Effects of Guilt in Crime and Punishment
Guilt is a force in all that has the ability to bring people to insanity. When guilt becomes great enough, the effects it has on people go much deeper than the surface. People’s minds and body’s are overpowered by the guilt that consumes them every second they live with their burden. The devastating effects of guilt are portrayed vividly in Dostoevsky’s fictional but all to real novel Crime and Punishment. In the story, the main character Raskolnikov commits a murder and suffers with the guilt throughout.
Eventually his own guilt destroys himself and he is forced to confess. Through Raskolnikov, Dostoevsky bestows on the reader how guilt destroys Raskolnikov’s physical and mental well being, which, in time, leads to complete alienation from society.
When one suffers with a great deal of guilt, their physical health quickly deteriorates. Raskolnikov’s physical suffering begins shortly after the murder with delusions and nonsense ravings while constantly drifting in and out of reality.
He often goes into a state of “not completely unconscious” but is in a “feverish state, sometimes delirious, sometimes half conscious”(98) while blaming it on his previous sickness. Raskolnikov is being destroyed by his guilt. He is unable to physically live in society while he has such a burden constantly looming over him.
When in the police station, Raskolnikov hears talk of the murders and with just a reminder of his crime, he quickly becomes weak. When he “recovered consciousness”(88) the men at the station undoubtedly notice his illness and point out that “he can barely stand upright.”(89) His guilt has driven him to a serious state of sickness. He can no longer function normally or even keep consciousness when he is reminded of his crime. Raskolnikov can no longer function normally because his guilt has destroyed is physical capabilities so drastically.
The mental abilities of a person are stifled when they are suffering with a great deal of guilt. Along with his physical health, Raskolnikov’s mental health quickly deteriorates following the murder. He is in a constant state of mental delirium and has constant ravings that are very irrational. However, Raskolnikov’s true state is shown when Razumihin tells him “You are delirious you know!” and Raskolnikov’s response is a bold “No I am not!”(93) Even though Raskolnikov is in a state of delirium, his problem is so serious because he is totally oblivious to his state and completely denies it when wise, rational men tell him that he is. Raskolnikov’s guilt has taken him from a wise, educated, scholar to being incapable of rational thought. As the story progresses, the guilt becomes increasingly heavier on Raskolnikov’s mind.
Others begin to notice this to including Petrovich who describes Raskolnikov as a “moth near a candle” who will keep “circling around [him], circling around [him]” all the time “narrowing the radius more and more, and-whop!”(352) Petrovich is aware of Raskolnikov’s state and he knows that Raskolnikov cannot live with his guilt. He knows like a moth around a candle that it is only a matter of time before the guilt is unbearable and Raskolnikov will have to confess everything. Raskolnikov’s guilt becomes his biggest enemy as it continues to break down his mind and leads him away from normal society.
As Raskolnikov becomes torn apart by his guilt, he begins to separate himself from society which leads to complete alienation from everybody. He becomes a man that is so different from everyone around him that he no longer belongs. With “a sweep of his arm”(96), a drastic realization falls on Raskolnikov as he flings the coin into the water. “It seemed to him, he had cut himself off from everyone and everything at that moment.”(96) Raskolnikov no longer puts value on what his society values the highest. He is terribly poor and hungry, but throws twenty cockpeckcs into the river and thus destroying any ties he still had with society. Because of his alienation, Raskolnikov is no longer able to express his feelings and emotions with anybody. When Raskolnikov claims of hearing things, Natasha tells him that “it’s the blood crying in [his] ears.”(96)
Unknowingly, she realizes his disconnection from society as she tells him “when there is no outlet for it and it gets clotted, [he] begins fancying things.”(96) The blood in his ears is a metaphor for his alienation and how when there is no outlet, meaning he has no one to talk to, it clots and he imagines things, which is his state of delirium. As Raskolnikov becomes detached from society, he begins to make his own world in his head where his ideals are his deciding factors. He even has reason for murder. He convinces himself that “it wasn’t a human being [he] killed” but rather he believes “it was a principle!”(223)
Raskolnikov believes he has become the world’s superman and truly done a good deed by riding the world of an “illness”(223) to society. By this point, Raskolnikov has no ties to society as he has created his own value system and believes he has a license to kill. Raskolnikov’s guilt changes him such that he breaks away from society, which snowballs into him being completely alienated with no one who thinks on an equal level.
Guilt is the main factor that drives Raskolnikov to insanity which leads to his alienation. Guilt attacks his physical heath making him drift in and out of consciousness, which makes him no longer function normally in society. During this, his mind is being consistently deteriorated by the guilt causing irrational thought. Raskolnikov eventually becomes alienated from society as he no longer thinks or acts like the people around him. Raskolnikov does not improve until he confesses and takes the consequences does he return to normal. Through Raskolnikov, Dostoevsky brilliantly shows the power that guilt truly has on a person.
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