna and distribute her wealth to the less fortunate, coupled with the un-meditated murder of her sister, lead to his excruciating fall from grace, spiritual death, and eventual rebirth.

Much like Lazarus, Raskolnikov was a friend of God, as evidenced previously, until he committed murder and forsake his religious upbringing. This resulted in a metaphorical death seen through his social and physical isolation that resulted from his moral and spiritual deficits. When the allusion to the biblical story was made in the novel the mirroring aspects became more apparent. In the story of Lazarus, Jesus purposely arrived after Lazarus was dead rather than just healing his sickness from afar, so he could demonstrate the magnitude of his power through raising him from the dead rather than just healing his illness. Similarly, in Crime and Punishment, God waited until Raskolnikov completely rejected religion and became isolated in all aspects of his life before he made himself known. He was dead, spiritually, and endured a long period of suffering before Dostoevsky allowed him to find salvation. The biblical allusion to Lazarus shares a common theme with Crime and Punishment, which serves to highlight the theme of suffering before being allowed to achieve salvation.

Similar to Lazarus, the only useful help that could be given to alleviate Raskolnikov’s suffering was from Jesus. Raskolnikov’s mother looked for help from God knowing that he was the only one that could truly save Raskolnikov from his spiritual death. In a letter to Raskolnikov, she asked, “ Do you still say your prayers, Royda? Do you believe in the mercy of our Creator and our redeemer? In my heart, I’m afraid that you know longer believe” (Dostoevsky 61). Raskolnikov’s mother is deeply concerned by her son’s absence of faith and spirituality, but she continuously questions and invokes Jesus to intervene on behalf of her son. This is capitalized on later by Sonia who Raskolikov builds a romantic relationship connection with throughout the novel. Like Lazarus, his situation was considered unredeemable without interference from God after a long bout of suffering. Both had loved ones who reached out to Jesus on their behalf, and both had a spiritual revival.

Raskolnikov rose from the dead, just like Lazarus. Raskolnikov was brought back to God by a poor prostitute he loved whom he met as a result of caring for their family. After the murder, Raskolnikov experienced a long and tormenting struggle with the guilt he experienced, and this is reflected in the narration.

What was taking place in him was totally unfamiliar, new, sudden, never before experienced. Not that he understood it, but he sensed clearly, with all the power of sensation, that it was no longer possible for him to address these people in the police station, not only with heartfelt effusions, as he had just done, but in any way at all, and had they been his own brothers and sisters, and not police lieutenants, there would still have been no point in this addressing them, in whatever circumstances of life. (Dostoevsky 154)

Dostoevsky used a long run-on sentence to show the extensive overflux of feeling experienced by the protagonist. His use of negative words provides a negative connection to the events and feelings presented. The feelings Raskolnikov experienced after committing murder were new as if he were exploring uncharted territory. At this point, Raskolnikov separated himself from society and God, and he decided to internalize his secret, which manifested into a struggle between good and evil, bordering madness. Raskolnikov’s suffering was exhibited through severe mental torment and paranoia.

In a physically and mentally worn down state, Raskolnikov’s guilt and suffering were heightened at the sight of Sonia. He decides to confess his sins in an attempt to alleviate the burden weighing heavily on his heart. He couldn’t hide his emotions and was confronted with more than he expected

Going to Sonya’s he had felt that she was his only hope, his only way out; he could lay out a part of his suffering, at least, but now, when her whole heart turned toward him, he was suddenly conscious that his unhappiness was immeasurably greater than before. (Dostoevsky 356)

Dostoevsky’s structure of this quote displays Raskolnikov’s utter absence of hope regarding his death. The use of “but now” makes the idea that Sonia was his only hope more impactful. When Raskolnikov goes to Sonia he specifically asked her to read him the story of Lazarus. At this point, he has endured tremendous suffering due to his sin and desire alleviation. The story of Lazarus read by Sonia mirrors his journey to salvation. This allusion emphasizes the theme expressed by Dostoevsky that suffering is necessary to be redeemed. So, when Sonia commands him to “Go at once, this minute, stand at the crossroads, bow down, first kiss the earth which you have defiled and then bow down to all the world and say to all men aloud, ‘I am a murderer!’” (Dostoyevsky 589) she becomes the catalyst Dostoyevsky uses to open Raskolnikov’s heart and mind to God, allowing him to be more vulnerable to her views on salvation. This paves the path to Raskolnikov’s walk back to God and spiritual revival, just as Jesus created a new life for Lazarus.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a book that uses biblical allusion to Lazarus to highlight the theme that suffering comes before salvation. Raskolnikov committed the sinful act of murder which was the proponent of his spiritual death ad isolation. His spiritual death resulted in rebirth through spiritual revival which came after suffering from guilt. Raskolnikov’s death mirrors the biblical allusion to Lazarus because of his resurrection by god granted to him through a long and tormenting battle with suffering.

Works Cited

  1. Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and


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