Raskolnikov’s Resurrection From the Underground – Book Review
Why are we human? What makes us different from all the creeping and crawling and swimming beasts of the Earth? Certainly there are many superficial and aesthetic differences, but the main distinction, of course, is in our minds. We have free will and we have reason. We have the ability to experience a stimulus and then choose a response, rather than simply running a response program
of instinct. The differences between us and the rest of the animal kingdom are clear. However, we share much in common with our neighboring life forms on this planet. We are governed by laws higher than ourselves, and we are more than simple logic machines. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov’s realization that there is more to human existence than cold reason and his acceptance of the higher moral laws lead to his resurrection.
Because of this gift of free will, we are not ultimately governed by passion and emotion. However, our feelings are an integral part of life. To not experience feeling is to not experience life. Emotion and life are inseparable. We can govern our thoughts, words, and actions with our reason and free will, but all our governing is for one main end: an emotion called happiness. Happiness and all the other emotions cannot be chosen or controlled, although they may be the consequences of certain thoughts, words or actions. Throughout the entire novel, Raskolnikov’s central belief is that he can “step over” his own emotion with his reason. In other words, he believes that he can control both his actions and his emotions with his reason. Additionally, Rodya believes that there is no universal morality higher than himself and his logic; he supposes that by conviction of his will alone, he can simply “step over” not only society’s view of morality, but can conquer any sense of guilt that would derive from this. In essence, he believes that the emotion of guilt stems only from the generally accepted social sense of ethics.
Unfortunately for Raskolnikov, however, he cannot overcome social ethics because in the case of murder, the derivation goes the other way—it is socially unacceptable because it is universally morally wrong. He does not control his emotions—they are a natural result of his actions and determined by this universal morality. Because emotions are inseparable from life, to kill one’s feelings is to commit suicide. Rodya does just that. Just like Lazarus, he falls ill and dies. The illness is literal and the death is figurative, but Dostoevsky’s comparison stands.
The sole dependence on reason and its path to death is exemplified in Raskolnikov’s last dream. In prison, he recalls a dream of microorganisms that are controlled by will and reason alone. Almost everyone was affected by these parasites—those that were infected were inflicted by the most intense egoism. They believed that their convictions were unshakeable, and this conflict of convictions leads to global death and destruction. They could not decide what was evil and what was good. In this allegory, Dostoevsky makes his final point—emotion and feeling are essential parts of life, determined by universal (albeit generally incomprehensible) moral laws and hence dependence on will and reason alone leads to death. We cannot determine what is good and what is evil ourselves because there will always be conflict. We must rely on the existence of universal evil and good.
Lazarus is dead for four days. The emphasis on four days is significant because the Jews believed that when a person was dead, the spirit resided in the body for at most three days. Thus, on the fourth day, the spirit had definitely left the body, and Lazarus’ revival was certainly a miracle. Raskolnikov too was most certainly dead. Death is, most accurately, a separation. In Lazarus’ case, death was the separation of the spirit from the body. In Raskolnikov’s situation, he separated his reason and his created morality from his emotion and true morality. He had not only contemplated the murder and justified it through his philosophy, but had actually carried out the plan. He denied the significance and power of his emotions by attempting to separate himself from them and thus committed suicide.
Just like Lazarus, however, Raskolnikov receives a chance at resurrection. In the end of the novel, Rodya is a prisoner in hard labor. Throughout the first part of his prison term, he still does not understand why his is guilty—he regrets that he wasn’t able to “step over” his emotions like Napoleon did. He also wonders why he didn’t just “overcome” life by killing himself like Svidrigailov. With these thoughts, it is obvious he is still “dead.” He does not understand that there is a universal morality (represented in the novel by God) and he does not comprehend that feelings and life are inseparable.
Fortunately, Raskolnikov doesn’t persist in this mentality forever. In the end, he approaches Sonya in tears and finally accepts her religious “convictions.” In this one action, he has been resurrected. Just as Christ resurrects Lazarus by bringing his spirit together with his body, Rodya returns to life through synthesis of his core emotional and moral self and his free will and reason. Sonya has removed Raskolnikov’s bandages and bindings just as the Jews unbound the grave wrappings of their friend Lazarus. Lazarus and Rodya are finally free from death because what was once separated has been reunited. The spirit and the body, separated, are both dead. The grand human gifts of reason and free will are wonderful; they distinguish us from all other creatures in the world. However, reason and will by themselves are cold and dead. It is only through Raskolnikov’s reconciliation of what makes us free, rational humans and what makes us living sons and daughters of God that he truly is brought back from his long and stinking death.