Crime and Punishment by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky is the best novel you can read during this time of quarantine. This is a story of a student who becomes a murderer to provide for himself and to state his mistaken belief that certain members of society must be removed for the betterment of it. However, his action takes a toll upon him and drives him kicking and screaming through hatred, torment and ultimate salvation. Think of this story as “Joker” (2019), if Arthur Fleck turned himself in to the police instead of becoming Joker. Yeah, that would be a boring ending for that story. Uh, I’m not evil or anything by the way. (At least I don’t think I am. Man that’s scary.)
The plot centers on Raskolnikov, a poor student caught up in his society’s belief that morality is meaningless. Raskolnikov is presented as a materialistic rationalist, a character uncommon at the time, who calculates the murder of an upper-class stingy woman as ethically, philosophically and scientifically honorable. Only after the act does he realize his crime and his need for morality. After committing the murder, he becomes witnessed by the woman’s sister who he then kills to erase witnesses before robbing the place.
Haunted by nightmares as well as his own familial difficulties, Raskolnikov is later tested when he is hounded by police chief Porfiry Petrovich who is knowledgeable of the murders. (Man, these Russians have cool names.) Petrovich torments Raskolnikov psychologically hoping he will turn himself in of his
own volition. The choice however is left to Raskolnikov, and it is only he who can choose whether to turn himself into prison or remain tormented continuously by his own mental prison. This plot is reminding me of the song “My Own Prison” by Creed. (I’m only 24 years old by the way, thanks for not asking).
Despite the disgust one initially feels for Raskolnikov, one soon feels sorry for his position as he has discovered, though not fully processed, that he has done something evil. In every chapter, character development is portrayed as a driving force as he is somehow afforded a front seat to the investigation of the then-unknown murderer and discovers a parallel with Sonya, a beautiful young woman who had sold her virginity to provide for her family. Together, the two bond over the loss of their self-respect and hope in life, and Raskolnikov soon becomes her best friend and protector.
It is only through her he finds strength and support to return to his senses of good. A statement is said jokingly by a character, “God have mercy on the dead; the living have yet to live”; echoing the author’s ideas of hope for change being prevalent for everyone who still draws breath. Raskolnikov’s second chance comes when he confides his murder to Sonya, who at first recoils in horror, and then cries and embraces him expressing nobody in the world “is worse off than you”- horrified more than the man she knows is ethically good has done such a crime.
The story is of morality and of man’s need for it in a material world. The book was written as a counteracting statement on Russian nihilism, and how it can only lead to psychological pain for those who believe in it and seek to use it to enhance their own lives. The book is essentially one psyche evaluation after another, and the reader will be able to point out Raskolnikov is a good man despite his crime before he himself can make that connection.
At the end of the day, “Crime and Punishment,” is an educational work commentating on the overturning of natural morals in Dostoevsky’s own society, insisting that accepting the responsibility for one’s own actions can only lead to redemption and peace. That is why I believe this book is the perfect read for anyone dealing with personal struggles in Quarantine (hopefully none of them include murder). Though our lives may seem dark and scary, we can all readjust our views to become more ethical, and with it, more at peace.