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Essay/Term paper: Crime and punishment: protagonist and antagonist essay

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Essays

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Crime and Punishment: Protagonist and Antagonist Essay


Crime and Punishment is considered by many to be the first of Fyodor
Dostoevsky's great books. Crime and Punishment is a psychological account of a
crime. The crime is double murder. A book about such a broad subject can be
made powerful and appealing to our intellectual interests if there is a link
between the reader, the action, and the characters. Doestoevsky makes all these
links at the right places. The action takes place between the protagonists and
the antagonists. The protagonists include Dounia, the Marmeladovs, Sonia,
Razumhin, Porfiry Petrovich, and Nastaya. The antagonists of the story are
Luzhin, Ilya Petrovich, and the landlady. Raskolnikov could be considered to be
the primary protagonist, while Svidrigailov could be thought of as the primary
antagonist.
In every story the protagonist is the character that the reader cares
most about. In Crime and Punishment the reader cares about Rodion Raskolnikov.
He is the primary and most significant character in the novel. We are introduced
to this complex character in Part 1. We get to know the poverty stricken
condition that he resides in, and we get to know his family situation as we read
the long letter from Raskolnikov's mother. Then we witness the murder as it is
graphically described by Doestoevsky. After reading this graphic description of
the murder, how can the reader be sympathetic towards Raskolnikov? How can the
reader believe that a murderer is the protagonist? It is, in fact, not hard to
accept this murderer as the protagonist. Raskolnikov believed that by murdering
the pawnbroker, he rid society of a pest. We realize that if the victim would
have been someone other than an evil old pawnbroker the crime would never had
taken place. He could never have found the courage to kill an innocent person.
It would not prove anything to him. So, Raskolnikov was not a criminal. He does
not repent because he does not feel that he had sinned. All he did was violate
laws that were made by society. Raskolnikov definition of crime was evil will
in action. Raskolnikov knows that he possesses no evil will, and so he does not
consider himself a criminal. He is capable of justifying his crime. He
murdered a pawnbroker that was of no use to society and wanted to use her money
to improve his life and career. Not only was he helping himself by attempting
to improve his career, but he was also helping society as society would benefit
from his career. He would also free his mother and sister from the encumbrance
of financially supporting him, and thus maybe even prevent the marriage of his
sister to the evil Luzhin. We are introduced to Raskolnikov's thoughts about
mankind when we read about Raskolnikov's published article. He divides man into
two classes: the extraordinary man and the ordinary man. He considers himself
extraordinary and the pawnbroker to be ordinary. Presumably, the murder of the
pawnbroker was an experiment of his theory. One could argue that his experiment
failed because he had to rely on his family and friends and because he confessed,
unlike how his theory suggests. Maybe he was not the extraordinary person he
thought he was. Maybe his theory was bogus. In either case, his theory proved
that Raskolnikov had an intellectual side. From this we can believe that he did
not murder for the money but he really believed that he was superior and he was
doing society a favor. Perhaps he was not superior, but it can be safe to say
that he did society a favor. The same society that he did a favor for does not
believe in Raskolnikov's explanation. Society believes that murder is wrong.
Society's morals and rules dictate that crime is wrong no matter what the
circumstances. It is evident that Raskolnikov did not believe in society's
definition of crime and he proved this by murdering the pawnbroker. We still
find sympathy for him, as deep down inside we perchance realize that Raskolnikov
may have a valid point and society may be at fault. At the end we are able to
forgive Raskolnikov for he has finally confessed and will go through a moral
rebuilding process. We realize that Raskolnikov is the protagonist of Crime and
Punishment.
As it is necessary for a story to have a protagonist, it is also
essential for an antagonist to be existent. Oddly enough, the primary
antagonist in Crime and Punishment is the kind of character that the protagonist
would like to be. Arkady Svidrigailov is Dounia's (the sister of Raskolnikov)
former employer. Svidrigailov enters in the life of Raskolnikov about half-way
through the story. Ironically, he enters into the story right after Raskolnikov
awakens from a nightmare in which he tries to kill the pawnbroker but she
refuses to die! Prior to his entrance the reader is already under the notion
that Svidrigailov is evil because there is mention of him being responsible for
the death of his wife, and also a carnal crime involving a young girl. We are
left with an impression that is sensual and callous, a perfect description of an
antagonist. Raskolnikov appears to recognize the fact that he has more in
common with Svidrigailov than he would like. The reader feels that
Svidrigailov may be showing what Raskolnikov is capable of doing. Svidrigailov
appears to fit Raskolnikov's definition of the extraordinary man. Svidrigailov
stands alone without the comfort of family and friends. He believes that he is
omnipotent, and the reader reluctantly believes that. Svidrigailov does not
believe in right or wrong. The only thing he believes in is him being right.
Along with fitting Raskolnikov's definition of the extraordinary man,
Svidrigailov also fits his definition of a criminal. Svidrigailov possesses
evil will. He is evil will in action. He is under the impression that society
is evil and, in order to survive, it is essential that he be evil. So, he wants
to fulfill his desires and he is willing to hurt anybody to achieve them. The
most unappealing trait of Svidrigailov is the fact that he does not suffer from
any moral doubts about his actions. He felt no remorse when he raped the young
girl, or when he beat his wife and maybe even killed her. He does not fear God.
After observing the character of Svidrigailov, the reader realizes that the
extraordinary man theory may not be a myth. When we see Svidrigailov attempt to
rape Raskolnikov's sister, we realize that the antagonist is Svidrigailov.
In every story it is interesting to note the similarities and
differences between the protagonist and the antagonist. Rodion Raskolnikov and
Arkady Svidrigailov are two exciting and original characters that have many
similarities and one critical difference that make them what they are. Upon a
close inspection of Svidrigailov, we realize that he is but an older variation
of Raskolnikov. Upon looking at Svidrigailov, the reader fears that
Raskolnikov, the protagonist, is capable of doing the dishonorable deeds that
Svidrigailov has done. It is acknowledged that Svidrigailov is omnipotent in
his own eyes. He is capable of doing anything without fear or remorse.
Raskolnikov wishes to be this way. In fact, he comes close. He did not repent
after he murdered the pawnbroker. He felt no remorse when he ended the life of
the innocent sister of the pawnbroker. Raskolnikov does evil for the same
reason that Svidrigailov does evil. They both want to be beyond good and evil.
They both wish to be beyond the laws created by society. They both exhibit
moral indifference after crimes. Just as Svidrigailov does evil because he
believes that society is evil, Raskolnikov commits murder because of his
extraordinary man theory. Would this mean that Raskolnikov is no different from
Svidrigailov? Does this mean that Raskolnikov is the antagonist along with
Svidrigailov? It would if it were not for one major difference. Raskolnikov
would like to be an extraordinary man. He would like to commit any crime
without remorse. The critical difference that differentiates Raskolnikov from
Svidrigailov is that Raskolnikov is not the extraordinary man. Raskolnikov has
morals while Svidrigailov has jettisoned his morals. Raskolnikov is sickened by
acts of violence. He is able to accept crime intellectually, but he is unable
to be "extraordinary" because his moral sense prevents him from being a monster.
Raskolnikov did not repent after he murdered the pawnbroker because he accepted
the crime intellectually. He firmly believed that the murder of the pawnbroker
would be good for society. Because of the ordeal that Raskolnikov went through
after the crime, he would never be able to hurt another soul as long as he
lived. Raskolnikov knows that his theory may be correct, but he cannot be the
extraordinary man. He knows now that evil cannot satisfy intellect. His ethics
prevent him from coming in terms with his crime and open the way for moral
regeneration. About 90% of Crime and Punishment is about punishment,
Raskolnikov's punishment. The suffering of Raskolnikov leads to his confession
and salvation. Svidrigailov does not confess to any wrongdoing. Instead, he
takes the easy way out by committing suicide. We find that we are willing to
forgive Raskolnikov for his crime because he has confessed and is going through
moral regeneration while in Siberia. The reader realizes that Raskolnikov is
but an incomplete Svidrigailov. So, Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov are two people
with many similarities but one critical difference that makes one the
protagonist and the other the antagonist.
After reading Crime and Punishment one is quick to realize the
authenticity of both, the protagonist (Raskolnikov), and the antagonist
(Svidrigailov). Dostoevsky uses supporting characters to show the reader the
thoughts of both these characters. The reader is able to feel close to all the
characters and this contributes to making Crime and Punishment the kind of tale
that it is. Dostoevsky has successfully created two characters that realize
that they are alike yet they also know that they can never be the same because
one is willing to suffer as suffering leads to salvation while the other, in a
cowardly fashion, commits suicide.

 

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