A number of quotes in ‘Crime and Punishment’ capture most succinctly the motivations, passions, and emotions of the characters in the book. These quotes are profound not only insofar as they help remind us of key moments or illuminate important plot points, but also because they contain great value outside their immediate context.
I will not have your [Dunya’s] sacrifice, I will not have it. ..It shall not be, while I live, it shall not, it shall not! I will not accept it!
Raskolnikov said these words just after reading the letter from his mother with the information that Dunya was about to get married to Luzhin. From the details his mother provided in the letter, Raskolnikov deduced immediately that Luzhin was a bad character and that Dunya was only marrying him, so she could be better able to support Raskolnikov. The idea of Dunya sacrificing herself to an untenable marriage was too much for Raskolnikov to bear. Not long ago, he had seen and had been irritated by Sonya’s sacrifice in the form of her prostitution for the sake of the Marmeladovs.
The Utilitarian Calculation of Murder
One death, and a hundred lives in exchange—it’s simple arithmetic
While Raskolnikov was still contemplating killing the old pawnbroker, he encountered this argument from a young student who was arguing with an army officer in a tavern. The student is arguing for the moral necessity of killing the pawnbroker who was evil, as it will benefit many more if she was robbed and her wealth redistributed. It is this purely utilitarian logic that Raskolnikov uses as the supposedly noble justification for his crimes.
What is the life of that stupid, spiteful, consumptive old woman weighed against the common good?
Here Raskolnikov provides the cold rationale that allowed him to kill the old pawnbroker. He has assumed the role of God and has decided whose life is worth anything, and what the “common good” should be. By virtue of her greed, exploitation, and cruelty, the old woman’s life has been deemed worthless and fair game in exchange for the common good.
The Weight of Conscience
Oh God! how loathsome it all is. . . . And how could such an atrocious thing come into my head?
Here Raskolnikov’s conscience comes to the surface, horrified at the thought of committing the murder. Before he eventually does the need, he is torn between his desire to prove he was a superior man above conventional morality and his disgust at the act of committing a murder. In the end, his cold, rational side prevails to grave consequences.
Lord! . . . show me the way, that I may renounce this accursed fantasy of mine!”
Here the fatalistic destiny of Raskolnikov’s ideological grounding displays itself. The murder does not agree with Raskolnikov’s conscience, rooted in his orthodox Christian upbringing. But the ideologies he has learned, and his own naked striving for power, exacerbated by his poverty, hopelessness, and powerlessness, all conspire to effect a parasitic-like hold on him that pushes him, against all opposition from his conscience, towards murder and robbery. He is on an autopilot he cannot easily disentangle from.
Straying Away from Traditional Values
Do you pray to God, Rodya, as you used to do, and do you believe in the mercy of our Creator and Redeemer? I am afraid, in my heart, that you too may have been affected by the fashionable modern unbelief. If that is so, I will pray for you
Raskolnikov’s mother uttered this statement to him. Although she retains great faith in his talents, capacity, and potential to be great, Pulcharia cannot help being worried by the dangerous ideas her son holds. She is disheartened by his godlessness.
Raskolnikov “felt suddenly in his whole being that he had no more freedom of thought, no will. . . . It was as if a part of his clothing had been caught in the cogs of a machine and he was being dragged into it
This quote displays the helplessness Raskolnikov feels in the days leading up to the murder of the pawnbroker. At some point, he ceased to be in control and was moved by strong, powerful forces that arose out of his current philosophical, ideological and social conditions
This refers to the point where Raskolnikov overhears that Lizaveta, the sister of Alyona, would not be around the house with Alyona at a certain period in the day. At this point, Raskolnikov’s conscience seemed to be carrying the day, and it appeared he was ditching his plans to murder the pawnbroker, but this new opportunity somehow activated a powerful feeling within him to continue with his earlier, evil plans.
This feeling is no doubt the result of the workings of a dangerous idea in his head – the idea that he needs to murder an evil person for the benefit of mankind to prove that he was extraordinary, like Napoleon. This idea had consumed him and has now risen to the surface in the face of a new opportunity to completely override his conscience and reorient him towards carrying out the murder.
You have laid hands on yourself, you destroyed a life . . . your own (it’s all the same)!
Raskolnikov utters this statement to Sonia in his efforts to mark her out as a fellow outcast. For Raskolnikov, Sonia’s prostitution is akin to his own crime of murder, the only difference being that while Raskolnikov had taken the life of another, Sonia has tainted hers by selling her body.
The Deference of Man to God
But I can’t know God’s intentions. . . . [H]ow could it depend on my decision. . . . Who made me a judge of who shall live and who shall not?
This is Sonia’s wise and humble response to Raskolnikov’s attempt to make her choose whose life was more valuable between Luzhin who had just tried to frame her for something she did not do, and her suffering mother and children. Ordinarily, the question is tempting, as one might expect Sonia to easily choose Luzhin’s death if it could in some ways alleviate the suffering of Katerina and the children who were otherwise facing a bleak future. But Sonia is humble and pure enough to know that she cannot accord herself the authority to determine who should live or die. That is a judgment God alone could make.
I am lying, Sonya. . . . I’ve been lying for a long time. . . . There are quite different reasons here, quite, quite different!
During his meeting with Sonia after the episode with Luzhin at the memorial of Marmeladov, Raskolnikov tries to justify his crime on noble, altruistic and utilitarian grounds. But those motivations prove to rest on shaky foundations and in the end, Raskolnikov realized the major reason he killed was that he wants to test his own theory; of whether he belonged with the elite superior humans who had transcended morality or whether he was in fact only a louse, a member of the mass of men condemned to a life of moral and intellectual mediocrity.
The Self-Evidential Nature of Truth
If I worried myself all those days, wondering whether Napoleon would have done it or not, it means I must have felt clearly that I wasn’t Napoleon
Here Raskolnikov admits to himself that he was not superior at all. He was not on the same level as Napoleon according to his own theory. He was a weak man, a mediocre man, essentially a louse.
Repentance and Confession
Go at once, this very minute, stand at the crossroads, bow down, first kiss the earth which you have defiled and then bow down to all the world and say to all men aloud, ‘I have killed!
After confessing to Sonia, the pure-hearted prostitute seem to have only one piece of advice for him; to go straight and confess and accept his punishment. She had seen and was overwhelmed by the intensity of his suffering and was desperate for him to find relief and redemption. But she knows he can only get these through genuine, public repentance and penance through suffering.
What is meant by crime? My conscience is at rest. . . . Well, punish me for the letter of the law . . . and that’s enough. Of course in that case many benefactors of mankind who snatched power for themselves instead of inheriting it ought to have been punished at their first steps. But those men succeeded and so they were right, and I didn’t, and so I had no right to have taken that first step
Up until the very last moment, when a powerful dream changed his mind, Raskolnikov was still convinced as to the validity of his theories that certain men had earned the right to transcend conventional morality in service of a noble aim. Although he had admitted he was not a member of such a group due to his spectacular failure in mastering his conscience and truly transcending traditional morality, he held on to the ideas.
How does Raskolnikov justify murder?
For Raskolnikov, killing the old pawnbroker, Alyona, serves a purely utilitarian purpose as her life is exchanged for the good the redistribution of her wealth will have on society.
What quote best encapsulates Raskolnikov’s motives?
“I didn’t murder either to gain wealth or to become a benefactor of mankind. Nonsense! I just murdered. And whether I became a benefactor to others, or spent my life like a spider catching everyone in my web and sucking the life out of others, must have been of no concern to me at that moment. I know it all now.”- Raskolnikov
What ideology is most responsible for Raskolnikov’s behavior?
Nihilism. Nihilism rejects any kind of special purpose for the universe. Most importantly, its rejection of the importance of traditional values shaping morality allows the likes of Raskolnikov to come up with their own moral values