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Shame and the Need to Belong

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Shame and the Need to Belong Neither crime nor punishment is the central highlight of Dostoevsky's masterpiece, Crime & Punishment. Rather, his novel is an exploration into the psyche of a very ordinary killer as he struggles with the burden of his crime. A strong focus is placed upon the roles of shame and the rejection of societal norms as a driving force for Raskolnikov's actions, and his eventual redemption as he gradually accepts the need to belong to a greater whole. Shame has its psychological basis in an individual's feelings of inadequacy and aloofness with respect to a larger community, and is strongly related to one's own identity. Often, such negativity is reinforced by the projection of one's self upon an unattainable ideal. Raskolnikov's background and the prelude to the murders strongly suggest such an identity crisis at play. From the very first chapter in Part One his inner struggle to find himself is clear. He begins by challenging his own free will in committing murder - the 'courage' to transgress the moral code of society. As he remarks to himself, "I want to attempt such a thing, and at the same time I'm afraid...Am I really capable of that?" (4). This slowly turns into a cold-blooded determination as he congratulates himself on his keen eye for detail, before finally giving way once more to self-doubt as he leaves the pawnbroker's residence. Raskolnikov's withdrawal from society is emphasized from Dostoevsky's description of his room. ...read more.


(419). Just before he leaves his room to commit the crime, he starts dreaming of being "in some oasis" (67), a testament to the peace that he believes the transgression will bring him. Yet, it quickly becomes clear soon after the murder that Raskolnikov is nowhere near the great man he thinks he is. Here an important distinction must be drawn between shame and guilt. Shame, as defined earlier, arises from an individual's feelings of inadequacy or disaffection, whereas guilt is derived from one's regret of one's actions. As he seeks to prove his greatness through his crime, he is always wary of feelings of guilt, for according to his philosophy such feelings detract from one's true greatness. After all, as he reasons, true "Napoleans" are able to bypass their conscience in transgressing, and not be tormented by guilt. This lays the framework for his behavior after the crime as we witness his psychological collapse, as he struggles to suppress his natural feelings of guilt to fit into his fantasies of greatness. Eventually, however, he accepts that it is all a farce, and confesses to Sonya that "because I tormented myself for so many days...it means I must already have felt clearly that I was not Napolean" (419). His abject failure comes to the fore in his bizarre dream at the end of Part Three. He dreams of himself once again committing the murder, but this time he is impotent - no matter how many times he strikes the pawnbroker on the head, "she did not stir under his blows, as though she were made of wood" (277). ...read more.


Dostoevsky's depiction of the latter has strong Christian symbolism: "How it happened he himself did not know, but suddenly it was as if something lifted him and flung him down at her feet. He wept and embraced her knees...in those pale, sick faces there already shone the dawn of a renewed future, of a complete resurrection into a new life. They were resurrected by love..." (549) Soon after Sonya's love renews his life, Raskolnikov is finally able to reconcile himself with God and accept that the presence of a greater, omniscient being, far greater than even the heroes he had once wanted so much to be. In this way he thus makes his peace with society and with God. Thereafter, his spirits are lifted to such an extent that he is ready to "look at those seven years [left of his sentence] as if they were seven days" (551) - a far cry from how his life must have seemed, especially after his 'experiment' in murdering the pawnbroker. In conclusion, Raskolnikov's relationship with shame and his disaffection towards society are two of the main themes that are traced out in Crime & Punishment. From once refusing to partake in communal life and living life as an outcast, cowering in shame, hiding in his "corner like a spider" (417), always hoping to somehow find within himself a latent greatness and destiny that would justify his inability to fit in, he finally finds peace in submission. ...read more.

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