Crime and Punishment

"Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a broad consciousness and a deep heart. Truly great men, I think, must feel great sorrow in this world."

In this review I focus on the theme of pain as a path toward personal growth and discovering one’s true identity. I dedicate it to my friend Jeffrey. At first we would just read each others’ reviews. It was a common painful experience that brought us together and let me get to know the fabulous person behind the written words. Thank you for being

"Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a broad consciousness and a deep heart. Truly great men, I think, must feel great sorrow in this world."

In this review I focus on the theme of pain as a path toward personal growth and discovering one’s true identity. I dedicate it to my friend Jeffrey. At first we would just read each others’ reviews. It was a common painful experience that brought us together and let me get to know the fabulous person behind the written words. Thank you for being what you are, Jeffrey

SPOILERS

"If I am guilty, forgive me (though if I'm guilty, I cannot be forgiven)…I'll try to be both courageous and honest all my life, even though I'm a murderer. Perhaps you'll hear my name someday."

How much do we know of forgiveness? It is a thing universally spoken of, asked for, preached, aspired to, but do we actually know what it means? Can it be defined? And if so, is there anyone who has the right to define it and give it an universal meaning or is it something each of us needs to define for him/herself? Is forgiveness meant to erase the act? If so, then indeed nothing could ever be forgiven, because nothing can ever change the past, bring back the time, make you a different person, change the reality of who you are and what you’ve done. But if there is such thing as forgiveness, what does it mean? Does it mean to believe that the committer is not guilty, that they have done their best under their circumstances? But if there is no crime, then there is no need of forgiveness. Or is this it? To keep an open mind, to understand when and where judgment needs to be bestowed and when and where – withdrawn. Or is it to conceal, to hide your negative feelings toward them and act merely on your positive ones? But if so, wouldn’t that be a lie, a false forgiveness, a show? And if we let it all out, then wouldn’t we be condemning them, after all? Or maybe this is it. Along with the accusations to be able to show them some goodness, to remember that they are humans too. And what about when we have no positive feelings toward them and all we can see is a monster? And if we don’t let ourselves fall into lust for vengeance and let them go, or even, show them some goodness, despite the knowledge that they wouldn’t do the same for us? Would that be forgiveness? And if the wound is healed? Does our overcoming the hurt automatically bestow forgiveness on the committer? And how would they feel? If the pain is gone, does that release us from responsibility? If the victim ceases to be a victim, does the criminal cease to be a criminal? If those whom we have hurt can make peace with what we have done, can we? Which is the harder forgiveness? The one we need to bestow on others or on ourselves? Do we truly believe in forgiveness when we speak of it? Can a wound really be overcome? My friend Jeffrey told me once that we don’t get over things. That the best we could hope for is to find a place for them somewhere within us and carry them in a way that wouldn’t paralyze us and that would let us keep going despite the pain. And I said to him that if we were able to have everything we needed, we would have been able to get over things. But due to life’s nature, there is always more that needs to be overcome. If it is true that we never get over things, then it is because there are always new ones piling on top of the old ones. Also, what happens when there is not enough left of us to be healed? In ”Fugitive Pieces" it is said:

”Nothing erases the immoral act. Not forgiveness. Not confession. And even if an act could be forgiven, no one could bear the responsibility of forgiveness on behalf of the dead. No act of violence is ever resolved. When the one who can forgive can no longer speak, there is only silence.”

Whatever the truth, I believe that forgiveness, whenever possible and with its different faces, helps us in our sorrow, in our need, our humiliation and anger. Raskolnikov’s family and friends presented to me a truly profound from of forgiveness. They didn’t conceal their feelings and their belief that what he had done was unacceptable, incomprehensible, cruel act. Yet, they did so without assuming lofty position, without anger, without judgment, without coldness, without contempt. They chose to treat the criminal as an equal, as a victim in need of help, as a loved one. But can a criminal be a victim at the same time? Of course. Those are the biggest victims of all. Victims of themselves, of their inability to rise above and believe. But is it so easy to determine the nature of a crime? It is usually seen as a harmful to others deed. But I don’t believe that things are simply right and wrong. Not everything that isn’t wrong is right, and not everything that isn’t right is wrong. I believe in gray areas.

“You shed blood!” “Which everyone sheds, which is and always has been shed in torrents in this world, which men spill like champagne, and for which they're crowned on the Capitoline and afterwards called benefactors of mankind…if I'd succeeded, I'd have been crowned, but now I'm walking into the trap!”

We tend to see people who bring down oppressors, dictators, tyrants as heroes, revolutionaries. And this was how Raskolnikov saw himself. It was his personal rebellion against an oppressor. Opressor who consisted of more than an old pawnbroker. To him she is part of a decease that the world is rife with. She was no a single tyrant holding a whole city or a nation in her fist, but sometimes the face of evil, the oppression is not just one person, but many. To him she is part of a society that needs to be brought down in order for new, better breed of people,

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compassionate, altruistic people to come and rule. To come and make the important decisions. And he thought that if couldn’t defeat the system, he could at least weaken it by destroying one of its members, the harsh, uncaring old woman, and add the acquired from her to the good society, to those in need. And he also sacrifices an innocent woman in order to protect himself and his plan. And the pawnbroker herself? I don’t think he saw her in this horrible light because she didn’t want to relieve him a little bit of his debt. Or at least not mainly because of that. I think he sees her this way mostly because there was no compassion in her refusal, no understanding. There are those who make hard decisions and hurt other people but are hurting while doing it and are sorry for that they need to do it. This woman showed no compassion, no regret. And it was this most of all that drove him over the edge. I believe it is essential to show compassion toward those we hurt. Even when we think they deserve it, even when we feel we have no other choice. Raskolnikov kills her. And kills her sister. He believes that sometimes it is okay for an exceptional human to sacrifice an ordinary one in the name of the greater good. I cannot see him as simply a criminal, or simply a victim. I can neither oppose, nor side with his philosophy. All is quite relevant. I can talk of this situation. Do I see the murder of the two women as justified act? No. Yet, I can’t help but feeling more sorry for the murderer than the victims. Raskolnikov has a truly exceptional mind that, unfortunately, proves to be a knife with two blades. Sonya asks him:

"And how is it, how is it that you could give away your last penny, and yet kill in order to rob!"

He is one of those with whom the good and the bad come from the same place. His passion, his broad consciousness lead him to both great good and great cruelty. For some reason it just goes both ways. His victims lack the capacity for such a crime, but they also lack the capacity for the good he is capable of. He is a deep, very deep person, but he doesn’t possess the necessary to bear this depth. It is marvelous to possess such a wealth of profundity and passion, but only when you have the means to channel them the right way. Sometimes the best of us is the worst in someone else. There are those of us who lack the necessary substance to bear their gifts with dignity, integrity, passion, and therefore their depth, their brilliance is a murder. They incite them to beliefs and actions that are far beyond our and their own comprehension. Only a healthy spirit can bear the weight of a large intelligence. As Raskolnikov himself points out, ”it takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently”. I keep asking myself why our human complexity results into violence, sadism, cruelty, and not into beauty, nobleness, desire. It is our birth right and obligation to be more than what nature has bestowed on us. Technically, biologically, we are no more than animals, part of the big chain, but inwardly we are something else. Something exceptional, spectacular, breathtaking. We are strong and beautiful in our intricacy, but cruel and weak in our inability to bear it, to recognize it, to give into it. The beauty of the human heart and mind is always dual, deadly and life-giving, poisonous and healing, grand and small. And it is there that lays the biggest mystery. For it is pain and suffering that the most beautiful creations are based on. It is pain that forces us to grow, to develop, it is pain that reveals to us our most amazing qualities, our deepest beauty, our profoundest selves and others’ greatest strengths. It is there that lays the irony, the paradox. Our highest cannot exist without our lowest. As said in ”An Unnecessary Woman”, ”Peaks cannot exist without valleys.”. I think it is rather notable that after having murdered two women and being incarcerated for it, Raskolnikov is actually more at peace with himself than at the beginning of the book. The pain he goes through changes him. He might have committed his crime only once, but he had been committing it in his mind through his whole life. Subconsciously, but still, the thoughts, the feelings that let to it in the end had been part of him always. And after finally getting to it, he changes.

"In torment he asked himself this question, and could not understand that even then, when he was standing over the river, he may have sensed a profound lie in himself and in his convictions. He did not understand that this sense might herald a future break in his life, his future resurrection, his future new vision of life."

Sometimes there is no other way than through our own destruction and the one of others for us to come to realize our truth. In Raskolnikov’s case the cost he pays for his personal growth are the lives of two human beings and the suffering of all those who love him. Yet, in the end he does find peace. A peace he has never known before. Because it is one thing to imagine and think of something. It’s another to face it. Only when he truly faces his convictions by actually acting on them he realizes their true nature. Someone I used to know told me she felt his remorse was self-serving. But does the suffering make the remorse more real, worthier? Isn’t it the inner change that is most important, the decision to be a different person? Desparation drives Raskolnikov toward his crime and had he stayed in this abyss of guilt and darkness, maybe he would have gone down the same road eventually. Yet, he manages to realize the error of his ways and make peace with what he has done, and this saves him and those around him. I believe, though, that personal growth can be achieved without a crime, without a downfall, without taking others’ lives and happiness away. I have always believed that, when it comes to personal growth, deep reading and writing is the best alternative to pain and suffering. Long live great literature.P.S. I would also like to thank my friend Sidharth who really does understand and appreciate the connection between beauty and pain and whose words about it were a part of what inspired me to write this. Thank you, Sidharth. You are a very wise young man. :)

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Category: Review

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