"Book Report: Crime and Punishment"

Crime and Punishment book cover

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I picked up this book at my new favorite store in Manhattan, Strand Book Store. I had an impulsive itch to read something from Russia, and since I've been lately determined to read the classics, this seemed like a good pick. Plot about murder, written by a Russian deviant who spent a few years in the Siberian prison, raving reviews from anyone who has read it, I figured I couldn't go wrong. Right I was.

The basic outline of the story involves a Russian student who has dropped out of university. This man has spent the more recent months of his life in melodramatic thought, going over certain views and philosophies of his. One key view he has is that murder, and other crime, is only a crime when committed by normal people. He postulated that there is a class of extraordinary citizens to whom the rules do not apply. His favorite example was Napoleon. He thinks that committing a crime to achieve a greater good is forgivable, and should not even be seen as a crime in the first place.

The book explores his inner struggle between his modern theoretical justification, and his conscience. He never fully admits feeling "sorry" for his crime, although he does eventually declare that his reasoning may have been imperfect. (spoiler) He concludes his journey by confessing his crime so that he may do penance and live a better life afterwards.

I think Dostoevsky must have had great insight into what motivates certain people to behave in certain ways. While many if not most of our actions are dictated by our daily needs, sometimes we are driven to do great deeds, for better or worse, purely for the sake of our beliefs. The main character in Crime and Punishment committed murder to prove to himself that he really believed in his own theory. He comes up with other excuses (debt, family needs, etc..) to satiate other simple minded inquisitors, but the underlying reason never seems to change.

Dostoevsky is a brilliant writer and Crime and Punishment was particularly easy and fun to read.

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