Dostoevsky’s Portrayal of Raskolnikov

Time and time again, authors have deliberately chosen certain names for their characters as a method of highlighting their characteristics and personalities. In Crime and Punishment, author Fyodor Dostoevsky chooses to name his protagonist “Raskolnikov,” the root of which (“raskol”) signifies “schism” or “split.” Raskolnikov’s dual personality is the controlling idea behind the both the murder he commits and the punishment his ultimately embraces. Raskolnikov is utilized as a representation of the modern Russian adolescent whose fate is intricately intertwined with the fate of Russia as a whole.

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Throughout the novel, Dostoevsky portrays Raskolnikov as a split character through the protagonist’s undeniable indecisiveness and turmoil demonstrated through his actions and reactions to those around him.
The first instance in which the reader is made aware of Raskolnikov’s doubt, as well as the ways in which he feels troubled by his own thoughts is prior to his committing the murder of his pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna. Raskolnikov, planning the murder, is first seen to be almost rehearsing his horrific scheme. He constantly deliberates over whether or not to actually go through with this horrific plan. As he is collecting his thoughts, he unconvincingly attempts to ask himself: “‘am I really capable of that? Is that something serious? No, not serious at all. I’m just toying with it, for the sake of fantasy. A plaything! Yes, a plaything, if you like!’” (4).

Through the incorporation of this seemingly simplistic statement, the reader goes to assume that Raskolnikov is in fact truly considering committing the murder. As Raskolnikov ponders upon the dilemma that faces him, he oscillates between different courses of action to follow through with, illustrating his indecisiveness. Then, in a nightmare, Raskolnikov witnesses the torment and demise of an innocent horse. This once again leads to Raskolnikov’s doubt concerning the plans he himself has concocted, exclaiming, “‘Thank god it was only a dream…but what’s wrong? Am I coming down with a fever? Such a hideous dream…Lord…show me my way; I renounce this cursed…dream of mine!’” (59-60). This cry both alludes to and foreshadows the crime Raskolnikov is planning to commit, demonstrating to the reader how he frequently is uncertain of his own thinking and yearns for a guide to show him the path to take.

Upon waking from the horrific dream, Raskolnikov appears to be quite jolted by the murder of an innocent creature, showcasing his own insecurities and doubts concerning his plans. Dostoevsky utilizes his protagonist’s inner turmoil and solitude as a manner of allowing the reader into Raskolnikov’s mind. By doing so, the reader is able to interpret and analyze Raskolnikov’s thought process, consequently leading to a striking realization — as a result of Raskolnikov’s keeping to himself, he alienated himself from the rest of society.

Raskolnikov’s being a split character, however, is mainly showcased after Alyona Ivanovna’s murder. After he has not only killed the pawnbroker in a state of extreme and nervous tension, but also her half-sister Lizaveta (as she was a witness), Raskolnikov seems to be ridden with guilt, as he only takes a few of items of lesser value, leaving the majority of Ivanovna’s riches behind. After quickly escaping the scene of the crime, Raskolnikov is almost driven to the brinks of insanity in fear of getting caught for the atrocious actions he has taken. Raskolnikov is endlessly at odds with what he has done and grapples with if he does or does not possess the strength to be willing to come forward to admit his guilt to such an act. As a result, the reader notices how his lies seem to spiral and become increasingly detrimental to the well-being of his state of mind as the narrative progresses. As Dostoevsky continues to mold and develop Raskolnikov’s actions over the course of the novel, the reader begins to gain a heightened awareness of the different ways in which Raskolnikov is split — from his internal struggle with his conscience to his distinctive alienation from society.

Dostoevsky implements more unique techniques to portray one of Raskolnikov’s double personalities to the readers, especially the ideology of the “extraordinary man.” The murder of Alyona Ivanovna came about as a result of an doctrine that Raskolnikov quickly becomes infatuated with: the “extraordinary man.” Raskolnikov’s firm belief in the idea that some individuals possess abilities that are vastly inaccessible to the majority causes him to formulate his plans against the hapless pawnbroker. Though Raskolnikov possessed extrinsic motivation for murdering Ivanovna, the crim is ultimately committed to test to what extent he can resist his moral compass — or how much he can surpass it. In this light, the reader is able to clearly identify how one side of Raskolnikov’s character is very clearly cold and detached, emphasizing the main pillar of the Übermensch: individual power.

The other (and quite conflicting) side of Raskolnikov is the giving and compassionate side, which is often seen through his numerous charitable acts to those in need and his disinclination to accept compensation for his actions. However, while he can be exceedingly compassionate for those around him, due to his alignment with the ideals of the Übermensch, his feeling of superiority still results in the mistreatment of those he lends aid to. The compassion he shows is frequently counteracted, as after performing a good deed, Raskolnikov is often agitated with himself, and states, “‘what a stupid thing to have done…they have their Sonya, and I need it myself’” (27). Raskolnikov makes this exclamation immediately after he gives a sum of money to Katerina Ivanovna (whose husband, Marmeladov, was killed due to an unfortunate collision with a carriage), demonstrating his uncanny regret for doing what is quite evidently labeled as a good deed.

However, instantly after his remorse for his kindred action, Raskolnikov realizes “that it was now impossible to take it back, and that he would not take it back in any case…[grinning] caustically as he strode along the street” (27). This scenario illuminates itself to the reader, as it shows a direction contradiction in Raskolnikov’s thinking regarding a simple gesture. Because Raskolnikov fails to commit to a specific persona, his oscillation between his split personalities attributes to the confusion that is taking place in his mind. His personality is always at odds with itself, and Dostoevsky often uses the abrupt shifts in his Raskolnikov’s thoughts to illustrate this.

Crime and Punishment presents an interesting double-sided conflict, one being external and one being internal. The more apparent conflict is clearly between the estranged Raskolnikov and the rest of society. However, perhaps the more notable conflict is between Raskolnikov and his own consciousness. As the novel progresses, the reader is able to identify Raskolnikov’s frequent fluctuations between complete power and the ideology of the “extraordinary man,” and the other extreme: utmost meekness. As an immediate result of his charitable acts and his love for those close to him, Raskolnikov may be considered a morally “right” or “good” character. On the opposing end of the spectrum, by virtue of his constant feeling of superiority, in direct conjunction with his selfishness, he may be considered as a morally “wrong” character.

When these contradicting personalities are both at play and blend with the ideals Raskolnikov has embraced as a result of his own self-induced alienation from society, it causes Raskolnikov’s mind to begin to crumble. As the literary work reaches its conclusion, it becomes evident that Dostoevsky’s rationale behind the portrayal of Raskolnikov as a split character was for the purpose of showcasing the author’s own views on the troubles of Russian society during that time period, especially of those young intellectuals such as Raskolnikov. Crime and Punishment allows Dostoevsky a medium to highlight the many contrasting qualities that not only his protagonist possesses, but others during that time did as well.

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