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Religion in Crime and Punishment

Dostoevsky was a very religious an after he got out of jail. Because of this, when he wrote Crime and Punishment he incorporated teachings and symbolism from his own religion to help the characters progress. There are several instances where the use of symbolism along with water portrays rebirth and regeneration. There are also instances where water represents death, whether it is because of murder or suicide. Another symbol used in the novel is the cross. As if the cross did not represent enough already in Christianity, Dostoevsky uses it to represent the ordinary, along with its classic representation of suffering. Finally, Dostoevsky incorporated the stories of Lazarus and Jesus. These are meant to represent the characters’ spiritual awakening and spiritual death. “The outstanding strands of symbolic imagery in the novel are those of water, and stories of Lazarus and Jesus” (Gibian 2). Dostoevsky’s personal beliefs are portrayed through the use of symbolism within Crime and Punishment including the use of religious symbols such as water and the cross, and through biblical stories such as that of Lazarus, which help the characters evolve.

The use of water is a recurring theme within Crime and Punishment. To the protagonist of the book, water is a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, always there when something positive occurs (Gibian 2). This is saying that whether it be when Rodya (Raskalinkov) is turning himself in, or when he returns to his faith, water is always present. Inside of Raskalinkov’s inner fight, there is still receptivity to water as beauty (Gibian 2). This is saying that no matter how difficult life can get, Rodya always sees the beauty in water which has a calming effect on him. For him, water is soothing and a source of life, such as with the flowers along the bank of a river. “He understood the beauty of the river, and therefore that of the water” (Gibian 2). Even though he sees this beauty, the rest of his life is so confusing he contemplates suicide within the river. HE then realizes that the river is life, not death. “The river which Raskalinkov sees is no longer a means for committing suicide, nor a sight inducing melancholy; it is the river of life” (Gibian 4).This is a major step because he realizes he needs to fall onto the road of redemption, which ironically begins by the river as well, along with Sonia (A woman Rodya meets who helps him on his road to redemption.) Rodya’s regeneration begins with Sonia at his side at the bank of the river (Gibian 6). During his regeneration, he realizes that even though he has seen the beauty of the river, it was not as it was; he used to see it with more concentration. It occurs to Rodya that he has not fully enjoyed the beauty of the river because his thoughts have banished him (Gibian 6). His reaction to water has changed since becoming a student with his new views (Gibian 4). The religious symbol of water represents rebirth and regeneration to many characters such as Raskalinkov.

Even though water can be seen as rebirth and regeneration, it can also be a representation of death, whether it is murder or suicide. For the protagonists, water has a generally positive effect, but this is not the case when dealing with the antagonists. Water has a negative influence on the antagonists, always there when bad events occur (Gibian 2). Whenever anything negative happens to an antagonist, water is involved. One example of this is the situation with Svidrigalov, who, to Raskalinkov, is threatening. Instead of being a positive influence, water is negative for Svidrigalov because it is in the rain that he decides to take his life and shoot himself (Gibian 2). Before this, he also confirms his repulsion of water. “Water holds the terror of death for the corrupt Svidrigalov who confirms his depravity by saying “Never could I stand water, not even in a landscape painting.”” (Gibian 2). This shows that water holds a position above Svidrigalov, as a higher power causing harm to him. Unlike the protagonists, the antagonists have a negative reaction with water leading to death.

Dostoevsky used another symbol from his religion, the cross, to help develop the characters. The main representation of the cross is suffering. Raskalinkov wears the cypress cross that Sonia gives to him, because now he is ready to suffer for his murdering of the pawnbroker. Sonya gives Raskalinkov the cross as if saying “You are no forgiven. Go suffer.” (Knopps 1). Sonia convinces Raskalinkov to wear the cross as he confesses which shows he is ready to suffer (Gibian 3). The other reason Dostoevsky used the cross was to show that Raskalinkov and his victim were ordinary people. The cross that Sonya gives to Rodya once belonged to his innocent victim, Lizavita. The cross was also made of an ordinary wood, cypress. “Rodya wears the cross of his innocent victim, which is made of an ordinary wood cypress. This represents how his victim was random and innocent” (Salvation 2). His victim was ordinary who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, just like the ordinary cypress. The other connection that can be made is between the ordinary cypress and Raskalinkov being ordinary. After he killed the pawnbroker and her sister, Raskalinkov believes he is a higher power, above the law. This is why he has trouble with religion; he believes he is a god. However, when he takes the cross, this changes. When he takes the cross, he admits he is an ordinary man, now part of society (Salvation 5). This is cutting Rodya down to the level of everyone else. Now he is not above the law and must turn himself in. It also means that he can have faith again and believe in God and Jesus, coming back to religion.

Since Dostoevsky was religious, it is not a surprise that he incorporated stories from the bible into his novel. The author uses parallels to the stories of Jesus and Lazarus from the main characters in his novel. The first comparison is to show how Raskalinkov is spiritually dead, but with hope of being awakened. The reading of the story of Lazarus is important because Rodya has experienced a sort of spiritual death (Hutt 1). Before the story of Lazarus, a man whom Jesus raised from the dead after four days, was read to him, Rodya had abandoned faith and was spiritually dead. He asks Sonya to read him the story because he is spiritually dead and needs hope (Salvation 2). Even though Sonya is trying, Raskalinkov doesn’t understand and is still not figuring out the connections between him and Lazarus. Even though there is seems to be no chance of it working, Rodya’s soul can be raised.

The other comparison to Jesus and Lazarus is to show how Raskalinkov can be spiritually awoken. “Raskalinkov feels like Lazarus in that one day he may have a resurrection that would end his spiritual depravity” (Hutt 1). Rodya asks Sonya to read him the story of Lazarus to give him hope that he can gain faith. Dostoevsky has Raskalinkov ask Sonya to read him the story of Lazarus because it is the best example of a human being resurrected to a new life (Gibian 3). This is because there was a need for Rodya to overcome his feelings of being somewhat God-like. Not only does Raskalinkov identify with Lazarus, but also with Jesus. Rodya is raised from his spiritual death just as Jesus ad, while there were many who did not believe it was possible. Also, as Raskalinkov is going through his regeneration, he keeps a bible under his pillow to symbolize Jesus’ resurrection (Gibian 5). Raskalinkov can identify with Lazarus and Jesus because of their resurrections back to life.

Dostoevsky uses his religion to influence his novel and help develop the characters. “The author, a deeply religious man, uses allusions to stories of his faith heavily in order to show how religion can bring about redemption” (Hutt 1). There are several instances in which Dostoevsky uses his own religion to influence the characters. One of the main symbols is water. Water is used to help the regeneration and rebirth of the protagonists, helping them realize the beauty of life. On the other side, water is used to show death for the antagonists. The Christian symbol of the cross is used in a traditional sense of suffering and a new view, as ordinary. There is also evidence of stories such as Lazarus helping the characters progress. Dostoevsky used his own religion to impact the characters within his novel.

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