Crime and Punishment at 150 (2016)

“Mechanically Towards the Door” : The Crowd on the Threshold and Utilitarian Infection in Crime and Punishment Sims, Rachel


The spread of utilitarian morality into Russia was a great concern for Dostoevsky, so much so that the majority of Crime and Punishment is dedicated to the critique of utilitarianism as a valid moral code. Throughout the novel Dostoevsky employs mechanized action to link certain characters with the adherence to utilitarian belief, most notably in the movements of Raskolnikov. Liza Knapp further identifies that “Dostoevsky vilifies the machine because it operates on a mechanical (deterministic) principle, but also because it symbolized philosophical outlooks and instrumented Western social developments he [Dostoevsky] mistrusted.”2 However, one minor character, Porfiry Petrovich’s guard, is the only other figure whose actions are described as mechanistic. This guard’s movement “mechanically towards the door” leads him to join an inert crowd congregated in the doorway in order to spectate the false confession of the painter Nikolai. Indeed, Dostoevsky uses crowds spectating on various thresholds throughout Crime and Punishment to not only demonstrate how utilitarianism had infected the citizens of St. Petersburg but also to demonstrate the disastrous complacency and lack of compassion, that in his view, progressive, liberal ideology propagates. Fatal scenes within the novel, primarily the death of Marmeladov and the demise of Katerina Ivanovna, are accompanied by a lack of spontaneous, sympathetic action from the crowd. To be sure this lack of compassion during a fatal scene further emphasizes Dostoevsky’s premonition about microscopic trichinae infecting the bodies of men with cold, mechanical rationalism at the expense of traditional Christian sympathy and humanity. Overall this paper will argue that Dostoevsky’s use of the inert crowd on the threshold is a trope to demonstrate the demoralizing consequences of mechanistic thought not only for the individual but also for society.

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