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Maze, J.R. (1979). Dostoevsky's Problems with the Concept of Conscience: Svidrigailov and Raskolnikov. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 6:499-509.

(1979). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 6:499-509

Dostoevsky's Problems with the Concept of Conscience: Svidrigailov and Raskolnikov

J. R. Maze


Crime and Punishment exemplifies an intractable problem in Dostoevsky's thoughts about morality. He believed that without internal standards of conduct social life would collapse into savagery, yet he could not find any valid intellectual basis for morality and felt that it brought evil in its turn. Orthodox morality is a secular imposition and a denial of self-realization.

Raskolnikov's murder of the pawnbroker, a moralistic, withholding mother-figure, is a rejection of orthodoxy and of the concept that he need feel guilty about anything. It expresses his need for unconditional (i.e. non-moralistic) love, the force which Dostoevsky believed would bind society together. But after the murder Raskolnikov feels debarred from the possibility of love, in that he has also killed the good mother (Lizaveta). He eventually confesses and undergoes punishment because Sonia, who will love him unconditionally forever, persuades him that through suffering he will achieve a mystical reunion with humanity. Nevertheless, he never feels that the murder (symbolically, of the superego) was a crime, nor that it merited punishment.

There are many indications in Dostoevsky's novels that his irresolvable problem about the basis of morality, and his repeated attempts to delineate the man without a conscience, derive from his intense ambivalence towards his own mother, his major superego figure.

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