The best works of art conjure up every defining element of what it means to be human. From the honest, noble, and purely good parts of humanity, to the deceitful, ignoble, and utterly evil parts of humanity, the best artists express every shade of grey between black and white. Because the world has been full of great artists throughout history, there are many works that express true humanity, but one stands out as far as truly showing the dark sides that give way to light.
In Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky shows the consequences of a man who thinks himself above the law and above petty morality. This man, Raskolnikov, grows mentally ill, wrestling with the demons he created to plague himself. In the end, however, there is hope in the character of Sonya, who also is not the most moral person. A prostitute by need and not choice, she grants Raskolnikov the opportunity for redemption. She shows him that even those in less moral careers can be the light in dark places. Together, they read the Bible, which is not a shout-out to make this a Christian post by any means, and this draws Raskolnikov out from his dark place.
If a stranger to humanity were to find what it means to be human, he would find it in this story. Dostoevsky also provided me with one of the first books read in high school that I actually loved and potentially led me into my Literature major. Perhaps due to his blatant Russian-ness does he so accurately depict the entire spectrum of the light and dark parts of the human heart, or perhaps he simply sees the world as it is, regardless of his geographical placement.
In any case, I highly recommend Crime and Punishment to any one who would like to better understand what it means to be human. In an ongoing quest to truly express humanity, I would also recommend the following titles: A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens), The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne), The Odyssey (Homer), Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis), Small Gods (Terry Pratchett), and anything by Elie Wiesel.
This post is in response to the Daily Prompt, Worldly Encounters.