Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Crime and Punishment

A big question for a big novel...

It seems as though my big question is central to the progression of this novel. Razkolnikov is basically embarking on a journey to discover what validates his existence. The novel begins with a bleak picture of Razkolnikov's life. He lives in a cramped apartment with ominous torn yellow wall paper and does... nothing. It is clear from the beginning that he is capable of more. He is obviously intelligent, capable of great things, and has quite a few people encouraging him to improve his lot in life (Nastasya, Razumihin, Dounia and Pulcheria). So then why is he vegging out in his horrible apartment? I think it is because he has finally decided that he wants to find an answer to the question of what validates his existence. Does the love of his mother and sister alone validate his existence? Does his intelligence, his youth, or his potential? Clearly not. Razkolnikov longs for a lasting validation, something larger than just I am therefore... I am.

So what does Razkolnikov do? He attempts to find out if he is a "louse" or a "man"(360). He attempts to find out if he is an "extraordinary" man. And he does this by murdering two women with an ax... If he could successfully murder the old pawnbroker, he believed, without guilt, he would finally be able to validate his existence. He could exist in order to better humanity by ridding it of evil people. Or so goes the theory. Unfortunately, he ends up murdering an innocent woman and being torn apart by paranoia - by guilt. Not only does he discover that he is not an extraordinary man, but he also discovers that he has a conscience.
The only thing left to discover is - still - what validates his existence.

A turning point in this novel, in my opinion, was Razkolnikov's rash decision to pay for Marmaledov's funeral. Through this action, I think he could be attempting to validate his existence through good deeds, rather than bad. In doing so, Razkolnikov ends up meeting Sonia. He is drawn to her for her sin. He is drawn to her seeming desire to continue living in the face of so much hardship. At one point, he gets angry at her and tells her, "your worst sin is that you have destroyed and betrayed yourself for nothing" (279). Clearly, Razkolnikov does not believe that love is a reasonable validation of existence, as Sonia's "sin" was done for the sake of her family. He had experienced the overwhelming love of Dounia and Pulcheria, and, it seems, the love of the landlady's daughter whom he planned to marry. Razkolnikov wants something greater than just the devotion of a fellow human. It seems as though settling for love as a validation is the same as saying that he is a louse. If he is able to find a greater reason to exist, however, he can finally consider himself a man. His initial instinct to do good in Marmaledov's death leads to his ultimate redemption, putting him face to face with the power of saving love and human forgiveness through Sonia. My favorite chapter in the book was Razkolnikov's confession to Sonia. It illuminated his own confusion in relation to the murder. It showed that his search for validation had failed and that he was still looking.

So in the end, what validates Razkolnikov's existence?


"... a full resurrection into a new life" (471)


"They were renewed by love; the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other"(471).


"the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life"(472).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Henry IV

Upon reflection, I have come to the realization that many of the central conflicts that arise in Shakespeare's Henry IV are partially a result of the characters' differing validations of existence. Here are some examples:

Henry IV vs. Prince Hal: Henry IV has a history of lusting after power. After taking the throne from Richard II, Henry goes on to rule England with little care for the will of the people. His validation of existence is maintaining as much power as possible . While it seems that Prince Hal also finds validation for his existence through power, he also find a certain thrill in masking his desires and motivations (his plan to hang out in the pubs so that his reign will seem all the more amazing). It seems that while Henry IV wants power over the people, Hal wants power through the people. This leads to the conflict between Hal, who plans on using the people to gain and maintain power, and his father, who prefers to remain an aloof and mysterious king. Also, through Henry IV's focus on retaining power, he largely ceases caring for the well-being of his son.

Henry IV vs. Hotspur: It seems to me that Hotspur's validation of existence is thorough dedication to what is right. He followed Henry IV loyally because his reign seemed more righteous than that of Richard II. However, once Henry IV starts ignoring his friends and ruling in a way that Hotspur thinks is unjust, Hotspur decides that he must dedicate himself to taking this corrupt king out of power. Instead of emphasizing power in his life, like Henry IV, Hotspur emphasizes justice and loyalty to what is right.

Hal vs. Falstaff: Falstaff validation of existence seems to be having a good time and doing as little meaningful work as possible. While Hal partially validates his existence through honor (such as when he decides to fight on the side of the king), Falstaff scorns honor as a pointless figment of the human imagination ("Honour is a mere scutcheon" 5.2.139). These contradicting validations lead Falstaff to deceive Hal and for Hal to eventually cast Falstaff out.