Saturday, January 29, 2011

Crime and Punishment

Dostoevsky’s view of 19th century Russia is anything but positive. Most characters in the story are poor and weak. Characters that are richer (the pawnbroker and Svidrigaylov) and those with a significant amount of power (Luzhin and Porfiry) are portrayed as antagonists and often abuse characters who do not wield the same level of power. This is best exemplified in Luzhin’s abusive treatment of Sonya who only gets some monetary compensation in return.

For most characters in the novel, money is the only way characters can find happiness. In a society that can barely afforded to rent out a subpar flat, what would be considered greed becomes the only hope to maintain any standard of living. Escaping these conditions is a goal for many characters; a goal that is only accomplished through money. The overwhelming poverty that each character faces forces many into shady behavior. The most obvious two are Sonya, the woman who is forced to become a prostitute in order to bring in some income for her family, and Raskolnikov, who murdered the pawnbroker in order to earn enough cash to get him out of poverty and into college again. However, their actions are not motivated by greed. Raskolnikov constantly states that he planned to take only enough money to get him back on his feet and nothing more.

In spite of the dire nature of Russian poverty, pride ultimately prevents the poor from reaching economic happiness. Although Katerina and Raskolnikov are poor, they believe that they are above the trappings of poverty and are higher in society than they are in reality. At her husband’s funeral, Katerina attempts to use nice place settings in order to give her humble abode some aristocratic regality in hopes that she will not be “criticized by [her neighbors]” for her lack of class. Even Raskolnikov has the “pride of the poor” and, although he receives plenty of money from others, he refuses to spend the money properly and throws out economic opportunity in order to uphold his “extraordinary” image. Characters receive many opportunities to escape poverty, yet pride blocks any opportunity to escape their situation in life and achieve happiness.

That is, assuming economic success actually equates to happiness. Although economic success seems to guarantee happiness, even the aforementioned “rich” characters did not obtain happiness through their wealth. Instead, their happiness (in addition to income gains) comes from abusing the poor. Since the lower classes of Russian society are desperate for money, the upper classes can easily manipulate these characters by promising them monetary gains in reward for helping them. Svidrigaylov was easily manipulated by his Marfa Petrovna in order to get himself out of debt, yet once he murdered her Svidrigaylov attempted to use the money he earned to manipulate Dunya into not marrying Luzhin. Although poor characters seek money in hopes that they may find happiness, money does not grant rich characters happiness and instead gives the wealthy the ability to attack the poor.

Economic happiness is a near impossibility in Russian society. Pride and abuse from upper society keep the wealth in the hands of the rich. However, even if the poor found wealth, money does not guarantee happiness for the character.

No comments:

Post a Comment