Religion and Spirituality in Crime and Punishment

Introduction

The novel Crime and punishment strongly embeds and awakens spiritual and religious aspects and the necessity for a divine connotation. It discusses the themes of redemption through suffering, unconditional love and the effect that guilt has on a person’s conscience. The Holy Bible also has the similar themes. Dostoevsky frequently uses biblical allusions in his writings and in his masterpiece Crime and Punishment, the allusions are prevalent and drive Raskolnikov’s internal conflict. From the slightest of references to stories of the Bible, Dostoevsky uses the text to provide a moral compass which drives the characters of the novel. Raskolnikov theory of the “Ubermensch” incites his transgressions and his inability to fully actualize his identity as a superman makes him turn into a prisoner of his own mind and gets stuck in confinement of guilty and sinful thoughts. The multiple allusions to Raskolnikov as a Christ-like figure, the story of Lazarus, and the number seven and many others give this classic story of Crime and Punishment a spiritual undertone and further drives the plot.

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Religion and Spirituality

The novel discusses the idea of “Christ-like” characters specifically Sonya Marmeladova. Sonya is kind, patient and caring to all. She embodies the ideal person and she has strong ties with her faith. Sonya tries hard to get Raskolnikov to believe as well and tells him the stories in the Bible; Sonya is the saintliest figure in the novel. Conversely, we have Raskolnikov. He is disturbed, ill and is lost. While Raskolnikov looks to reason when in doubt, Sonya looks to her faith. Sonya symbolizes purity and innocence. While the reader may at first view her occupation as rather unholy, her reasoning and her faith help her come out on top concerning spirituality. The relationship between Sonya and Raskolnikov despite being classic opposites attracts the storyline. The soul of Raskolnikov seems to be in turmoil while that of Sonya is anchored in faith and she is a Christ-like character symbolizing the way to salvation in her sufferings and faith.

In the entire book, Raskolnikov seems to be torn between an inner conflict of light and darkness and this is seen through the transition between the two antagonizing personality sides. His dichotomization culminates into an internal conflict of mind and heart and becomes a slave of reasoning. Surely, even his name ‘Raskolnikov’ relates to the word “split” which means the division between evil and godliness under this context. Raskolnikov seems to be moving closer to redemption when he interacts with Svidrigailov. The real Ubermensch commits suicide and Raskolnikov who was at first thought to be a failure receives salvation at the end. This can be related to the biblical character Lazarus who woke from the dead after Jesus prayed for his resurrection. Therefore, the process of Raskolnikov’s redemption starts when he begins to reconnect and embrace his other side of humbleness and love and he finds salvation in Christ-like devotion and love of Sonya.

Raskolnikov at one point justifies his plans to murder the old woman and this subsequently drifts him apart from God foreshadowing his regrets of the future and torment that eats him like blazes in the entire book. For example, he cries out “Good God! Can it be, can it be, that I shall really take an axe that I shall strike her on the head, split her skull open…that I shall tread in the sticky warm blood…… Good God, can it be?” (Dostoevsky 53). This is a comparison of King Soul in the Bible who justified his actions of killing people but later on regretted having made the wrong choices. His son, Jonathan became a victim of his wrong choices. The conversation that Raskolnikov has with God deeply elaborates the confusion he has with divinity and further exemplifies his division between the heart and mind. This translates to a struggle he ends up having between Svidrigailov that relates to Ubermensch and Sonya which personifies the Christ-like salvation. Even though Raskolnikov becomes undecided between the two contradicting sides of personality, he turns his back on God and willingly claims the old woman’s life and after killing the woman, he clearly indicates his detach from God by saying that “There were two crosses on the string… he dropped the crosses on the old woman’s chest” (Dostoevsky 78). The statement seems to be important in analyzing religion and spiritually as the crosses thrown to the corpses is interpreted to mean a symbol of Raskolnikov’s separation from God.

A specific allusion from the Bible in Crime and Punishment is the story of Lazarus. Sonya tells Raskolnikov the story relating to Lazarus and his doubts and belief in reason prevent him from believing, however, we see parallels between Lazarus and Raskolnikov. For example, Lazarus did spent 4 days in his tomb and Raskolnikov had to spend 4 days in the room after killing the old woman. Also, this could refer to Raskolnikov’s change after he confesses and how he comes back a different person. Through Sonya, Raskolnikov starts to experience a spiritual and religious awakening. This is a significant rout to redemption.

Another allusion is the cross. As we all know, the cross is symbolic of the Christian faith and resembles the crucifix Jesus was laid upon. In the novel, Sonya gives Raskolnikov across before he goes into suffering at Siberia; the just as Jesus was also given the cross which made him suffer. The cross that Sonya gave to Raskolnikov in the public symbolizes his gradual realignment with religion and it carries a strong religious and spiritual meaning as it is attached to Jesus self-sacrifice of humanity sins. Sonya is a mirror of Christ’s wisdom and this is evident when he says to Raskolnikov “Go at once, stand at the cross-roads, bow down, the first kiss the earth which you have defiled, and then bow down to all the world and say to all men aloud, ‘I am a murderer!’ Then God will send you life again” (Dostoevsky 361). She encourages him in salvation and she works towards making him achieve his internal peace through interaction with God and gradual movement towards spiritual and religious submission.

Besides, a prominent biblical allusion in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is the number seven. As many of us know, it took God seven days to create the universe, making seven an important number to look out for. Raskolnikov was seven years old when he had the dream about the man whipping the horse. Sonya waited seven years for Raskolnikov while he was in Siberia. Svidrigailov knew parents who had been married for seven years. Also, Svidrigailov spent with Marfa Petrovna 7 years in the country. Furthermore, a prevalent theme throughout the novel is salvation through faith and suffering, as well as through self-sacrifice. In the beginning of the novel, we see suffering in Raskolnikov’s daily life. He is poor, ill and solitary, but he does not suffer for a path to salvation. Conversely, there is Sonya who sacrifices herself to help feed her dying father as well as the rest of the Marmeladova family. She prostitutes herself for enough money to get her family out of their crippling debt. While highly debatable, one can see how Sonya’s self-sacrifice is comparable to the sacrifices that the Lord made for us all.

With an incredible act of love, patience, and assistance, Sonya is seen to be a catalyst of salvation to the soul of Raskolnikov. She forms his guidance to the path of his gradual reintegration in the society and a reattachment to God. Sonya, despite being enforced to sinful acts, she deeply grounds in faith and chooses to maintain a strong construction with spirituality. Essentially, she embodies Christ as she completely endures sufferings and pain and self-sacrifices for the sake of others. In the novel, Sonya turns to be a love interest to Rodian and the attraction is driven by the key differences between them. In essence, Sonya exemplifies the way Rodion achieves redemption and taking the responsibilities of his wrongdoing. The action of his crime confession to Sonya forms a stepping stone towards redemption. This is a symbol of slow spiritual reintegration into a human society which he considered to be despicable. Through Rodian’s redemption of his sins to Sonya, the disturbing secret which tormented him is drawn out and he starts to know that he is not an extraordinary individual but same as Julius Caesar and Napoleon.

A brief biblical allusion in the novel is the reference to Golgotha. This is where Jesus was crucified. Raskolnikov indicates in Chapter five of part one that, “Bitter is the ascent to Golgotha” (Dostoevsky 290). He seems to be on the way to the place in a figuratively manner and symbolizes a christ-figure. Raskolnikov accepts reality and he notes, “Wasn’t it true when I said we were apples from the same tree?” (Dostoevsky 290). Through his interweave of spiritual and religious elements in the psychological analysis of human in the plot, he elaborates the resultant consequences of chasing immorality in life. Essentially, the inner conflict of Raskolnikov that exists between light and darkness is a deep representation of duality existence between evil and goodness found in people.

Conclusion

Indeed, the inspiring message of godliness and love over evilness that Dostoevsky uses in his novel spices the storyline and makes it captivating to the reader. Dostoevsky’s novel forms a classic Russian writting that discusses the path to salvation through faith and suffering; Sonya and Raskolnikov epitomize this ideology throughout the novel. The stories of the Bible have seen throughout much classic literature and this classic novel of murder is no exception. Dostoevsky was deeply rooted in his faith and expressed this in many of his novels. From the brief references to the direct comparisons, Crime and Punishment is loaded with biblical allusions that give the novel a moral compass. Dostoevsky’s masterpiece makes a suggestion that even though the journey towards faith and spiritual rediscovery of characterized with greater turbulence and can prove to be challenging, the beneficial outcomes of living life filled with religious virtues is worth the struggles.

 

Work Cited

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Constance Garnett, and Ernest J. Simmons. New York: Modern Library, 1950. Print.