Crime and Punishment vs Heart of Darkness: Compare & Contrast
Crime and Punishment is a novel attributed to Fyodor Dostoyevsky which was published in 1866, while the novel, Heart of Darkness was written by the Polish novelist, Joseph Conrad and was published in 1899. In both stories, there are accusations of overstepping moral boundaries.
Part 1: How Raskolnikov’s Crime and Punishment and Kurtz’s The Heart of Darkness seem to have stepped over a moral boundary
In Crime and Punishment, Rodion Raskolnikov can be seen to have overstepped moral boundaries through his actions. In an instant, he commits grave murder for reasons that are not clear. At the heart of the matter is that the society considers life as sacrosanct and that if it must be taken away, a very good reason must follow the act. However, Raskolnikov brutally murders the pawnbroker without taking anything from her. Instead, Raskolnikov murders the old woman, just to prove that he is an extraordinary man who in his own right can allow his conscience to disregard certain obstacles (Davis, Harrison & Crawford, 262).
The immediately foregoing is a serious disregard to moral boundaries because it presents a grave argument to the effect that an individual can set his conscience to overstep morality. The crux of the matter herein is that there cannot be morality if it is subject to the arbitrariness of individual persuasion or conscience. It is obvious that from this point, morality cannot stand since the line between the immoral from the moral becomes blurred.
The situation is not any different in Mr. Kurtz who styles himself as a demigod over native Africans, in The Heart of Darkness. Kurtz believes that he is superior to Africans and is therefore not morally responsible or accountable in his dealings with them, their unfairness of his dealings notwithstanding. Kurtz, therefore, does not regret hitting, whipping, mistreating, exploiting, and killing people in the Congo. Despite the fact that many people lost their lives trying to find him, Kurtz places a footnote for the International Society for the Oppression of Savage Customs to exterminate all the brutes (Davis, Harrison & Crawford, 181-200).
Part 2: How Their Response to the Stepping Over Differ and How Each Was Affected By the Accusation
Kurtz and Raskolnikov respond differently to accusations of overstepping moral boundaries. Kurtz does so by taking on a double-faced personality. At one end, he is noble to the Russian who admire him for his intellect, sense of justice, and ability to use this power, but at another end, he is brutal to the so-called savages. This pretense to being good is seen in the manner Kurtz pretends to be in love with “My Intended”. Mr. Kurtz never truly loved “My Intended” though he pretended otherwise. The double-faced life that Mr. Kurtz took on is underscored by the three letters that Marlow distributes upon reaching Europe. In a letter to a representative of the International Society for the Oppression of Savage Customs, he disregards the plight of the native African, in another to his supposed cousin, Kurtz he appears affection and in a third letter which is given to a journalist, he is not ashamed to give a detailed account of his suppression of the supposed African savage customs. This means that he cared less what native Africans thought of him for he thought them of too little value if at all, to warrant his pretense at love, justice, and fairness.
Raskolnikov on the other hand responds to the accusation of overstepping moral boundaries by trying to defend himself philosophically. To this effect, Raskolnikov tells Porfiry Petrovich that there are extraordinary men who have all rights in themselves. Among these rights is the right to allow their conscience to overstep moral and social boundaries. This according to Raskolnikov is especially the case when there is a need to fulfill certain ideas. Those who lack the right to allow their conscience to transcend boundaries are the ordinary ones, while those who do so are extraordinary. Raskolnikov features among the extraordinary (Davis, Harrison & Crawford, 263).
It is also interesting that at some point, both Kurtz and Raskolnikov play mad. Kurtz’s madness is not explicit and is only conveyed in his subtle and inconsistent actions and in Marlow’s suspicion that Kurtz has gone mad. At one point, Raskolnikov wants to believe that the large blood stains smudges in his garment are nonexistent. This is a depiction of Raskolnikov’s failure to reconcile with the truth about his murderous character. This insanity on Raskolnikov’s communicates the inability of a man to breach the confines of morality and go unscathed.
Davis, Paul, Harrison, Gary & Crawford, F. John. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature, Compact Edition, Volume 2: The Modern World (1650-Present). New York: Bedford- St. Martin’s, 2008. Print