Friday, November 11, 2011

Crime and Punishment

A man is living in Russia, struggling to make ends meet. He contemplates the cruelty of an old miserly lady who has lots of money, yet will donate it all to a monastery after her imminent death. He has fleeting thoughts about robbing her, but his nature prevents him from acting. He has also written academic papers describing situations where one great man (such as a Napoleon) is required to act "above" the law to achieve goals. Is he a great man?

One day he hears people talking about a similar moral dilemma. Wouldn't many people be better off if she was dead and her money were used to help the poor? The sacrifice of one life would be justified in the improved state of many.

That was enough for him. He decided to go out and murder her with an ax. He succeeded, but made himself miserable in the process. Most of the narrative concerns his psychological experience in committing the crime and its internal repercussions. He goes on for a while before there is any external consequence. However, internally, he is all but destroyed. His intellectual rationale could not cover for his internal moral position.

This book is long, and many of the characters have similar sounding names. However, it is possible to miss some of the details and still experience the moralistic force of the book. (

When he finally confesses to the crime, the punishment is relatively minor, just a few years in Siberia. His internal suffering (and resultant pain he inflicted on others) was probably worse than the true punishment.

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