Crime And Punishment: Comparison Of Guilt And Punishment

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Guilt is an emotion that is felt by everyone at least once in their life. By definition guilt is an emotion felt during a failure or when a person does something morally wrong. This definition also states that guilt allows a person to make amends and to find ways to avoid repeating that same transgression. We can all agree the guilt can be overwhelming to the point where it consumes our day-to-day thoughts and we are overcome with emotion such as regret. However it does not always allow for a person to make amends and a heavy burden can be punishment itself. Punishment can be seen as the infliction of a unwanted or unpleasant outcome meted by someone with higher authority as a result of disobedience and immoral behaviour. Guilt punishment go hand-in-hand which can be seen in Dostoyevsky fictional novel Crime and Punishment as well as Genealogy of Morals by Nietzsche. However how they are portrayed is completely different in context.

Crime and punishment revolves around our protagonist Raskolnikov who has committed the murders of two elderly women. He tries to prove that he is not able to become ridden with guilt; he is superior and above those around him and cannot be affected as others would be. Rashkolvnikov believed that he could evade the consequences of his act and avoid punishment. However that is not the case. Instead he’s faced with the challenge of living with the weight of his burden .” He did not know that the new life would not be given him for nothing, that he would have to pay dearly for it, that it would cost him great striving, great suffering.

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But that is the beginning of a new story — the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.”(Crime and Punishment) Rashkolvnikov was only able to commit the crimes as a result of his alienation from society and his lack of empathy for those around him. Much of the novel shows the deconstruction of who he once was.

“What was taking place in him was totally unfamiliar, new, sudden, never before experienced. ……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, but in any way at all,…..there would still have been no point in this addressing them, in whatever circumstances of life”. This excerpt taken from the novel shows a glimpse of his isolation and lack of any sort of remorse from those around him. Dostoyevsky then begins to portray the isolation the Rashkolvnikov longed for as one of his many punishments. He also portrays the guilt he begins to experience to be so intense it begins to affect Raskolnikov health, both physically and mentally. His physical status begins to be altered soon after the murders take place; delusions begin to occur and Rashkolvnikov begins to drift in and out of reality as if in a “feverish state”.

One can see that Dostoyevsky puts emphasis on the outcome of the murders, not necessarily the actual repercussions but how he deals with the tormenting guilt and shame instead. His physical and mental state is completely shattered proving that even he is not a superhuman and cannot evade punishment wether it be by an authority figure or his own. Dostoyevsky suggests that the repercussions implemented by an authoritative figure is not as intense or terrible as the stress and anxiety the guilt brings which in itself is a form of self punishment.

Nietzsche states that one of the traits that make humans elite to animals is due to the ability to make promises. He see’s the concept of promises as a key for the basis morality.The idea of responsibility, promises, and taking initiation are what make up the human conscience. Guilt, according to Nietzsche’s second essay in Genealogy of Morality, is the price humans have made for entering society and is derived from breaking a promise wether it be metaphorical or physical. It was a debt that needed to be dealt with and paid and had nothing to do with accountability. “The feeling of guilt, of personal obligation… had its origin, as we have seen, in the oldest and most primitive relationship among persons there is, in the relationship between buyer and seller, creditor and debtor: here for the first time person stepped up against person, here for the first time a person measured himself by another person… of comparing, measuring, and calculating power against power”(Genealogy of Morality)

Going back to Nietzsche creditor debtor comparison, punishment was not a result of guilt but as a means of reparisal and can be seen as a basis for social rules. In this comparison if someone failed to pay off a debt they owed or let a person down, such as breaking a promise, punishment was meted as a way to pay off that debt owed to the wronged creditor. Nietzsche writes.”A thing must be burnt in so that it stays in the memory; only something which continues to hurt stays in the memory.” It was a way for the debtor to never forgot to break a promise or fail to pay off an dues owed.

According to Nietzsche, making other people suffer was a great joy that he called them festivals.” To see others suffer does one good, to make others suffer even more: this is a hard saying but an ancient, mighty, human, all-too-human principle to which even the apes might subscribe; … Without cruelty there is no festival: thus the longest and most ancient part of human history teaches…and in punishment there is so much that is festive! “ Once seen as a great celebration, Nietzsche states that to make some suffer is pleasurable in it highest form, punishment and suffering is now seen negatively. Nietzsche suggests that our dislike for punishment and suffering can be seen as a form of disgust or repugnance towards all human instincts. Some may find Nietzsche views on guilt and punishment as problematic.

Both writers go into depth on their views of guilt and punishment. Nietzsches views can definitely be seen as more intense then Dostoyevsky. It is true that guilt go hand in hand with punishment and suffering however not all may agree with either writer. Dostoyevsky goes into great depth about how guilt can consume the mind of the individual and outcome is what aids in the punishment wether it be inflicted by an institution or by the person themselves while Nietzsche focuses more of the debtor and creditor relationship.      


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