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In his profoundly psychological novel, Dostoevsky's main interest lies in the depiction of the multifaceted personality of his protagonist, Raskolnikov. With deep insight, the novelist explores the complex and confused motivations that prompt Raskolnikov to commit murder. Dostoevsky also studies the obscure and often ambiguous theories of crime that plague the mind of the central figure. In addition, he expounds upon the closely inter-related Themes of isolation, suffering and moral salvation through this portrait of a criminal mind.
The Dualism in Raskolnikov's Character:
The protagonist of Crime and Punishment is a rather solitary intellectual, an impoverished student of law at the university in St. Petersburg. If he seems somewhat introverted at times, there is good reason to attribute this to the constraints of his financial circumstances and his rather stifling attic-room. Sometimes, he can be warm, friendly and even compassionate to others more miserable and unfortunate than himself. For instance, he is extremely generous towards Marmeladov's family after the man dies in a street accident. The testimony of certain witnesses at his trial substantiates the general nobility of Raskolnikov's character. These witnesses cite examples of his many charitable acts before and after the murders.
One way of looking at this duality in Raskolnikov's character is to regard it as a conflict between the alienated intellectual and his hostile social environment. Another approach is to view Raskolnikov's nature as a struggle between his solitary mind and his own moral consciousness. In an early chapter of Part III, Razumihin remarks to Raskolnikov's mother and sister: "It's as though he (Raskolnikov) were alternating between two characters." On the one hand, he finds Raskolnikov "morose, gloomy, and haughty," and on the other, Razumihin confirms: "He has a noble nature and a kind heart."
In a certain symbolic sense, the two murders that he commits correspond to these dual facets of Raskolnikov's personality. While Alena represents the cold and vicious side of his nature, Lizaveta is the humane and submissive side. In killing these two women, he attempts to stifle or destroy both sides of his own inner character. Ironically, he rarely thinks of the murder of Lizaveta and is disturbed mainly by the memory of his murdering Alena. Significantly, again, he kills Alena with the blunt side of the axe, while he murders Lizaveta with the sharp blade. It is as if, in doing so, he smashes the submissive and compassionate elements in his nature with greater ferocity and viciousness than he employs in killing Alena.