The title is referring to Raskolnikov’s crime, which was the murder of Alyona Ivanovna. The novel also chronicles the punishment Raskolnikov suffers following the murder. The punishment is mental and it is not until the very end that the punishment becomes physical
Part 1 is concerned with the planning and performing of the crime while the rest of the novel details Raskolnikov’s punishment
With every crime that is committed, a punishment must follow, even if the person is not caught or the punishment is not physical
- Fyodor Dostoevsky published this novel in 1866
- It was published in 12 monthly installments in a Russian literary journal
- In 1849, Dostoevsky was arrested and spent 8 months in prison,
- He was sentenced to death by shooting squads
- However, the execution did not take place was only meant to punish the prisoners psychologically
- Dostoevsky then spent four years in a labor camp in Siberia
- Raskolnikov’s time in a Siberian prison, described in the Epilogue is based off of Dostoevsky’s own experiences
- His imprisonment also influenced the tone and mood of Crime and Punishment
Raskolnikov is the protagonist of the story.
He kills the pawnbroker, Alyona, not for financial reasons but because he believes himself to be superior.
Raskolnikov believes that he is above the law and that he is the great Napoleon. After the crime he realizes that he is not a Napoleon and he begins his long internal struggle. He is constantly stuck between trying to remain innocent by keeping the murder a secret and just confessing his crime to the police. It is only after Sonia’s intervention that Raskolnikov publically confesses. In the end, he is sent to a prison in Siberia.
Sonia Marmeledov is the daughter of the drunk, Semyon. Because of their family’s poverty, Sonia becomes a prostitute so that she may support her family. Despite this, Sonia maintains her strong faith. Later in the story, she aids Raskolnikov in his quest for redemption. After he confesses, Sonia accompanies Raskolnikov to Siberia.
Dmitri Razumikhin is can be seen as foil to Raskolnikov. Even though he is Raskolnikov’s loyal friend, the two are nearly opposite. He shows much kindness and supports Raskolnikov when he is mentally unstable. Just like Raskolnikov, he too is an ex-student. In the novel’s conclusion, he marries Dounia, Raskolnikov’s sister.
Porfiry Petrovich is the detective in charge of investigating the murders of Lizaveta and Alyona. He also tries to get Raskolnikov to confess by using psychological mindgames and manipulation. Porfiry is certain that Raskolnikov is the one behind the murders even though he has no concrete evidence. He wants Raskolnikov to voluntarily admit to the crimes.
There are two main conflicts in Crime and Punishment. The first is an internal conflict and it is Raskolnikov’s choice to kill the pawnbroker. He think in his mind that he is above regular humans, a kind of superman, and that his deed he will do will benefit everyone. Raskolnikov attempts to rationalize the killing, but after the slaughter, he soon realizes that he cannot handle the guilt that accompanies the crime. As he struggles to keep an innocent composure, his mental condition becomes unstable. Raskolnikov’s internal conflict permeates the whole novel while his overwhelming guilt tears him apart from the inside. Only with Sonia’s guidance is he able to choose to confess and lift up his burden.
The other big conflict belongs to Dounia. She is initially engaged to Luzhin, most likely to support her brother and mother. She has to deal with his snobbish behavior and Raskolnikov’s disapproval of the marriage. After she realizes Luzhin’s true selfish nature, she deserts him. However, another man, Svidriagailov, pursues her. With courage, she defiantly resists him and even convinces him that she can never love him. After all of the hardship, Dounia has to overcome, she is rewarded with a happy marriage to Razumikhin.
Opening chapter or scene:
The novel begins on a hot, muggy day in summer. The setting is St. Petersburg, Russia.
A man living in impoverished conditions leaves a house. He starts to ramble on in a random and rapid fashion.
He seems stuck between doing some deed and not doing it. As he approaches a building he seems to be going through a mental run through of the deed.
A old woman, a pawnbroker, lets him enter the building. He introduces himself as Raskolnikov.
While in the room he notices every little thing. After a conversation with the lady, Raskolnikov leaves.
He feels agitated and enters a tavern. While he is contemplating his actions, he looks over at a retired official.
The opening chapter introduces Raskolnikov and his disturbed state of mind. It also tells us the setting and how the setting actually irritates Raskolnikov even more.
All of the contemplating that Raskolnikov is doing right now is foreshadowing the crimes he will soon commit. His target is introduced as well.
After the events of the opening chapter, Semyon Marmeledov and his family’s unfortunate financial situation is introduced.
Dounia and Pulcheria Alexandrovna also send Raskolnikov a letter explaining Dounia’s engagement to Luzhin, selfish but semi-wealthy lawyer.
The inciting incident occurs when Raskolnikov learns that the pawnbroker is going to be alone in her house. This Raskolnikov a chance to kill her.
Raskolnikov murders the pawnbroker but also kills her innocent half-sister. He quickly flees the scene, traumatized by what he did.
Throughout the novel’s rising action , Raskolnikov is mentally unstable. He went to the police station and nearly confesses the crime
Svidrigailov and Luzhin both arrive. Raskolnikov dislikes both of them, Luzhin because of the attitude in marrying Dounia and Svidrigailov because he previously tried to seduce Dounia
Raskolnikov is interviewed by Porfiry who suspects Raskolnikov of the murders. Around this time he meets Sonia. Sonia is the only person whom Raskolnikov has any meaningful realationship.
Porfiry interviews Raskolnikov again. Raskolnikov also reveals Luzhin’s fraud to Dounia.
Raskolnikov, breaking under pressure, tells Sonia about the crime. Svidrigailov overhears this information and tries to rape Dounia.
Dounia rebels against him and he laters commits suicide upon learning that she can never love him.
The climax of the story takes place when Raskolnikov finally confesses to the murder after a little encouragement from Sonia.
All of the falling action occurs in the epilogue. Dounia and Razumikhin get married.
Raskolnikov, on the other hand, is sentenced to eight years of imprisonment in Siberia.
Sonia follows him there and provides support and guidance.
Although Raskolnikov initially struggles, he begins the path to redemption with the help and presence of Sonia.
The conclusion seems a little weak and out of placed compared to the rest of the novel. It is appropriate because it explains Raskolnikov’s recovery and regeneration. It however is not entirely necessary. The novel would have been if it had ended with the public confession.
One theme of the novel could be the idea of the superhuman. In the beginning, Raskolnikov believed that he was one of these supermen that could transcend human rules and laws. This was his reasoning for killing the pawnbroker. It is only after committing the crime did he realize that he could not handle the emotional repercussion. Raskolnikov learned the hard way that he was not another Napoleon.
Another theme of the novel could be that of isolation. When Raskolnikov kills, he commits an act that goes against the very nature of humanity thus isolating him from the rest of the world. He is emotionally alienated and feels very lonely after the crime. The pride and superiority that the feels even further separates him. It is only when Raskolnikov is able to confess to the crime, he is ready to be reintegrated back into society
The cross that Sonia gives to Raskolnikov is a symbol. It represents all of the pain, suffering, and guilt that Raskolnikov bears before he confesses. The cross actually belonged to Lizaveta, who gave it Sonia before she died. Just like how Jesus carried his cross through the town to Calvary to be crucified, Raskolnikov also carries his cross as he walks across town to the police station to make his confession
The crowded, cluttered, and dirty city of St. Petersburg could represent the state of mind of Raskolnikov. Similar to how he cannot escape the city, he cannot escape or let go of his delirious mental condition. It is only when he moves away from St. Petersburg and into Siberia that he is able to return to his normal state of mind
Sonia herself is a sort of Christ figure. When she first discovers that Raskolnikov is the murderer, she does not condemn him. She encourages him to confess. Also when Raskolnikov exits the police station thinking that he was safely keep his innocence, it is the sight of Sonia that makes to return to confess.
Parallel events/parallel works:
In Bless Me Ultima, Antonio loses his innocence when he sees the murders of Lupito and Narcisso. Losing his innocence makes Antonio self reflect, similar to what Raskolnikov does when commits his crime. Both get after their traumatic experiences.
In The Stranger, Meursault goes to prison for killing an Arab. Both Raskolnikov and Meursault do not find prison to be too difficult and they even find it a place where they can find peace and relief. Neither of them are particularly afraid of going to jail.
Dostoevsky also went to prison in Siberia which was exactly what happened to Raskolnikov
While Dostoevsky was writing the montly installments of Crime and Punishment, he had to write another book. If he did not finish the other novel, he would lose his publishing rights.
He published The Gambler and Crime and Punishment within months of each other
- The novel is split into 6 parts and an epilogue. Only one part is devoted to the actually crime. A majority of the novel is Raskolnikov’s punishment
- The novel is classified as a psychological fiction
- Dostoevsky dives deep into Raskolnikov’s mind and talks about human suffering and his motives
- The text itself is mostly simple and direct compared to the elegant style of other pieces of literature written during the 1860s
- The tone of novel is tragic and despairing
“I’ve known Rodion for a year and a half: sullen, gloomy, arrogant, proud; recently (and maybe much earlier) insecure and hypochondriac. Magnanimous and kind. Doesn’t like voicing his feelings, and would rather do something cruel than speak his heart out in words. At times, however, he’s not hypochondriac at all, but just inhumanly cold and callous, as if there really were two opposite characters in him, changing places with each other.” – Razumikhin’s description of Raskolnikov. It is actually quite accurate.
“all at once, in that same moment, she understood everything. Infinite happiness lit up in her eyes; she understood, and for her there was no longer any doubt that he loved her, loved her infinitely, and that at last the moment had come” – Sonia realizing in the epilogue that Raskolnikov truly does love her
“Surely it isn’t beginning already! Surely it isn’t my punishment coming upon me? It is!” – Raskolnikov says this right after he commits the murder. He senses the punishment that is to come for his terrible deed.
“The old woman was a mistake perhaps, but she’s not the point! The old woman was merely a sickness . . . I was in a hurry to step over . . . it wasn’t a human being I killed, it was a principle!” – Raskolnikov trying to rationalize killing Alyona so that his murder seems acceptable
“Not far from the entrance, stood Sonia, pale and horror-stricken. He stood still before her. There was a look of poignant agony, of despair, in her face. She clasped her hands. His lips worked in an ugly, meaningless smile. He stood still a minute, grinned and went back to the police office” – Just the sight of Sonia’s sadness causes Raskolnikov to go back to the police office to confess