Crime and Punishment Themes
- Criminality, Morality, and Guilt
- Themes: Criminality, morality, and guilt are inner preoccupations of Dostoevsky’s. Raskolnikov perpetrates the great crime of the novel: he robs and kills the pawnbroker and her sibling Lizaveta, an innocent bystander.
- Madness and Intoxication
- Coincidence and Free Will
- Money and Poverty
Crime and Punishment Analysis
Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, first published during 1866 in twelve monthly installments and later published in a single volume, remains the most widely known Russian novel and one of the most outstanding achievements in world literature. In Russian, the book’s title connotes a “stepping-across,” which, as we’ll see, is a recurring theme throughout the novel.
The book is disguised as a murder mystery, in which the reader knows from the start who has committed the crime. This in-depth exploration of the psychology of a criminal is at the heart of the novel, delving deeply into psychological punishment. The main themes include alienation, suffering, morality, faith (or the God-man, Jesus Christ), and the “extraordinary man” (or the man-God), as well as the philosophical themes of nihilism and utilitarianism.
Derivation of Raskolnikov’s Name
Raskolnikov’s protagonist derives his name from “schismatic,” one of his fundamental character traits is his alienation from society. He is a materialistic rationalist, atheist, and nihilist, taken by the idea that God is dead. He is a sickly and impoverished but handsome and intelligent former law student unable to pay for his studies.
Dostoevsky wanted to set up a character who had every reason to commit murder.
The book focuses on Raskolnikov’s mental anguish and moral dilemmas. His mother, Pulcheria, is deeply devoted to him, willing to sacrifice everything so that he might be successful. Dunya is his sister, who is as intelligent and good-looking as him but is his exact opposite, self-sacrificing, kind, and compassionate. Marmeladov is an alcoholic public official whom Raskolnikov meets at a tavern.
He is fully aware that his drinking ruins himself and his family, but he cannot stop. His wife is sickly, and their daughter, Sonya, has been forced into prostitution to support the family, including her three siblings. Sonya shares a solid religious faith. Raskolnikov’s former college friend, Razumikhin, is the voice of reason. A central motif of the novel is the poverty-stricken St. Petersburg; almost every character is desperately poor and the constant drunkenness.
“The Drunkards” Real Title of Novel
Dostoevsky worked on a novel titled “The Drunkards,” which ultimately became Crime and Punishment. It starts early with Raskolnikov receiving a letter from his mother informing him that his sister is married to a government official named Luzhin. A rich man who only cares about his social appearance and looks attractive wife to practically worship him. Dunya intends to help her brother out financially. Raskolnikov, of course, is very much against this.
Raskolnikov goes to a tavern where he eavesdrops on a conversation in which a student claimed that the world would be better off if the wealthy pawnbroker Alyona were dead. The money used to perform greed deeds for society. Alyona is a wicked older woman who takes advantage of everyone while physically and emotionally abusing her innocent half-sister, Lizaveta – who mentally challenges her.
Throughout the novel, Raskolnikov faces a moral dilemma between good and evil. He distinguishes between ordinary and extraordinary people (such as Napoleon). He sees himself as a sort of “extraordinary man,” he writes
an article where he mentions a new morality and how extraordinary men allowed to transgress
accepted moral standards for the common good, with a clean conscience.
Raskolnikov goes to Alyona’s apartment and murders her with an ax. While looking for her money and goods, Lizaveta walks in, shocked, Raskolnikov kills her. He barely escapes from the apartment without being seen, then returns to his garret and collapses.
After the murder, Raskolnikov claims that a “louse” has been removed from society. However, the guilt that torments his conscience after the murder suggests that he is not extraordinary after all. His conscience is rooted in the old morality based on religion, mentally unbalancing him.
In a way, along with the murder, he had also killed a part of himself. Dostoevsky suggests that actual imprisonment and punishment are much better than avoiding the penalty’s stress and anxiety. One must eventually confess or go mad.
The next day, the police summon Raskolnikov, but it seems unrelated to the murders. However, he faints, and they start suspecting him. He goes on to hide the goods he stole from the pawnbroker under a stone. He visits his friend Razumikhin but quickly escapes and returns to his small room, refusing his job offer. He falls into a nightmare-ridden sleep with fever and delirium for several days.
Zossimov, a doctor, checks upon him, and he is also visited by a detective, whom he nearly confessed to. Raskolnikov finds out that Marmeladov has been run over and is deeply injured. He carries him back to his apartment, where he
dies. He gives the money he has left to Sonya and returns to his garret, where he faints upon discovering that his sister and mother are there waiting for him.
He becomes irritated by them and commands his sister to break her engagement with Luzhin. Razumikhin starts to fall for Dunya. Next, Raskolnikov visits the magistrate in charge of the murder investigation, Porfiry Petrovich, Raskolnikov’s primary antagonist. Though he appears only occasionally in the novel, his presence is constantly felt.
Raskolnikov thinks that he is suspecting him of the crime.
While returning to his garret, a mysterious man calls him to murder in the street, terrifying him. After waking up from nightmares, he finds a stranger in the room. Svidrigailov – one of the most enigmatic characters of the novel, who, like Raskolnikov, also thinks he is an “extraordinary man” and has no faith in God.
He is Dunya’s former employer and is in love with her, he offers him a large sum of money for Dunya, but Raskolnikov is suspicious. Raskolnikov and his family uncover a lie about Luzhin spreading false rumors to Dunya. She breaks off her engagement. However, Raskolnikov ruins the mood by telling his family that he does not want to see them anymore.
His friend chases him, and they stop face-to-face. Razumikhin then realizes, without a word spoken, that Raskolnikov is guilty of the murders. Raskolnikov goes to the apartment of Sonya, who reads him the story of the raising of Lazarus from the bible, promising a new life through faith.
The following morning he visits Porfiry, who plays psychological games with him. At the height of the tension, a workman under suspicion for the murders bursts into the room and confesses to the murders. On the way to Marmeladov’s funeral, Raskolnikov meets the mysterious man who called him murder and learns that he knows very little about the case.
After a disastrous and conflictive memorial dinner, Raskolnikov goes to Sonya’s room and confesses to her. She tries to convince him to disclose to the authorities. Sonya’s consumptive mother soon dies after a mental breakdown. Svidrigailov, who had been overhearing Raskolnikov’s conversations with Sonya, reveals to him that
he knows he is the murderer.
Porfiry approaches him, who urges him to confess, although he has no evidence to arrest him. Svidrigailov manages to bring Dunya to his room, threatening to rape her if she refuses to marry him. She fires several shots
at him but is unable to commit murder, unlike Raskolnikov.
After Svidrigailov sees how strongly she dislikes him and having already lost his sense of the extraordinary man, his faith, and his love, he has nothing left. The following day, he commits suicide. Raskolnikov tells his family that he is planning to confess.
He goes to Sonya, who gives him a cross to wear. On the way to the police station, Raskolnikov stops in a marketplace
and kisses the ground. He confesses. In the much-discussed Epilogue, Raskolnikov is sent to prison in Siberia for only eight years instead of receiving a death sentence.
Sonya has moved to the town outside the prison, and she visits him regularly. After his arrest, his mother became delirious and died. Razumikhin and Dunya married. For a short while, Raskolnikov remains convinced that his crime was an “error” and not a sin, stating that he just wasn’t extraordinary enough.
After a severe illness, he dreams of an infectious disease sweeping the country – causing its victims to believe themselves to be the sole possessors of truth; people start fighting each other, causing the complete breakdown
of society. This may be an allegory for spreading dangerous ideas that Dostoevsky had witnessed: nihilism and materialism with a lack of belief in Russian orthodoxy.
Towards the very end, Raskolnikov realizes that he genuinely loves Sonya and is thrown to her feet by the grace of God, breaking through the wall of alienation, nihilism, and self-centeredness that has separated him from society. He expresses remorse for his crime and begins a new story of the gradual renewal of man.
Crime and Punishment Characters
Here’s the list of all characters that discussed in the summary.
- Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (“Rodya,” “Rodka”)
- Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov (“Sonya,” “Sonechka”)
- Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov (“Dunya,” “Dunechka”)
- The Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov
- Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin
- Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladov
- Porfiry Petrovich
- Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov
- Pulcheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikov