BASEES Annual Conference 2022

The God Given Freedom of Being A Pawnbroker

Fri8  Apr05:20pm(20 mins)
Games Room


Octavian Gabor


Here's one general aspect of Dostoevsky’s characters: they are not nice people. Men and women take advantage of each other, fathers cheat their sons of their inheritance, and old pawnbrokers take advantage of the poverty of youth. In a person focused on justice, the most likely reaction is the desire to repair a broken world that contains such people by replacing it with a world cleansed of ‘impurities.’ It is an impulse that, at various levels and with different outcomes, we find in Raskolnikov or Ivan Karamazov.

Nevertheless, at the same time, Dostoevsky's novels place an emphasis on the idea that cleansing the world of its ‘bad elements’ brings about more ugliness than beauty. Characters such as Sonya or Alyosha don't only accept false and deceitful people, but they relate to them as if their freedom trumps the right to security of others.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the basis of this idea in Dostoevsky's novels: is one allowed to be a scoundrel even if one’s existence can menace the dignity of others? How far can an individual go in correcting the shaky morality of another?

I claim that the answer to this question helps us understand the difficult negotiation one has between participating in the world as a free-agent and participating in it as a self-righteous human. Dostoevsky seems to say that I have a call (some responsibility that is to be clarified) to treat all people as persons, regardless of whether they are Alyosha or pawnbrokers.