Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

Is Crime and Punishment a Realist Novel?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2082 words Published: 4th Sep 2017

Reference this

This essay will explore how the novel Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky does not adhere to the realism conventions we have come to know; it will explore the way in which the text is not realist because of Dostoevsky’s use of phycological realism, commonly referred to as ‘fantastic realism’ whilst still employing some realist tropes.

Firstly, to argue that the text is not a realist text, realism must be defined. There is a distinction between a realist novel and other literary works, realist writing is a representation of reality thus, it can never give the reader a type of true reality that is associated with life. The OED definition of realism defines it as ‘the presentation of things in a way that is accurate and true to life.’[1] However, Catherine Belsey states that a ‘realist text positions itself between the facts and a type of illusion through a representation of a simulated reality which could be possible but not ‘real’[2], Realism imposes limitations on the text therefore Dostoevsky wanted to move away from such limitations imposed by classical realism. In a letter written to Strakhov, Dostoevsky explains that he has his own ideas that are shown throughout his works, he declares “I have my own idea about art, and it is this: What most people regard as fantastic and lacking in universality, / hold to be the inmost essence of truth.”[3]

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

One of his ideas that he employs is Fantastic realism which moves away from traditional conventions with emphasis on the characters rather than the narrator. Fantastic (or transcendental) realism varies from classic realism because Dostoevsky explores the significance of reality and dreams, it focuses on ‘penetrations into the deepest realities of the human soul.’[4]  Dostoevsky first experienced the ‘fantastic’ when he had the ‘vision of the Neva […] a silent and frozen world glittering magically in the last rays of the sun’[5]. Prior to this, he pictured himself as living in an ‘imaginary and exotic world of Schiller and Hoffman’[6] but the dream of Neva changed his view on the real world, it suddenly became ‘fantastic and memorable to him’ referring to the world as a ‘literary daydream.’ In the text, it is referred to as ‘Little Neva.’ Dostoevsky’s realism explores reality to its utmost extreme that would not be utilized in a classic realist novel. Dreams are scattered throughout Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov has about the horse being whipped and abused.

Secondly, Dostoevsky was influenced by Freud’s theory of dreams when writing such passages in his works, In Freud’s study he realised that ‘the unconscious often expresses itself in the form of dreams’[7], he has a dream that drives him into action and ‘[illuminates], in striking fashion, the unconscious forces at work within him’[8]. The dream portrays his plan to murder the pawnbroker, he associates himself with the tavern owner Mikolka, and it is with this that Raskolnikov’s anger is shown in the dream; The experience confirms that he does wish to carry out the heinous act however he tries to desperately convince himself that he will not act upon the motivations to no avail ‘God! He exclaimed is it possible, is it possible, that I really shall take an axe and strike her on the head’[9]. After the dream, he goes on to commit the crime which shows the unconscious influencing his decisions; the protagonist’s conscious and unconscious tears Raskolnikov thoughts into contrasting positions.

Raskolnikov is not the only character to experience such dreams and reality in the text, Marmaladov experiences a different reality when he passes out from his alcoholism, this is where the ‘fantastic’ is found. Svidrigailov also experiences a dream, he finds a young girl aged five crying, he proceeds to carry her to his bedroom and lays her on his bed, ‘an impudent invitation gleamed from that unchildlike face; it was corruption, it was the face of a courtesan’[10] Svidrigailov wakes up and heads to the Little Neva, he tells a Guard he is going to America and ‘[pulls] the trigger’[11] The dream is the moment that the character’s mind is explored, The little girl’s innocence is taken away by the image of the courtesan representing the characters’ sins. In the dream, he also meets a fourteen-year-old girl that committed suicide; this young girl could be Svidrigailov himself because he commits suicide not long after the experience.

Dreams are not the only device to show the ‘fantastic’ in the text, Crime and Punishment goes beyond character dialogues and appears to enter the character’s minds, the events as they happen are shown through the main protagonist Raskolnikov, the characters that are introduced to the reader appear to be different aspects of his personality. There are many evident doubles in the text that reflect the main character’s alter ego, even when the character themselves are not there in the scene they show varied aspects of his personality, however, the characters that ‘double’ Raskolnikov are themselves complex., having full developed personalities. Bakhtin’s theory of the dialogues between the characters exhibit this.

Dostoevsky realises Bakhtin’s theory because ‘the greatest of all contrapuntists genuinely surrenders to his characters and allows them to speak in ways other than his own.’[12] The characters that he creates in his novels are ‘polemicized with, learned from; attempts are made to develop their views into finished systems.’[13]  The characters are their own authors of their ideas, allowing them to break away from the usual use of the narrator, Characters that are presented in this way have multiple viewpoints that are equal in importance to that of a narrator on their own.

The main protagonist appears to be in conflict that concerns his conscience and his unconscious throughout the text. To show this, Dostoevsky created the characters Sonya and Svidrigailov. Sonya represents the kindness that Raskolnikov occasionally shows, this is depicted through his charitable acts and kind gestures towards others. Sonya becomes a prostitute to support her family through hardships whilst her father Marmaladov cannot control his alcoholism, she goes to great lengths to be kind to others whilst managing to maintain her innocence.  On the other hand, Svidrigailov opposes this kindness, he represents the will and power of Raskolnikov; he is the extraordinary aspect, the character’s dislike one another showing their opposing aspects of his personality. The charitable acts that he carries out, he later comes to regret. This duality is confirmed by Dmitri Prokofich’s description of Raskolnikov ‘he is moody, melancholy, proud and haughty, […] He is kind and generous’. He goes on to say ‘Really, it is as if he had two separate personalities, each dominating him alternately.’[14]

Overall, although Crime and Punishment make use of some realist tropes it is not a realist text because of the use of ‘fantastic realism.’ The minds of the characters and their relationship with the protagonist take emphasis in the novel, through the dreams that the character’s experience the reader can see aspects of characters that one would not see in a traditional realist novel. The characters develop and display aspects of the main protagonist, in doing this in his novels such as the text discussed, Dostoevsky ‘created a fundamentally new novelistic genre.’[15]

[1] Maurice Waite (ed.), “Realism”, Oxford English Dictionary (London: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[2] Catherine Belsey, Critical Practice, Second Edition, (London: Routledge, 2002).

[3] Marlene Chambers, “Some Notes on The Aesthetics of Dostoevsky”, Comparative Literature, 13.2 (1961), 114-122 .

[4] Ilya Vinitsky, “Where Bobok Is Buried: The Theosophical Roots of Dostoevski’s “Fantastic Realism””, Slavic Review, 65.03 (2006), 523-543 .

[5] Joseph Frank, “Dostoevsky’s Discovery Of “Fantastic Realism””, Russian Review, 27.3 (1968), 286 .

[6] Joseph Frank, “Dostoevsky’s Discovery Of “Fantastic Realism””

[7] Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan ‘Strangers to Ourselves: Psychoanalysis’ Julie Rivkin, Michael Ryan: Literary Theory: An Anthology, Second Edition (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004) pp. 389- 396 (p.390)

[8] Louis Breger, Dostoevsky: The Author as Psychoanalyst (Somerset, N.J.: Transaction; London: Eurospan [distributor], 2008). pp. 28-29

[9] Fyodor Dostoevsky, George Gibian (ed.), Crime and Punishment, p. 51

[10] Fyodor Dostoevsky, George Gibian (ed.), Crime and Punishment, p. 431

[11] Fyodor Dostoevsky, George Gibian (ed.), Crime and Punishment, p. 433

[12] Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson; intro. Wayne C. Booth (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984). P xxii

[13] Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, p. 5

[14] Fyodor Dostoevsky, George Gibian (ed.), Crime and Punishment, p. 182

[15] Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, p. 7


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: