The Burden of Humanity

James HutchinsonHutchinson 1
AP Literature
19 October 2010
The Burden of Humanity
Without a doubt, one of the most morally ambiguous characters in European literature is Raskolnikov from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. This is mainly because he is neither clearly-defined nor does he have an obvious motivation. He is just slightly too vulnerable to be a nihilist, yet too cynical to be a romantic, and at the same time, not quite indifferent enough to qualify as an absurd hero. Because of these archetypal shortcomings, it is extremely difficult to categorize Raskolnikov, which is what ultimately makes him so fascinating. It may be that the reader follows him to the end simply because he is a walking contradiction, nearly impossible to pinpoint.

A strange aspect of Dostoevsky’s narrative is that although it is not told directly from Raskolnikov’s point of view, the narrator gives keen insight into the character’s thoughts and objectives. It is just slight enough to leave a hint of mystery, and not quite clear enough to reveal Raskolnikov’s most deeply-hidden ideas. For example, at the start of the novel, the narrator states that the young man “had fallen into a state of nervous depression akin to hypochondria” (Dostoevsky 1) and so avoids contact with other people. The man’s depression is revealed, yet is given a simplistic explanation, leaving the rest of the novel to dig deeper into his psyche. He (our hero) is also described as the protagonist but is not portrayed in a remotely heroic light nor worthy of the reader’s sympathy. In fact, for the first chapter, he seems nothing more than a bitter, pretentious degenerate.

Not until Raskolnikov’s nightmare does the reader gain a glimpse of the broken, desperate man hiding behind a mask of indifference.
Perhaps the most compelling side to Raskolnikov is his seemingly arrogant swagger that covers his ache for human contact. His pride and intellectualism lead him to disdain humanity as fit merely to.

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