Scraps for clothes, disheveled hair stained with the stench of fresh blood, and a slimy undertone emanates from his scrappy flesh. Unhealthily compelled to filch voluptuous goods or a disgusting desire to tear into innocent flesh. Fits the quintessential storybook criminal, right?
Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” both fulfills and fails this simplified image by giving the concept of ‘crime’ a very narrow, limited scope; ‘crime’ is the label given to extreme legal violations.
The book conveys a capricious, depressed student straight out of university, subjected to abject poverty in which the character shows his spiteful contempt through derisiveness. He is sick of life and spiteful towards the societal hierarchy that permits voluptuous luxury to those he deems undeserving. To him, power is all one needs to survive in this unjust world.
Wearing the appearance of a madman with a fluctuating conscience that gives rise to his lunacy, we readers, too, are dragged on his tumultuous terrain in which he feverishly makes his rounds around town and his own mind.
Even when he tries to confess through contemptuous comments and invigorating sly remarks, encapsulated in a frightening heightened state, purely out of the emotional burden his crime has imposed upon him, nobody believes him.
Or perhaps they do, but they aren’t letting on. He is forced to withstand the unpredictable torture that underlies his instability of mind, perhaps because rather than incarceration his guilt is his punishment. The greatest punishment after all is psychological, subject to one’s conscience — at least, for the most ordinary of men.
In the midst of heated discussion regarding the nature of those who commit crime, the chief character of focus distinguishes ordinary man from the extraordinary in that “an ‘extraordinary’ man has a right to overstep certain obstacles” and justify pernicious acts as a result of a self-imposed inner right, “and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfillment of his idea (perhaps of benefit to the whole of humanity).”
Meanwhile, ordinary men are submissive to the law because they are merely ordinary; their conscience doesn’t allow them to offer protection against the descent into anxious minds that chastise through mental beatings.
Raskolnikov discerns himself as “extraordinary,” given his haughty responses and self-imposed seclusion. Though the obvious guilt we see lurking and stifling his mental and physical state is testimony to the ordinary man he is, who seeks his extraordinary self as a means to assuage his insecurities of lonely destitution.
The notion of superiority that clears one’s conscience to commit crimes both verbal and physical as a justification for the greater good can be seen throughout history, with Nazi Germany, slavery, and discrimination against minorities and race. It is their justification to cleanse society of the sinful and impurities, of which they mark onto people when, really, they have no right.
Although “Crime and Punishment” makes a clear distinction between psychological punishment and physical incarceration, it fails to acknowledge the different degrees of crime. The term ‘crime’ is limited to that which violates the law, resulting in harsh consequence. Crime is associated with the ‘wrong,’ but wrong seldom connotes crime if the action taking place is one that is overly nuanced for the justice system.
In reality, there are ‘crimes’ that cover a wide spectrum of actions committed by those who fit the ‘extraordinary man.’ We hear stories of individuals violating others — disregarding people’s choices — about their bodies that should belong to them and only them.
The justice system acknowledges sexual assault in its extremes but fails to acknowledge behavior that doesn’t neatly fit the label, despite it still being inherently wrong. The story of comedian and actor Aziz Ansari and “Grace” exemplifies the gendered position of power and coercion in heterosexual interactions that is so vehemently brushed under the rug so much that misconduct stemming from a man’s feelings of superiority is normalized.
“Grace” told Babe.net’s Katy Way that she went on a date with Ansari, which resulted in his persistently trying to initiate sex despite her disinterest. The controversy surrounding “Grace’s” story is astounding. Rather than reaching a unanimous consensus that sexual misconduct is an issue that our society doesn’t easily reproach, individuals are demonstrating exactly that. They rebuke the woman who courageously chose to voice her abusive experience, and they strip her the comfort of the solidarity she seeks.
Rather than reevaluating societal dynamics, people stifle “Grace” by pinning her as an attention seeker whose intention was solely to humiliate. People are able to argue for Ansari’s innocence because his actions weren’t deemed a ‘crime,’ according to legal code. But in order for us to hold people accountable, we must separate ‘crime’ from ‘legality’ or at the very least coin another term that holds the same penal weight but isn’t limited to the inappropriate extremities.