Conflict in Crime and Punishment
Internal vs. External: The conflict between the internal and external self is embodied in the main character, Raskolnikov, whose very name includes the Russian word “raskol,” or “split.” Much of this conflict is conducted through Raskolnikov’s dialogue with himself as he struggles between his perceptions of himself and reality. Having written and developed his own theory of how people operate within the confines of society and morality, Raskolnikov considers himself exceptional and struggles internally when he begins to realize that this may not be the truth. Many characters express concern for Raskolnikov’s mental well-being, with even the knave Svidrigailov remarking on how Raskolnikov struggles with his inner turmoil.
Individual vs. Society: Many of the other characters’ actions and words contribute to the conflict around an individual’s role in society. Raskolnikov himself struggles to understand his own personal philosophy in relationship to society as a whole while his friend Razumihin and the investigator, Porfiry Petrovich, seek to ease societal conflict through legal, respectable means.
Conflict Examples in Crime and Punishment:
Part I - Chapter I
"Raskolnikov..." See in text (Part I - Chapter I)
Dostoevsky chose these names for particular reasons. In Russian, raskol (раскол) means "split" and the main characters family name roughly translates to "of the splitters." Considering what we learn about his state of mind and ideas regarding crime and justice, the choice of this name more than adequately represents the conflicts, both internal and external, that he will face.
"a thing like that..." See in text (Part I - Chapter I)
The man contrasts his fright at having to listen to his landlady with something else he is thinking of attempting. While we don't know what this other thing is yet, we do know that he considers it something of importance. He continues to mutter to himself in an effort to make sense of his thoughts and actions, and we see how this inner conflict develops over time.
Part I - Chapter VII
"There was no trace left on it, only the wood was still damp...." See in text (Part I - Chapter VII)
In several moments like this one, Raskolnikov's reason and willpower return to him and allow him to take the necessary steps to cover up his crime. However, the internal struggles he is having prohibit him from covering all of his tracks, and he does forget a few important pieces of evidence.
"a convulsive shudder passed over him..." See in text (Part I - Chapter VII)
This convulsive shudder provides evidence for the internal struggle Raskolnikov is having during the aftermath of killing Alyona Ivanovna. He is torn between accomplishing what he set out to do and fleeing the scene of his crime.
Part II - Chapter I
"He was conscious of a terrible inner turmoil...." See in text (Part II - Chapter I)
Recall how in Chapter 2 he had a little food and drink and instantly felt better. While the mental turmoil Raskolnikov is suffering from at this moment is no doubt real, another consideration for this could be that he has hardly eaten any food in the last 48 hours. The heat of the day and the weakness of his body are likely contributing factors to his well-being.
Part II - Chapter II
"how's that?”..." See in text (Part II - Chapter II)
While he decides that his reasons for not looking in the purse for money are due to his sickness, Dostoevsky is using Raskolnikov's inner monologues to show readers how unstable he is. Raskolnikov's ego makes him believe he is capable of dealing with the consequences of this crime; however, he is steadily realizing that his reason is not as sound as he believed. He blames this on illness, but notice how this attitude shifts during the progression of the novel.
Part II - Chapter III
"only pretending, mocking me..." See in text (Part II - Chapter III)
Nobody in the story has provided any credible reason for doing such a thing to Raskolnikov. This statement more likely indicates the growing paranoia he feels from the crime and emphasizes the internal conflict he is having with his ego and psyche.
Part II - Chapter VI
"No, that's loathsome…water…it's not good enough..." See in text (Part II - Chapter VI)
Raskolnikov's reaction to this woman's attempted suicide reveals that he himself was considering this action while standing on the bridge considering how he could end the struggle and guilt he is feeling. Seeing her attempt, he realizes that to die in such a way is not appropriate for him and contemplates that living the rest of his life in a jail cell would be preferable to suicide.
"Only to live, to live and live! Life, whatever it may be!..." See in text (Part II - Chapter VI)
Raskolnikov sees the condition this woman is in and reflects on how he heard once that life, no matter what condition, is preferable to death. This chapter reveals how he continues to suffer psychologically from the guilt of his conscience as he contemplates how it can end it "one way or another." This manifests as a struggle between confessing, which would be like death to him, and a desire to live.
Part III - Chapter II
"it's as though he were alternating between two characters...." See in text (Part III - Chapter II)
Throughout the novel, Dostoevsky has written in such a way to suggest to the readers that Raskolnikov suffers from a personality disorder. It appears that this knowledge is also suspected by Razumihin, which strongly reinforces the suggestion. If Raskolnikov is suffering from a personality disorder, then this explains much about his mood swings and how he struggles with his guilt.
Part VI - Chapter V
"The Schiller in you is in revolt every moment..." See in text (Part VI - Chapter V)
Svidrigailov makes a rather astute observation of Raskolnikov's behavior. The "Schiller" part of Raskolnikov represents the morally upright, idealistic individual. By pointing out that this part is in revolt, Svidrigailov identifies the suffering and Raskolnikov is experiencing from his crime. Since much of Raskolnikov's experiences have been related to readers via his own observation, this provides extra evidence of the internal conflict the main character has been facing.