A Murderer


A Murderer’s Journey Through The Works Of Dostoyevsky And Poe Essay, Research Paper

A Murderer’s Journey Through The Works of Dostoyevsky and Poe

Some people believe that most murderers have a mental illness which

causes them to commit their crime. This belief is strongly disagreed with by

the authors Edgar Allan Poe and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Crime and Punishment, ?The

Tell-Tale Heart?, ?The Black Cat?,and ?The Cask of Amontillado? are very similar

in this contradiction. Each murderer takes a specific journey that has been

illustrated in each case. The psychological make-up of each murderer shows that

he is a normal person up to the point at which something compels him to commit

this horrible crime, and after that his conscience usually leads to his own


Before the murder has been committed the character is a regular human

being. In most cases the characters that end up carrying through with this

crime are above average people. Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment is “…

quite an extraordinarily handsome young man…” (Crime and Punishment, pg.21)

Raskolnikov is a very gifted university student, with a very good talent for

figuring people out. Raskolinikov takes great pride and care for his family. On

receiving a letter from his mother

…he quickly raised the letter to his lips and kissed it; then he spent

a long time poring over the handwriting on the envelope, over the small,

slanting handwriting, so familiar and dear to him, of his mother who had once

taught him to read and write. (Crime and Punishment, pg.47)

Raskolnikov’s mother, who taught him how to read and write did this job quite

well. This resulted in a very gifted and brilliant university student. This

point is illustrated throughout the novel from the planning and carrying out of

the murder, to interactions with the police.

The narrator from the short story “The Black Cat” describes his

“tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of his

companions.” (”The Black Cat”, pg.390) He is quite a regular human being who is

“…especially fond of animals…” (”The Black Cat”, pg.390) The narrator also

has a great wife whom he describes as being quite similar to himself, which

shows that he must be quite normal if a good woman chooses to marry him. Much

alike is the narrator from the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Again this

character is full of love. The victim of his crime had done no wrong and for

that the narrator “…loved the old man.” (”The Tell-Tale Heart”, pg.384) The

narrator shows the same brilliance in planning the crime that Raskolnikov

exhibits. People with great intelligence, great lives, possessions and friends

must be normal people. This seems to hold true in the short story “The Cask of

Amontillado”. The narrator is a man with great wealth. He has many friends

which would signify that he is quite a normal character. He lives in a nice

house with servants and fine wine. This all seems to show that his mind is

intact, if he obtains and keeps these symbols of success. It seems as if each

and every character discussed is quite a normal human being. In most cases the

wealth, knowledge, or love of others is far above average than most other human


The normal psychological make-up of a murderer has to change before the

crime is committed. Something must happen in the character’s life that causes

them to alter their reasoning ability into something that maybe considered as

insanity. It is seen quite clear that the loving character from “The Black Cat”

“experienced a radical alteration for the worse.” (”The Black Cat”, pg.391) The

turning point in his mind was explained by the narrator. “But my disease grew

upon me – for what disease is like Alcohol!” (”The Black Cat, pg.392) This

problem with alcohol is clearly the point at which the reasoning of the

character changes.

In Raskolnikov’s case this change is also quite clear. For an above

average university student it would be devastating to see education slip through

his fingers beyond control. “He was crushed by poverty, but even straitened

circumstances had ceased to worry him lately.” (Crime and Punishment, pg.19)

The poverty causes Raskolnikov to leave university. Upon leaving university he

is left alone with his thoughts. “At that moment he was fully aware that his

thoughts were at times confused and that he was very weak: for two days now he

had had hardly anything to eat.” (Crime and Punishment, pg.20) Poverty is

clearly what changes Raskolnikov’s psyche.

The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” has a bizarre reason for this

change to occur.

He had never wronged me. He had never given me

insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it

was this! He had the eye of a vulture – a pale blue eye with a film

over it. (”The Tell-Tale Heart”, pg.384)

This figurative meaning of the old man’s eye can be interpreted in the broad

view that the narrator dislikes the old man’s personality. The narrators change

stems from the selfishness and uncaring of the old man. The narrator of ?The

Cask of Amontillado? takes a change that occurs for the plain reason of revenge.

it is evident that the character has passed a certain point at which his

thoughts have changed as to compel him to carry through with this crime.

In each work the murder has been committed it certainly takes a great

psychological effect on each character. The narrator of ?The Tell-Tale Heart?

experiences this as he is conversing with the police.

?The ringing became more distinct: – it continued and became more

distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and

gained definitiveness – until, at length , I found that the noise was not within

my ears.? (?The Tell-Tale Heart?, pg.389)

It is shown that the narrator’s conscience is ringing and it is driving him

insane. He gets more insane as time passes ?It grew louder – louder – louder!?

(?The Tell-Tale Heart, pg.389) This seems to be how his mind alters and is being

punished for this alteration for the worse. The sound imagery is also used

within the story ?The Black Cat?. After the first murder of his cat, the

narrator’s feeling of guilt grows with every passing day. ?…I longed to

destroy it with one blow, I was yet withheld from doing so, partly by a memory

of my former crime.? (?The Black Cat?, pg.396) It seems as if his conscience of

his former crime is restricting him from choices he once might have made. The

narrator’s feeling of guilt is eased by the discovery of a new cat. This turns

out to be too much for him to take. As the narrator is trying to kill the

second cat, his wife gets in the way and he kills her instead of the cat. After

this happens his guilt is very unnoticeable. A cry is heard as the police are

searching hi house and eventually reach the tomb in which his wife is hidden.

It was ?Quickly swelling into one long , loud, and continuous scream… a

wailing shriek, half horror and half triumph…? (?The Black Cat?, pg.400) Again

this scream signifies the triumph of the conscience or of good over the evil

deed that the character has attempted to conceal.

The novel Crime and Punishment deals with this same idea of the role

that guilt plays in the downfall of a murder. Raskolnikov begins his dealings

with his conscience very soon after the crime. Raskolnikov leaves clues around ?

because all his mental faculties were weakened and shaken – his mind was

clouded.? (Crime and Punishment, pg.109) This cloud of judgment causes

Raskolnikov to attempt to avoid his conscience. He explains ?What is it? Am I

still delirious or is it all real? I think it’s real?… oh I remember now I

must run.? (Crime and Punishment, pg.146) Raskolnikov continues to sway back and

forth between admitting his guilt, and trying to escape it. It is shown through

several events that Raskolnikov’s crime has led him to the solitude of delirium

and it gradually eats him away inside. The realization is finally made that he

is not the extraordinary man that he thought he was. He states,

I am a louse’, he added, grinding his teeth, ?because I myself am

perhaps worse and nastier than the louse I killed, and I knew beforehand that I

would say that after killing her!? (Crime and Punishment, pg.292)

As the Raskolnikov’s deterioration continues, he finally comes to the

realization that his conscience cannot deal with this any longer. ?It was I who

killed the old woman money-lender and her sister Lisaveta with a hatchet and

robbed them.? (Crime and Punishment, pg.542) The confession given at to end his

ordeal is a direct relation to his conscience.

This is much like ?The Tell-Tale Heart? in which the narrator also

confesses, ??Villians!? I shrieked, ?dissemble no more! I admit the deed – tear

up the planks! – here, here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart!? (?The

Tell-Tale Heart?, pg.389) It is not stated that the narrator admits his guilt

but is certainly is symbolized by the scream. This also leads to the downfall

of this character, much like the others. It is truly obvious that each

characters conscience leads them to insanity which in turn leads to their own


A murderer’s journey includes several distinct stages. These stages:

being a normal human being, taking a turning point to cause the murder, and

dealing with his conscience are all followed in each and every case of study.

The character that has committed the murder travels through this process. This

journey is a process that is happening in everyday society, and is clearly

illustrated through each piece of literature.


Dostoevsky, Fyodor Milchailovich. Crime and Punishment. Markham: Penguin

Classics, 1983.

Poe, Edgar Allan. ?The Black Cat?. Great Short Works of Edgar-Allan Poe. G. R.

Thompson. New York. Perennial Library, 1970. 390-401.

Poe, Edgar Allan. ?The Cask of Amontillado?. Great Short Works of Edgar-Allan

Poe. G. R. Thompson. New York. Perennial Library, 1970. 496-503.

Poe, Edgar Allan. ?The Tell-Tale Heart?. Great Short Works of Edgar-Allan Poe. G.

R. Thompson. New York. Perennial Library, 1970. 384-390.

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