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Essay/Term paper: Crime and punishment: is there or is there not such a thing as crime?

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Argumentative Essays

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Crime and Punishment: Is There or is There Not Such a Thing as Crime?


For this question, I have chosen to discuss the following three works of
literature: Crime and Punishment, by Feodor Dostoevsky, Beloved, by Toni
Morrison, and Utopia, by Sir Thomas More.
To begin with an omniscient and philosophical frame of reference, crime
is only defined as crime by the society defining it. When a mass of human
beings coagulate to¬ gether and form a civilized society, they are bound to make
rules and laws to follow and bide by; for laws are one of the cornerstones of a
civilized society. If there were no laws, society would be uncivilized and in a
chaotic state of anarchy. These laws are decided and administered usually by
elected officials who act as leaders in the society. From the input of the
citizens, they make laws to run the society by. And when a person breaks the
law, that is defined as a "crime'. For example, purposeful and alleged
manslaughter is a crime, because it is a law to not kill others; people are not
allowed to go cavorting around killing whomever they please, if they did,
civilization would fall. Laws and rules hold us to civilization.
Another way to define crime is through ethics and morals. Each person
on this Earth possesses a conscience; when we do something wrong, our conscience
makes us feel guilty, although some people feel less or more guilt than others
about certain acts; it varies individually. Based on this, one can define a
crime as the things that make us feel guilty, although some crimes do not make
us feel guilty. Some people do not feel any guilt when committing immoral acts;
these people are deemed psychopaths or sociopaths by society. For example, most
people do not feel guilty when they break the law by speeding, its just a way of
life these days, but with complex ideologies (stealing, killing), we feel guilt
if they are committed. Our consciences also hold us to civilization.
In Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, the laws are already defined in
Early Nineteenth century St. Petersburg, Russia. Henceforth, when one breaks a
law they have committed a crime and are eligible for arrest and punishment by
the upholders of law in society, the police. A particular act that is defined
as criminal is that of murder. Raskolnikov knows of this very well, for he has
committed two murders, both of them ille¬ gal and in cold blood. Obviously,
this act is defined as criminal because of the moral and legal implications one
faces when committing it. Most, if not all people in Russia at that time would
agree that murder is defined as a crime.
But Raskolnikov has other ideas about his crime. At first, he committed
the mur¬ der of the old moneylender only for his monetary gain, and her daughter
was a totally unintentional murder. After the murder, once Raskolnikov has
thought the implications of it over, he matures intellectually and sides with
his extraordinary man theory. Using this view, Raskolnikov feels he has
transgressed crime...
The particular act of murder is defined as a moral crime by most
people's con¬ sciences, and also by the authorities. This is such a simple
concept, it is just difficult to put into words. Murder is illegal and very
wrong, as seen by the people of "civilized' civilizations, God, and the police.
Enough said.
In Morrison's Beloved, the laws are again defined and well established
in Early Nineteenth century rural Ohio, although they are skewed toward white
people; black people have almost no rights at all. Various acts that occurred
in this book can be consid¬ ered criminal acts. The acts of infanticide and
segregation were definitely criminal acts, due to the morals involved. We as
humans were raised by our parents and environment to learn that murder
[infanticide] is ethically evil. So, using this knowledge we automati¬ cally
process this information as wrong! That is why it is difficult to extrapolate
in writing on the subject of why particular acts are defined as "criminal'.
Murder and especially infanticide is low-down dirty wrong, as seen by the
majority of this Earth's population. There may be exceptions to this rule when
infanticide and murder seem justifiable, but then again, there are exceptions to
any and every rule.
Now, on segregation, why would any race on God's green Earth think of
the segre¬ gation and the abusive utilization of a different race as just??? I
think it was just the views of the time. Most of the Americans in this era
thought of these views as acceptable, although a handful questioned the
integrity of these acts with literature and propaganda.
The writing of Beloved constituted sort of a memorial memorandum to
these acts unjustly committed on the African-American people. These people were
repressed and they definitely felt this was a crime. It was not until the
1950's that Segregation actually legally became a crime.
In More's Utopia, the laws are strictly established and enforced. Since
this was a "perfect' society, there were definitely a plethora of laws. Any
acts that defied these insti¬ tuted laws were frowned upon as a crime. The
decisions as to which acts are crimes was ultimately up to the maker(s) of the
laws. In the land of Utopia, everybody agreed on the integrity of the laws that
were enacted. (Although this was a Utopian community, I am sure there were a
few free-thinkers who questioned the laws, although specific laws and protests
are unavailable.) The interests of the community were served when laws were
made and certain activities are considered criminal when they break these laws.
But activi¬ ties are also considered criminal in people's minds and consciences,
as they learn the rights and wrongs of life.
This book and the previous books do in totality does seem to assert an
absolute definition of what constitues the act of a crime. The laws established,
the way people thought, and God's influence all presented reasons to why crimes
are crimes.

"The degree of civilization can be judged by observing its prisoners."
-Dostoevsky


 

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