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).