Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Crime and Punishment

"What can be done? Smash what has to be smashed, once and for all, that's all; and take the suffering upon yourself! What? You don't understand? You will, later.... Freedom and power, but the main thing is power! Power over all cringing curs and over the whole ant heap!" (341)
The characters:
- Rodya: the speaker of the above quote. Ex-student and murderer of two women, including Sonya's friend, Lizaveta.
- Sonya: the addressee. Eldest daughter of an impoverished family. She's become a prostitute in order to make them money, but emphasis throughout the novel is placed on how meek and pure she remains, despite her vocation, because of the faith she has in God. The money she made, more often than not, went to fund her father's drunkenness. She doesn't know that Rodya is the murderer of the two women.

In this bit, Rodya is encouraging Sonya to run away with him, to leave, to change, to foresake everything before it destroys them both. He wants her to run away and stop being a prostitute, while he wants to run away to get away from his murder and the detective that is hot on his trail.

But it's his diction that's interesting. By helping her family through prostitution, isn't Sonya already "taking the suffering upon herself?" She's bearing/easing her family's suffering by suffering tenfold for them. Rodya's response to this:
"... but most of all you're a sinner because you've destroyed and betrayed yourself in vain. Now, there's a horror for you! Now there's a horror for you, to be living in this mire that you loathe so much, and knowing all along... that you're not helping anybody by it and not saving anybody from anything!"
Rodya sees Sonya as living selfishly. She knows that the money she makes is ultimately useless, yet she continues to do it so that she may feel self-sacrificial and religious. Running away would be the best thing for her, yet she doesn't do it because it would cause her unbelievable amounts of guilt. If she ran away, she would be taking the suffering upon herself, as opposed to transferring it to God.

It's happened throughout the novel (although I haven't finished it yet, so we'll see) that everytime someone tries to be charitable, the act misfires, backfires, and/or turns out to be not actually of charitable intent. Rodya gives money to Sonya's mother for her father's funeral and she prepares a lavish one, but the only people that come are ill-bred drunks. Mr. Luzhin marries Dunya (Rodya's sister) to save them from poverty, but it turns out he only does it to make himself feel like a powerful benefactor (parallel to Sonya?). Rodya murdered the money-collecting woman for supposedly noble reasons, but at the part of the novel I'm at right now he's on the brink of realizing that that's not so.

So the question: Is the only way to save yourself & not go mad (as many characters in the novel become by the end) to become self-acknowledgedly selfish and to stop trying/pretending to do things for a greater good, whether it be God, morals, or love? It's the cynic's old argument - that even those that are supposedly kind are, underneath it all, just doing it to make themselves feel kind.

But if that's so, what then? The only time when the characters feel happy, however transiently, is when they feel like they're benefitting/helping someone. So if it's useless to do that, then not only do people suffer, but they suffer twice-over because they don't even feel like they have a noble cause to suffer for. Perhaps "taking the suffering upon yourself" would be to have "freedom and power" - freedom from your benefactee, power over your own life. But even then, maybe you're just trading your current shackles for the shackles of suffering and misery.

In other words, it's a lose-lose situtation and we should all just crawl into a hole and die.