Crime and Repentance The crime of murder sustains the dramatic and moral tensions of a Dostoevsky novel as well as it shapes the often frenetic pace of the plot. The question, though, is not, "Who did it?" but rather, "Why was it done?" What intellectual and spiritual aberrations are at the heart of such a horrible crime? Those who murder, such as Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, are testing the moral and religious truth of the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." They want to discover whether or not they are "strong" enough to transgress the moral law of God.
Denial of the existence of God will inevitably lead to contempt for humanity. "Am I a man, or am I a louse?" is the anguished question of the ax-murderer Raskolnikov, directed to the saintly prostitute Sonya. In moving beyond good and evil, this tormented character is testing the principle that "everything is permitted." Without God, his own will and desire becomes the source of everything. "If there is no God, then I am God," proclaims Kirilov in Demons. Thus, the principle of the God-man is rejected in favor of the newly created man-god.
This illegitimate self-deification actually proves to be the final descent into a self-enclosed hell of estrangement from both God and humanity. All relationships become severed. In the light of God's truth, murder is ultimately self-murder, a kind of spiritual suicide. The one remaining link with the Other - be it God or human beings - is the conscience.
Dostoevsky is unsurpassed in his exploration of the dynamics of the human conscience. Conversion remains a possibility as long as the conscience is still alive. Dostoevsky's great sinners can only find redemption through repentance, confession, voluntary suffering, and a rekindled love for both God and neighbor. The hint of such a conversion to a new and better life in Raskolnikov closes the epilogue of Crime and Punishment. When even the human conscience has died, as with Svidrigailov in Crime and Punishment and Stavrogin of Demons, then actual suicide is the final act of despair. Dostoevsky's novels reveal both the saved and the lost.