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February 29, 2012

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On inner strength and 'Crime and Punishment'

IN Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel "Crime and Punishment," the author illustrates the protagonist Dunya Raskolnikov's course of action after he murders the pawnbroker. This presses the audience to ask a compelling question: "Why did Raskolnikov murder Alyona Ivanova?" Raskolnikov justifies his crime with his superman theory, which provided him momentum while he was suffering in his mediocre, unattractive life. However, the zenith of Raskolnikov's life comes only after his decision to turn himself in. Therefore, Raskolnikov's inner strength is, arguably, in his decision to confess. Perhaps, this is why Dostoevsky portrayed Raskolnikov as a model of suffering through four out of the five-part novel.

However, it is too simplistic to have an outlook on "Crime and Punishment" without connections; different groups are bound to have varying interpretations based on contrasting cultural backgrounds. Living within the expatriate society of Shanghai, I felt compelled to do a response to the Confucian patriarchy. In the novel, there is evidence of a distinct Confucian society - which he felt compelled to return to, even through a Siberian sentence -- triumph over individualism, as expressed through the act of murder. Clearly, killing someone randomly is the greatest expression of individualism, especially if the murderer is not punished. And Raskolnikov does get away with his crime, until he confesses.

While he is able to keep the skeleton within his decrepit closet, his sense of guilt becomes a burden. The woman he killed was old, which makes the murder more like a Western revolt of youthful individualism against Eastern ancestor veneration. In the end, though, he is broken by officer Porfiry, who may symbolize the power of social bonds that even Raskolnikov's raging individualism can't resist.

Finally, Sonya can represent the rewarding stability that Confucian society offers. Subordinate one's base desires and one can have loving relationships that are more rewarding. Sonya might seem to offer a modern take on the Confucian system. On one hand, she offers Raskolnikov a chance to be redeemed. But her feminine mercy contrasts with the strict male hierarchy that traditionally defines the Confucian system.


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