The Qestion of Self-confidence in Crime and Punishment and The Trial


When I first read The Trial, a few years ago and again while revising for an exam, I was reminded of the individualís inability to negotiate the realties of the world. How insignificant the voice of the everyman had become over the years Ė perhaps it has always been so. Was it out of naivetť, from years of putting his trust in his elected government to uphold his welfare? Was it out of ignorance: his inability to tutor himself or access the information that he needs to make an informed decision. It might be just plain laziness. As you read the essay, you might notice the subtle tones of anger unleashed towards Josef K and his inability to take control of his trials: why wasnít he more informed? Why was he so naÔve to believe that the government would save him? Didnít he understand that he existed only as a number? Isnít that true now more then ever? Perhaps, the anger was directed at myself: the times one feels the pangs of powerlessness when faced with the daunting tasks of working outside oneís realm. Maybe, I should have shown Josef K more empathy. Nevertheless, In the The Trial, it seems to me that Kafka is saying that once the individual is out of the maze of the familiar he is lost because he hasnít taken time to expand on his breath of knowledge.He manages to navigate with some efficiency the home maze; travel to his office maze Ė navigate it effortlessly for a few hours and head to home base. What happens when the individual is placed outside the familiar routine without the tools to help him survive the inherent obstacles of the unmapped?Josef K is thrown from the calculated confines of banking into the jousting world of jurisprudence and governmental bureaucracy? Who is to blame for the individualís predicament? Some say the government should be accountable for allowing Josef K to believe that he would be saved from the mishap. There is something to be said for that. Here is the real question: when is the individual accountable? To feign ignorance and proclaim blind allegiance in the nineteenth century; certainly today is reprehensible. A little knowledge can be dangerous but the hope is that the seed might lend itself to greater awareness and the ability to navigate. ††There are avenues that allow us to inform ourselves.

This essay found continuity a year later in the essay, Oh, Canada. Itís a work in progress.


In Dostoevskyís Crime and Punishment and Kafkaís The Trial the protagonistsí strong self-image and convictions play an important role in their self-confidence and undoing. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov is a 23-year old student who is confident in the conviction of his ideas, however, a low self-image chips away the very same ideas. Josef K, the protagonist of The Trial, is a man in his thirties and a career banker. His confidence comes from doing his job well, which gives him an appearance of strength, but his complacency is his undoing. Both protagonists are thrown into a tailspin and their self-confidence, real or theoretical, begins to deteriorate. Ideas, no matter how well rationalized, meet just as strong an opposition from the forces of natural law. Both Raskolnikov and Josef K are men of strong convictions that endow them with a deluded sense of self-confidence. Their crimes stem from varying degrees of ignorance and challenge the laws of nature. Raskolnikov is convinced that he can alter his destiny and thereby jump the cue by murdering Alene Ivanovna. He does not let nature take its course with his life, or that of Ivanovnaís. Raskolnikov is redeemed because heís conscious of his world and is capable of excepting his fate. Josef K is guilty of ignorance. He does not embrace life but he fritters it away. Josef K receives warnings from three different sources including a prison chaplain, lawyer, and painter, each of whom challenge his existence. Josef Kís complacency and his lack of awareness or understanding of life make him unredeemable.

Raskolnikov assumes a Napoleonic stature. He invests in the idea of utilitarianism, sacrificing the few for the greater good.He believes murdering and robbing Alena Ivanovna will put an end to his downward spiral and restore order to his world. Raskolnikov begins to lose his self-confidence when he finds himself in debt to his landlady and Alena Ivanovna. A false sense of self-confidence creeps into his intellect when he contemplates Ivanovnaís murder and justifies it in his mind. There is no purity in Raskolnikov's plan. His motive is purely self-serving. It is about his self-preservation. His motives bear little resemblance to the Napoleonic idea of utilitarianism, except for the feeling of superiority through exertion of power.

Josef K accepts the idea of state or government. Throughout the novel, he believes that the state will intervene on his behalf. Josef K lets others take control of his life. He consents to his own arrest without a proper charge. The police invade his home. The vice-president of the bank takes over his office and his clients. Through the process of keeping appointments with the state police and the courts he is implicating himself by assuming the role of the guilty man. By allowing other people to take control of his situations, he loses his sense of the bankerís reason. He is oblivious to what is going on around him and lives in ignorance; this is his crime.In the course of The Trial, Josef K exudes cockiness that has nothing to do with what is going in the present. His confidence rests on the coattails of his past.

Although Raskolnikov is strong and confident in his intellect, his conscience does not allow him to reach the Napoleonic heights that he has constructed for himself. He swings between cold-hearted reason and feelings of compassion and love.He exposes Luzhin as a fraud even though Dunyaís marriage to Luzhin would have freed him of any financial obligation to his family. It also would have set him up as a lawyer. AfterMarmeladovís death, Raskolnikov contributes the last of his money towards his funeral. He gives the money because Semen Zakharovich has told him his familyís story.†† His compassion for the less fortunate Marmeladov family prevails. Eventually, Sonya Semenovna, Semen Zakharovichís daughter wins over his cold-hearted reasoning.†† He has deluded himself into thinking he is a Napoleonic figure: strong, self-confident, and able to take control of his destiny. However, Raskolnikov lacks these qualities that will see him through his plan. In the construction of his plan, Raskolnikov does not take into account his own vulnerability. He does not count on strong family ties to weaken his resolve. It is not a mistake that he has gravitated to the Maremeladov family. The Maremeladovs are a reminder of his own familyís future. Raskolnikov finds that life is not that simple. He realizes even the most vigilantly constructed ideas, no matter how strong our belief in them, can not escape opposition. Similarly, the murder, no matter how well reasoned, can not escape human compassion. He does not count on filial ties to weaken his resolve.

JosefK does not have astrong sense of self or place. Blind confidence misleads him to believe that he is making the right decisions and asking the right questions.He takes his freedom for granted. Josef K with his world turned upside down is displaced; his routine defines his existence and without these signposts he exists in a vacuum. He is lost outside the confines of the bank and his home. Preparing to defend himself, Josef K finds himself in the underbelly of Prague. He is like a mouse caught in a maze without his senses, the whiskers, to sniff out his freedom. He is at once aware and unaware. He has to remind himself, that he could use the same tactics that he used in the past to close deals at the bank in order to, get acquitted. He reaches into his bankerís bag of tricks for the answers only to find that his routine logic is overwrought in the irrational present. He is not asking the right questions.

Raskolnikov has the theory and a plan but his control is limited. Remorse, the love of a woman, and her belief in God wins over the cold, calculated reasoning of Raskolnikov. This pseudo-Napoleonic character does not anticipate that Lizevata Ivanovna will walk into the apartment as he murders her sister, Alena Ivanovna. His murder of the innocent, God-fearing Lizevata Ivanovna sickens him and sinks him deeper into self-doubt.He confesses to the murders to Sonya Semenovna, a devout Christian and friend of Lizevata Ivanovna because she has won his heart, but in order to win her, he must confess his crime to the police.His plan has no room for remorse but guilt, and eventually spirituality permeates his soul. The guilt he feels over his murder of Lizaveta leads Raskolnikov to Sonya and to his acceptance of her belief in the Christian doctrine.

By asking the right questions, Josef K can get the answers and the key to his freedom, but his lack of awareness and his self-assuredness leaves him blind to the truth. Huld, his lawyer is dismissed. Huld, by his name and the nature of his profession represents wisdom that JosefK needs to retain his status of a free man. But Josef K believes that the bankerís wisdom is what is needed. Like Raskolnikov, his perceptions are distorted and have little do with his reality. Both professions operate by a different set of rules and regulations. In the cathedral, he is admonished by the priest because he does not understand that his case is going badly. Josef K is completely blind to his destiny. He has brought his bankerís manual to the cathedral and wonders why he can not find his way out. At one point in a scene, a silver statue of a saint glimmers briefly, in front of him; this is a sure sign that it is not too late for him to be absolved, but Josef K chooses to ignore it as he is in a hurry to plead his innocence at court. There is terseness to his behavior. He accepts everything on a surface value and does not see the true meaning of the world. Josef K is afraid to find the answer: his true nature.

Money plays a major role throughout Crime and Punishment and Raskolnikovís loss of confidence. Lack of funding makes it impossible for him to continue with his university education. He also loses income from teaching. It appears from his motherís letter to him that his mother, Pulkheria, and sister, Dunya, were relying on him for financial security upon his graduation from university. Pulkheria has borrowed money against her pension to support him. Dunya has agreed to marry Luzhin in order to save the family and Raskolnikov from financial disaster. It seems Raskolnikov has let them down at a crucial time in their lives. It is one of the stronger events that affirms Raskonikovís decision to murder Alena Ivanovna, but it also suggests a helpless boy in a man's body who is unable to fulfil his family aspirations.

Kafkaís protagonist, Josef K, is a man who is not operating on the same plane as the rest of the novel's characters. He does not take control of his destiny and, therefore, is unredeemable. Kafka as author and seer indicates to Josef K that he can not be complacent, by taking away his safety net, the routine existence. There will be no state or divine intervention.As long as he understands the limits, the working rules, and regulations of the world or the unlimited possibilities of the world, and as long as he knows what questions to ask he can survive the world. But, Kafka also indicates that these rules and regulations are necessary to feel comfortable and confident. It gives Josef K a stronger position and structure to work and act from. Josef K knows the workings of the bankerís world and knows his world and, therefore, can operate within it blindfolded with confidence. Once those limitations, rules, and regulations are taken away, the structure of his world is turned upside down, nothing makes sense.

Raskolnikov operates under very real conditions in fact, his very sensitivity to his surroundings conditions him to lose his confidence. However, because he is also aware, he also redeems himself. By rationalising the immoral, the murder of Alena Ivanovna, he never had a chance to reach the Napoleonic stature. Dostoevskyís point is that Raskonikovís plan is incongruous to the theory proper because it is self-serving: it will solve his and only his problem and this has nothing to do with the greater good. The idea brings him momentary confidence but the actual crime finds him being sloppy in his execution and without the stomach for the bloody deed. Raskolnikov wants to get caught. He incriminates himself. He makes a drunken confession to Zametov, the chief clerk in the police office. Murder is not in his nature.

In both, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and Kafka's, The Trial, the protagonists derive their self-confidence from their strong convictions. Raskolnikov and Josef K, armed with their respective degrees of self-confidence, challenge the laws of nature and fall. Both authors are serving notice to the reader, that man, in his pursuit of material wealth and intellectual supremacy must respect the laws of nature and religion.The authors hold little hope for humanity. However, Dostoevsky does offer a glimmer of hope by absolving Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov ends up in prison and lives.Kafka on the other hand, is devoid of hope and declares the human race dead by killing off Joseph K.