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By Madeleine Silvers '26


“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island.”

                                                                                                                      —Walt Disney

Books have the power to spark empathy like nothing else can. The moment one reads the first line, they walk through a door into another world. They step into a character’s shoes; they see the world with new eyes. Then, complete immersion leads to something even more incredible. One is able to walk through yet another door and take a glimpse at the pen and its wielder. The author influences every character and every action. Each of a book’s elements has pieces of the author embedded in it. And, in turn, authors’ actions and writing are driven by their morals, their principles, and their ideologies. 

One of the most striking examples of how an author’s ideologies influenced his writing is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Dosroevsky’s novel focuses on a former university student, Rodion Raskolnikov, who lives in pre-USSR St. Petersburg, and the dark depths into which his mind plunges. After a month of alienation and scheming, Raskolnikov murders a selfish pawnbroker, Alena Ivanovna, and her half-sister, Elizabeth, justifying these acts with logic and intellectual ideas alone. Following these events, Raskolnikov faces complex psychological punishment, which torments him throughout the book; however, after he is captured and sent to Siberia, Sonia, a benevolent friend, guides him down the path toward redemption.

Dostoevsky communicates his ideologies through his book. Raskolnikov, a character representative of socialism, rationalism, and other progressive beliefs, rejects what Dostoevsky believed to be the foundational parts of society: Russian culture (that is pre-USSR Russian culture), religion, and human interaction. 

Through close contextual reading, one could conclude that Dostoevsky believed that if socialism were adopted, other progressive beliefs would taint Russia as well. A prevalent idea throughout the novel is the ordinary and extraordinary man or the Übermensch, a concept conceived by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. This idea gives Raskolnikov the internal justification he needs to carry out his crime. While at Porfiry's, the magistrate's house, Raskolnikov reveals his opinions on this subject, "An extraordinary man has a right—not officially, to permit his conscience to overstep certain bounds, only so far as the realization of one of his ideas may require it. Such an idea may from time to time be of advantage to humanity" (p 206). Later in the story, Raskolnikov confesses to Sonia, "I was ambitious to become another Napoleon; that was why I committed a murder. Can you understand it now?" (p. 347). The belief in the extraordinary man consumes Raskolnikov's mind, and he believes that he, himself, is one. However, this belief leads to an incalculable amount of chaos in Raskolnikov's mind. Dostoevsky paints a picture of the society where these progressive ideas existed, a society of chaos akin to Raskolnikov’s mind. Through this interpretation, one could conclude that Dostoevsky leaned toward a more conservative view where he wished for society to stay as it was, a society where Russian culture prevailed and stability remained. 

Another progressive ideology in Crime and Punishment is rationalism, or “the view that regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica (Blanshard, 2023). Rationalism is found among many of the novel’s intellectuals. While in a bar, Raskolnikov overhears a conversation about Alena Ivanovna between two University students, "A dozen families might be saved from hunger, want, ruin, crime, and misery, and all with her money! Kill her, I say, take it from her, and dedicate it to the service of humanity and the general good! What is your opinion? Shall not one little crime be effaced and stone for by a thousand good deeds? For one useless life, a thousand lives saved from decay and death. One death, and a hundred beings restored to existence!" (p. 60). One traditional societal belief is that killing is, in its entirety, wrong. Traditional beliefs are rooted in emotion, while intellectual ideas are rooted in logic and reasoning. These students argue, with logic rather than emotion, that murdering an individual could, in fact, be used as an instrument of good. However, when Raskolnikov performs the crime and is conflicted afterward, his logical reasoning dissolves, and emotion kicks in. Therefore, Dostoevsky also argued that these logical ideas would not be able to persist in society because of the emotional nature and conscience of humans. Instead, the author believed that Russia should create its own system based on human nature rather than relying on the beliefs of others.


One of the ideals of socialism is the absence of religion. Socialists argue that religion leads to nothing more than conflict. In the novel, the lack of religious beliefs in several characters allows them to fall into the darkness of crime and immorality. This downfall foreshadows Dostoevsky’s perceived future of a socialist Russia. One of these characters is Raskolnikov. Growing up, Raskolnikov was a devoted member of the church; however, events such as his father's death, poverty, alienation, and intellectual ideas have clouded Raskolnikov's faith. These factors, and others, push Raskolnikov to murder a pawnbroker and her sister, "He pulled out the hatchet, raised it with both hands, and let it descend without force, almost mechanically, on the old woman's head. He was in full possession of his intellect; he felt neither giddy nor dazed" (p. 70). Because Raskolnikov’s thinking is no longer based on morals provided by religion, he is not deterred from committing his crime. 

Another character with an abundance of immorality is Svidrigailov. Svidrigailov declares his skepticism of religion during a conversation with Raskolnikov, "Men always represent eternity as an incomprehensible idea, as something immense—immense! But why should this necessarily be the case? Imagine, on the contrary, a small room—a bathroom, if you will—blackened by smoke, with spiders in every corner. Supposing that to be eternity! I often conceive it to be so" (p. 234). These unorthodox beliefs that Svidrigailov has concocted destroy the line in religion between morality and immorality. Svidrigailov has plunged deep into immorality and is a rapist, murderer, pedophile, stalker, and abuser. 


The beliefs and factors mentioned previously drive Raskolnikov to isolate himself from society. If Russia became socialist, this alienation would be present among the masses and would crumble the essence of society: interaction between people. From the very beginning, Raskolnikov alienates himself, "It was not that he had been terrified or crushed by misfortune, but that for some time past he had fallen into a state of nervous depression akin to hypochondria. He had withdrawn from society and shut himself up, till he was ready to shun, not merely his landlady, but every human face" (p. 5). Not only does he shun the people he sees in his everyday life, but also the people about whom he cares greatly: his mother, Dounia (his sister), and Razoumikhin (his best friend). Raskolnikov exclaims, "'I was desirous to tell you, mother, and you also, Dounia, that it would be better if we separated for some time—I do not feel well, I am in need of rest; I shall come later—I shall come when I can–—I shall not forget you and shall always love you. Leave me! Leave me alone! This has been my intention for some time. My resolution is an irrevocable one! Whatever may happen to me, lost or not, I must be alone—forget me, I beg. That is far better. Don't make inquiries about me" (p. 254). However, after this alienation and loss of interaction, Sonia revives Raskolnikov. Sonia, the beacon of religion and traditional Russian beliefs, builds a bridge between herself and Raskolnikov, leading him down the path of redemption. 


Through his novel, one glimpses of the inner workings of Dostoevsky’s mind and what core principles influenced him and his work—Russian culture, religion, and human interaction. We can find these core principles embedded in the heart of every book, if we just look closely enough. However, it's not only Dostoevsky and other authors who are influenced by their ideologies. We are too, every one of us. Every person gets to be that storyteller. Our principles, which shape our choices, write the story that is our lives. We must ensure that these ideologies are the ones by which we want to lead our lives.

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