I. Rationalizing society
A. Victor Frankenstein s desire to dominate
B. Aftermath of his aspirations
A. The individualization of Gregor
B. Affects on his family and society
IV. The Overcoat
A. Akaky Akakievich s unfortunate mishap
B. Akaky Akakievich s lack of importance
V. Crime and Punishment
A. Raskolnikov s crime
B. Raskolnikov s justification of his crime
VI. Rationalization leads to a crumbled society
Rationalization: Not Always for the Good
Society has a set of morals, that of which exist for a specific reason, not to be justified by some other action taken just because it felt like the thing to do. The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines morals as, of or relating to principles or right and wrong; conforming to a standard of right behavior (Moral 477). These morals are what keep society intact and prevents everything from going hysterical. In Mary Shelley s novel, Frankenstein, Victor is overcome with the idea that creating life, other than what God had intended, is going to give him power and recognition and leave him prosperous in all aspects of life. In return, he was left with nothing more than a ruined life. Through the protagonist in The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka portrays a life of complete alienation and a crumbled family life. This life of Gregor Samsa is one of complete insanity due to Gregor being rejected from society and his own family.
In Nikolai Gogol s, The Overcoat , Akaky Akakievich rejects society all due to a few people harassing him and stealing his overcoat. After this incident, he is left in a state of isolation from society and all other aspects of life. Murder is a major crime, and one that is not justifiable in the least. Dostoevsky does a wonderful job at portraying the life of Raskolnikov as a man acting on his first instinct and not giving
his actions much thought. Once he had committed this horrible crime he began to try and find anything possible to justify his actions. Raskolnikov uses the idea that the extraordinary man must be above all of mankind. This idea causes a great deal of controversy, as does all attempts to try and rationalize or justify the morals of society.
For as long as people have flourished on this earth, they have always had the desire to be on top of the world, not only that but also to be noticed in the process. Society has a very simple way of getting to the top of the pyramid of society. It is basically, do what has to be done in order to succeed. In Mary Shelly s Frankenstein, Victor finds himself in a position to try something new, which is to be the creator not the creation, that which in turn could possibly transcend him up the pyramid of society. This is all according to his outlook at life, which is a very power desperate attitude. Victor s domineering attitude toward life leaves a huge possibility for him to make a very forbidding mistake. The ability for him to create a new life form from odd body parts is a huge step up in society and in technology as well.
Darkness had no effect upon my fancy, and a churchyard was to merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm. (Shelley 36)
Victor Frankenstein has become obsessed with his quest for creation, so obsessed that his views on life have become distorted in every way possible. He has made the dead the fuel for his desire. To Victor Frankenstein, the unfortunate sorrow that accompanies death has become a minor detail in the grand scheme of things. No longer are his morals an issue, but they are like dust in the wind, and his main focus is set on the ability to dominate society. He feels as if once he has created this new life form he will rise above others in society and be looked at as a creator not a creation. …technologies can be summed up in one word: control. Once they re deployed, it becomes difficult to control how they are used (Rivera 2). Victor Frankenstein is putting himself in a position that will enable him to have a massive amount of control. He has left reality, abandoned his morals, and has begun to revolve his life around power and control. All that he has to rationalize this turn of events is the new life form that he has created.
Trying to rationalize an action taken or a decision made is very hard to do considering the high standards and morals that have been set for society. In this particular case, Victor has created an alternate life form in order to justify his need for power and domination. A new species would bless me as it s creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their beings to me (Shelly 39).
When people get off track and begin to throw away their morals and turn to a means of justification, nothing but trouble lies ahead. All Victor has done is created an enormous amount of trouble and destruction. It has lead to death after death of friends and family, none of which had been anticipated. Once his regret set in, he began to slowly move away from society.
I avoided explanation and maintained continual silence concerning the wretch I had created (Shelly 170). All that Victor hoped for and desired has fallen through the roof and become the complete opposite. His quest for power, and his justification for his decisions and actions has left him apart from that which he hoped to bless him. All that he profited was loneliness and regret, not to mention the death of family and friends, that of which he had never expected to happen. Nothing that he had envisioned has taken place, it has all been the complete opposite. He abandoned his morals and got caught up in the idea that being a creator, not a creation, was how it needed to be.
Like Victor Frankenstein, in Kafka s The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa portrays a life of rejection and unjustifiable alienation. Not only does society reject him because of the way that he looked after the change he underwent, but Gregor himself begins to look at life in an unusual way as well.
With a transformation so large, he has completely changed his outlook at life. When he underwent this change, it made him think that this could happen to anyone at any time. A more important consideration that goes along with Gregor s manipulated train of thought is the fact that his family and society have basically outcaste him from their lives. What was right and what was wrong no longer became an issue to his family, especially his father. He no longer felt like he was part of the family. Before his family saw his new physical appearance, they had no reason to reject him.
At this point Gregor only felt separated from the rest due to this sudden change. When he realized that they were about to help him he once again felt normal. As soon as they saw him, their views changed completely. This is were society goes wrong.
There is no justification for disliking someone due to their physical appearance. This is something that no one can help or do anything about. This goes to prove that society s views on certain topics are completely distorted.
In society, it is very easy for people to judge others for what they have said or for what they have done in the past. Society also looks at others and judges them by their physical appearance. This idea of judgement is completely astray from the moral standards that are set for the people. Not only is it wrong to judge on physical appearance, but God himself is the only person that has any right to judge people. There is no way at all to justify this unacceptable behavior, except maybe call it ignorance. In The Metamorphosis, Gregor finds himself left in a position of being judged my his family and society. Gregor s father is a big part of his alienation from the rest of the family. Due to the change that he underwent, his father tried to kill him with apples.
…in spite of his present pathetic and repulsive shape, who could not be treated as an enemy; that, on the contrary, it was the commandment of family duty to swallow their pride and disgust and endure him, endure him and nothing more.(Kafka 29)
They have to overlook the physical features and look on the inside. This will be so hard for them to do because of the way that Gregor s family and the rest of society looks at problems like this. Morality slowly slips away when people like this begin to think irrationally and not take time to look at the problem that is really at hand.
The social-constructionist theory of self underlies much of the family s discussion of what to do with the monster. You just have to get rid of the idea that it s Gregor. Believing it for so long , that is our real misfortune. (Sweeney 150)
Many people in society have trouble with seeing or hearing something and automatically believing it and making it part of their lifestyle. Believing something just because of the fact that it sounds good is no way to justify the problem at hand. In Nikolai Gogol s, The Overcoat , Akaky Akakievich was a man of very little importance. He lived a very simple life. It seemed as if all that he needed to get him through the day was his overcoat. Although this overcoat had no significance to the rest of society, Akaky Akakievich treated it as if it were just like him. When he found out that it was going to be impossible to repair his worn out overcoat he was devastated, that is until a man named Petrovich delivered the new overcoat to him. This overcoat was basically all that he cherished.
When a group of men jumped him and stole his overcoat he was devastated. An event like this is just like modern society and everyday life. People pick on others just because of the fact that they are a little different than everyone else. It is sad to see people get picked on for no reason at all. Society always tries to find a way to justify their actions. In Akaky s case, the justification is simply, oh well, it s his problem. So
many people can be very cold hearted at times. Gogol hits the nail on the head when he says,
True, this creature, who had meekly borne the office jokes and gone quietly to his grave, had had, toward the end of his life, a cherished visitor-the overcoat, which for a brief moment had brightened his wretched existence.(Gogol 938)
It is obvious that Akaky Akakievich was looked at as a creature and not a normal human being. Society can be pretty harsh when it comes to labeling and judging people. It seems as if people just like to make things hard on those that are less fortunate than they are. All that Akaky had left was his very cherished overcoat, and they had to steal it from him. No one can even begin to justify why that took place, other than the fact they just wanted to cause trouble.
Once a young man who was new to the office started to tease him, following the crowd. Suddenly he stopped as if awakened from a trance and, after that, he couldn t stand the others, whom at first he had deemed decent people.(Gogol 924)
This is were society goes wrong, when people begin to jump on the bandwagon. Sometimes they know that doing this is wrong, but they get the idea that everybody s doing it , stuck in their head and they don t want to feel left out. Society is so easily corrupted, that it is hard to do anything without being criticized or frowned upon. Being in the position that Akaky Akakievich was in would be extremely hard to handle and not many people could handle it, especially on a day to day basis. On the other hand, Akaky was very strong willed in some ways. Gogol states,
Having written to his hearts content, he would go to bed, smiling with anticipation of the morrow, of what God would send him to copy.(Gogol 925)
This goes to show that he would press on and persevere through the hard times.
He did not look at the bad, instead he focused on the good and ignored the rest. This is what it takes to get through life sometimes, a strong will and the desire to succeed.
Raskolnikov is a poverty-stricken student who has committed a terrible crime and tries to rationalize it by some other means other than the true answer. Murder is an extreme case, and a very unjustifiable crime at that. Raskolnikov takes matters into his own hands and tries to make the situation the way that he wants it to be, not the way that it is intended to be. He overlooked the rights and wrongs of society and acted on his own free will. Russell McNeil states,
…like Raskolnikov tries to do in our story – to cross over the barriers erected by traditional morality, by denying the barriers. They are not meta-rational to Raskolnikov; they are irrational. Hence they are destructible. In crossing those barriers Raskolnikov is in a position to act outside the constraints of good and evil.(McNeil 2)
Raskolnikov s views on the morals of human existence have become completely distorted. He has simply overlooked the truth and acted upon his immediate feelings. There are barriers in life that are set for a specific reason, and that is to keep peace and tranquillity among society. When Raskolnikov decided to deny the barriers that hold up the morality of society, he put himself in
a position that left many reasons for his crime unanswered.
Raskolnikov formulated a theory that would justify his crime, so he hoped. By committing this horrible crime, Raskolnikov has isolated himself from the rest of society and he has left himself out to dry. When he realized that he was no longer the person that he was before, he began to look at himself different. He felt as if he was worth nothing and that he was meaningless to society. By thinking this, he also fabricated the idea that everyone else was worth nothing. Once the idea that he and everyone else were worth nothing got stuck in his head, he felt as if he could kill and remain free of punishment.
Such limitations imply that on life s most important questions – particularly those of a moral or ethical nature – reason alone can produce chilling consequences. Without adequate or any moral illumination, reason alone, when pushed to its limits, can produce consequences which stand dramatically opposed to those moral demands.(McNeil 1)
In this case, Raskolnikov s reason for murder is absolutely without a doubt unacceptable. He took no time whatsoever in considering what he was going to do. In fact, he pushed the envelope of reason just a little too far. His idea that everyone was worth nothing camouflaged the aspect or moral and ethical reasoning, which in turn lead him to believe that murder was a
crime that would be acceptable. Unfortunately, these means of justification were not the answer. Instead, the results of his crime left him in a state of isolation. I understood that without a sense of religious and moral striving, we re condemned to aimless, formless lives (Williams 1). Morality is part of what life is based upon. If people do not make wise decisions based upon the morality of society, then the future of society is sure to suffer.
Life has never been easy, and probably never will be. There are so many things that take place everyday that make it extremely hard to cope with life. Crime is what plaques society now, and what has plagued society in the past. Regardless of what happens in the future, there will always be problems. In order to get through life as easy as possible, there has to be a standard to go by, and that is were morality comes into play. Society must look at the right and wrong of a situation before making a judgement. Without morals nothing good can come of a situation. Armstrong Williams states,
How do we keep this spiritual numbness from inhibiting and destroying us? The answer is straightforward: we must revel in the greatness of fundamental pleasures family, civility, and the striving for moral excellence.(Williams 2)
People must strive for moral excellence, not try to justify or rationalize the mistake they made. Nothing good has ever come from trying to justify something they did wrong. All they have to do is look at both sides of the situation before making a decision. Morality is the cornerstone of society. If this corner stone of society is justified by some means of ignorance, then what do people have to live by? This is when the framework of society begins to plumate and then there is nothing more to follow.
Dostoevsky, Feodor. Crime and Punishment. Third Edition. New York: Norton, C. 1989.
Gogol, Nikolai. The Overcoat. Trans. Andrew R.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. New York: Norton,
McNeil, Russell. Dostoevsky s Crime and Punishment.
Available WWW: http://www.mala.bc.ca/ mcneil/lec/lecdost.htm
Moral . The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 1989 ed.
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Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York, NY: Bantam Books, INC., 1981.
Sweeney, Kevin W., Theories of Identity in The Metamorphosis The Metamorphosis. (1996): 150.
21 Jan. 2000: 1-2. On-line. Internet. 10 Apr. 2000.
Available WWW: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/6/story_674_1.html