In How Fiction Works, James Wood explores Dostoyevsky’s use of layered character:
Dostoevskian character has at least three layers. On the top layer is the announced motive: Raskolnikov, say, proposes several justifications for his murder of the old woman. The second layer involves unconscious motivation, those strange inversions wherein love turns into hate and guilt expresses itself as poisonous, sickly love.
He continues by saying:
The third and bottom layer of motive is beyond explanation and can only be understood religiously. These characters act like this because they want to be known; even if they are unaware of it, they want to reveal their baseness; they want to confess. They want to reveal the dark shamefulness of their souls, and so, without quite why, they act “scandalously” and appallingly in front of others, so that people “better” than they can judge them for the wretches they are.
Suddenly, my experience at a Catholic college with a reputation as a party school looks very different. Hell, I’ll say it: much of own behavior through my twenties looks very different in this context too.
I suppose this insight it true: we all want to be known, to reveal our “baseness,” as Wood calls it. But I’d take it a step further, for the sake of avoiding cynicism.
It’s not that we want to be judged, we want the validation of forgiveness. We reveal our insufficiencies so that we may be accepted and loved despite them. Of course it doesn’t always work out this way, so I suppose many people stop to wallow in their insufficiency.
As a writer once told me, the cynic is merely the wounded romantic.