Crime and Punishment

Introduction to Crime and Punishment

The tour de force of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment presents the post-reform Russia through the seminal character of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. The novel first started appearing in series in The Russian Messenger, a literary journal, during the year 1866 and started impacting the readers. Later, when its single volume hit the shelves, it proved an instant success for Dostoevsky. Often referred to as the Russian masterpiece, Crime and Punishment has impacted generations both in the East as well as in the West and has been translated into various languages.

Summary of Crime and Punishment

The story of the novel starts with the student protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov, living in St. Petersburg, facing acute poverty despite having handsome looks and an intelligent mind. After some thought, he plans to kill the pawnbroker widow, Alyona, to have her money but finds himself involved in the familial issues of Marmeladov after he has had a brawl with his wife, Katerina, and sees their filthy living. On the following day, he receives information from his brother Pulcheria Alexandrovna about the marriage of his sister, Duyna, and his family’s migration to the same city. However, instead of paying attention to this familial issue, he overhears some people talking about the death of the same pawnbroker. After this, he visits her to kill her and after doing the task he tries to find money but finds her sister. He kills her, too, and escapes empty-handed.

The next day he tries to wash himself to eliminate all traces of the blood of the old woman whom he murdered a day before when the police call him, though, the call is not relevant to the murder. Rather, it is his landlady trying to eke out some money from him. Although the police suspect him of some crime, they do not find any clue about it. He also hides things he has taken from the widow. Meanwhile, he visits Razumikhin, his friend, who has offered him work but he rejects his offer, comes back, and faints. When he comes to his senses, he finds his landlady and his friend taking care of him. They inform him about the arrival of the doctor and a police detective. Although they sense his discomfiture at the mention of the murder, yet they do not suspect him. Meanwhile, his sister and her fiancé visit him after which he meets Zamyotov, the police detective, before whom he almost admits his hand in the murder yet he does not suspect him. Unfortunately, he finds Marmeladov killed in an accident while he assists Sonya and his mother after him. When his sister and brother-in-law come again to meet him, he asks them to part ways, while his friend Razumikhin also tries to explain his involvement with the duo. After some thought, however, he seeks an apology for his behavior and admits having given money to Marmeladov, expressing his fury over his sister and his would-be husband for marrying her. When he meets Sonya after that he agrees to join her father’s final rituals. Soon he meets the investigating duo and talks about the murder but again it comes to naught, for a stranger follows him whom he finds in his room in the morning. He suspects him having uncovered him but the stranger proves another ploy who has come to talk to him about his sister’s fiancé whom he does not like and offers a huge some to him to leave his sister.

Following this, he meets his friend Razumikhin who tells him about the police and their suspicion about him being the assassin while discussing the affair of Dunya’s marriage. To their luck, Luzhin, whom Dunya is going to marry, insults everybody, causing the dissolution of the engagement. Meanwhile, both Raskolnikov and Razumihin talk about the publishing business as well as Dunya. After a while, he leaves for Sonya where she narrates to him the story of Jesus and Lazarus when Svidrigailov spies on them. Following this episode, he meets the eavesdropping police officer Porfiry to discuss the murder but Nikolai, a suspect, arrested for that murder, breaks in and confesses his involvement, leaving him stupefied. Yet, he comes to know later that the confessor has no clues about his crime. Meanwhile, he bumps into Sonya and Luzhin after which he confesses the murder before Sonya and his motives of killing the lady. However, he finds himself embroiled in the affairs of Sonya who coaxes him to confess before the authority. She soon leaves and Svidrigailov comes in to inform him about his having knowledge of the murder.

When he goes to meet his friend Razumikhin, he tells him about his mental condition and the situation his mother and sister have gone through due to him. Meanwhile, the police officer, Porfiry, arrives, who explains to him the situation of Nikolai and also tells him that he knows his crime but has no evidence to arrest him. Instead of confessing, Raskolnikov, again, goes after Svidrigailov who tells him about his involvement with a young girl. From there, he goes to meet his mother and comes to know the suicide of Svidrigailov after which he goes straight to the police station, and finding Sonya there, confesses his crime after which the police arrest him and send him to Siberia for the murder.

Major Themes in Crime and Punishment

  1. Alienation: The novel, Crime and Punishment, shows the thematic strand of alienation of an individual from society through its protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov. Although he vies to work hard yet he falls low to commit the crime of killing the pawnbroker lady after which he becomes entirely paranoid with the suspicion that he may face arrest at any time. This leads him to feel estranged from Dunya, his sister, as well as Sonya, his beloved, whom he could not marry. His extreme self-reflective nature causes him to have delirious fits of moods. However, he soon comes to the point that he is alien in a society where he should join the others by confessing his crime after Soyan has coaxed him to do that. Finally, he feels that he has alienated not only his friend, Razumikhin but also Sonya whom he loves, and admits it by the end of the story.
  2. Psychology of Crime: The novel shows the theme of the psychology of crime through its main character, Raskolnikov, who kills the pawnbroker lady merely because he needs money after he comes to know that the lady has money and resources. As soon as he commits the crime, he becomes paranoid, thinking that every other policeman is after him. He even plays hide and seek with the police, thinking that the police already know about his crime and that they are at him at any time. Although he, at one point, breaks down and confesses his crime, Porfiry shows him Nikolai who has already confessed it despite having no clue of the actual murder. Finally, when he confesses, it is too late, and he accepts his fate after he is dispatched to Siberia for punishment.
  3. Superiority Complex: The novel also shows the theme of the superiority complex as opposed to the inferiority complex that Raskolnikov suffers from. He thinks that he is superior to all others around him, including his sister, Dunya, and his friend Razumikhin, who tries to stay with him until the end when he faces punishment after he confesses the crime. However, this complex really becomes complex when he starts having fits of delirium after he loses his own ethical framework that he feels superior when he kills the pawnbroker woman. Once he thinks that it is his right to achieve greatness, he goes after it. His act of murder and the ensuing mental conflict leads him nowhere except Siberia where the police send him after he confesses his crime. This makes him tone down his superiority complex in a way that he resigns to his fate.
  4. Crimes and Morality: The novel shows the world of crime and the feeling of moral sense through Raskolnikov and his act of murdering the pawnbroker lady. He thinks it his right to murder if that contributes to his greatness or having good career prospects. This seems that he has lost the moral sense of doing right or wrong. His justification of the murder does not hold weight for him for long until Sonya works on him to the point that he breaks down. However, then Nikolai comes on the scene and confuses the police, though, Raskolnikov has done his job to exonerate himself by confessing. However, when he faces the punishment of exile to Siberia, his atonement starts, making him morally satisfied.
  5. Free Will: The theme of human beings having free will is a secondary theme of Crime and Punishment. The first instance of this free will appears in the act of Raskolnikov when he kills the pawnbroker lady. It has never occurred to him that it has been put into his mind to do that. He does it on his own. From this act of free will to his next acts of taunting his sister, Dunya, seducing Sonya and letting her off and even his confession before Pirfory are all examples of his free will. Yet it seems coincident that Nikolai does confess even before him. These things, though, muddle the concept of free will, yet they show that human beings commit acts on their own, showing they are having free will.
  6. Madness: The novel highlights the theme of madness through the character of Raskolnikov how it impacts him first when he decides to kill the pawnbroker lady and then experiences fits of madness, or almost madness when the police play hide and seek with him, keeping him on tenterhooks. Besides him, Sonya also suffers from depression while his friend, Marlmeladov’s drinking leads him to another type of madness. Svidrigailov two experiences madness after facing rejection from Dunya.
  7. Suffering: The novel, Crime and Punishment, not only highlights suffering but also the ways to redeem oneself from the causes. Raskolnikov murders the old lady, a crime that haunts him throughout his life until he confesses it before the police officer. This act causes sufferings not only to him but also impacts all his near and dear ones in one or the other way. When he finally goes to Siberia after his punishment, he experiences peace.
  8. Nihilism: The theme of nihilism is apparent through the resigned attitude of Raskolnikov after he murders the old lady, Alyona, and his sister, though the second murder is purely coincident. His comments about the lady as being a louse show his nihilism, including his indifferent attitude toward his mother and sister.
  9. Moral Framework: The novel shows the theme of a moral or ethical framework through the murder. When Raskolnikov kills the lady, he has not given any attention to the moral framework, though, there is one in the Russian context. Leaving this moral framework causes him a moral as well as a mental dilemma.
  10. Utilitarianism: The justification of the murder of Alyona by Raskolnikov is based on his utilitarian thinking of having money enough to lead a comfortable life.

Major Characters of Crime and Punishment

  1. Rodion Romanych Raskolnikov: He is not only the protagonist but also the central figure of the storyline. The story, in fact, starts with his obsession with money and then with the murder of Alyona which leads him to double murder. It further leads him to experience mental chagrin when the police pursue the case. With this hide-and-seek game with the police, he also has to take care of his mother and Dunya, his sister, including his sweetheart, Sonya, with several other friends and acquaintances. The fits of lunacy, the bouts of depression, and the attack of becoming unconscious for some hours are signs of the impending fear of the police arresting him for the murder. His continued hide and seek game with the police and the police’s unawareness of his dilemma even lead him to confess and yet not he has not given serious consideration to it, though, he has tried his best to become serious. Despite his involvement with Sonya and his sister, including her brother-in-law, does not stop until he reaches his own end without having won any status or position. Rather, he gets punishment instead and leaves for Siberia.
  2. Sonya Marmeladov: The character of Sonya is significant as she comes into contact with Rodion immediately after he aspires greatness following the death of the pawnbroker lady, Alyona, and her sister. She plays her role in providing him necessary emotional and monetary support, yet she does not win him completely, for he stays engaged with the dilemma of his crime whether he should hand himself over to the police or not. She suffers due to her poverty and mental chagrin of her lover, Rodion, until she comes to the point of persuading him to confess his crime and free himself from the mental torture he has been undergoing since the day he has killed that lady. Her major trait is standing by Rodion despite his difficult times and accompanies Rodion to Siberia despite clarity about his punishment.
  3. Dmitri Razumikhin: The third major character of the novel, Razumikhin, is a close friend of Raskolnikov and knows him that he would not abandon his idea of greatness. Despite his inept thinking and action, he is quite munificent, for he assists his friend in many ways including providing subsistence to his sister and mother. A down-to-earth humble person, he does not take much care of the mental predicament that his friend is undergoing. Yet, he proves his loyalty by marrying Raskolnikov’s sister by the end of the novel.
  4. Dunya Romanovna: The significance of Dunya lies in her being the sister of Raskolnikov who taunts her and even goes after her when she is engaged with Luzhin. She finally comes to know about her brother’s role in the murder of two women after which she coaxes him to hand himself over to the authorities. However, it is interesting that she saves herself from Svidrigailov and Luzhin only because of her brother. She marries his loyal friend, Razumikhin, by the end.
  5. Svidrigailov: The significance of Svidrigailov lies in the manipulating habits that he displays as the employer of Dunya. He pursues Dunya until he commits suicide but does not budge from his stand of marrying her at every cost. However, it is interesting to note that he assists the family at several junctures which could be interpreted as parts of his seductive efforts toward her. He commits suicide after he fails to win her.
  6. Marfa Petrovna Svidrigailov: The significance of Marfa lies in her being the wife of Svidrigailov after she comes to his financial rescue. Despite his steady character of seducing other women, she stays loyal and even assists Dunya to meet Luzhin. Her goodness of heart stays even after her death when it transpires that she has willed her entire money to Dunya.
  7. Zakharovich Marmeladov: An alcoholic, Marmeladoy enters the storyline through Sonya and meets Raskolnikov but turns out to be entirely different, for he wants his siblings to save him instead of vice versa.
  8. Katerina Marmeladov: Wife of Marmeladov, Katerina suffers due to her fate ingrained in her conduct. Although she is from the upper class, she suffers from an abusive husband first and pathetic Marmeladov later. Her death leaves Sonya, her daughter, in a lurch as she finds herself in the debt trap.
  9. Pulcheria Alexandrovna: The significance of Alexandrovna lies in her being the mother of Raskolnikov, having premonitions about the doom of her son. She later briefs him about the harrowing situations both, she and her daughter, have gone through.
  10. Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin: An arrogant rich figure, Luzhin tries his best to hoodwink Dunya into marriage but Raskolnikov’s staunch opposition to it thwarts all of his plans.

Writing Style of Crime and Punishment

Writing in third person narrative and dramatic form, Crime and Punishment exhibits Dostoyevsky’s dexterous use of drama into fiction, using short as well as long sentences and alluring syntax. The most important passages related to philosophy, mental dilemma and the moral predicament of all characters are not only catchy but also highly seductive in terms of diction and formality. For literary devices, Dostoyevsky turns to similes, metaphors, and personifications to make his fictional prose vibrant and lively.

Analysis of the Literary Devices in Crime and Punishment

  1. Action: The main action of the novel comprises the murder of Alyona, a pawnbroker widow, by the protagonist, Raskolnikov, and his post-murder life until his confession and subsequent punishment. The falling action occurs when confesses and is subsequently sent to Siberia as punishment, while the rising action occurs when he kills Alyona and her sister in Alyona’s apartment.
  2. Allusion: The novel shows examples of allusions such as;
    i. The sky was cloudless and the water was almost bright blue, which is so rare in the Neva. The dome of the cathedral, which is seen at its best from the bridge about twenty paces from the chapel, glittered in the sunlight, and in the pure air every ornament on it could be clearly distinguished. (Part-2, Chapter-3)
    ii. “Oh, damn . . . these are the items of intelligence. An accident on a staircase, spontaneous combustion of a storekeeper from alcohol, a fire in Peski . . . a fire in the Petersburg quarter . . . another fire in the Petersburg quarter . . . and another fire in the Petersburg quarter . . . Ah, here it is!” (Part-2, Chapter-5)
    Both of these examples allude to the Neva, cathedral, and the Petersburg quarters.
  3. Anaphora: The novel shows examples of anaphora such as;
    i. The essential question was settled, and irrevocably settled, in his mind: “Never such a marriage while I am alive, and Mr. Luzhin be damned!” (Chapter-4)
    ii. Hm . . . So it is finally settled; you have determined to marry a rational business man, Avdotia Romanovna, one who has a fortune (has already made his fortune, that is so much more solid and impressive), a man who holds two government posts and who shares the ideas of our most rising generation, as mother writes, and who ‘seems to be kind,’ as Dunechka herself observes. That seems beats everything! And that very Dunechka is marrying that very ‘seems’! Splendid! splendid! (Chapter-4)
    iii. He walked on without resting. He had a terrible longing for some distraction, but he did not know what to do, what to attempt. A new overwhelming sensation was gaining more and more mastery over him every moment; it was an immeasurable, almost physical repulsion for everything surrounding him, a stubborn, malignant feeling of hatred. (Part-2, Chapter-3)
    These examples show the repetitious use of “settled”, “fortune”, “seems” and “what to.”
  4. Antagonist: There is no one antagonist but several such as Luzhin, the fiancé of his sister Dunya, Ilya Petrovic, and the landlady, who try their best to obstruct Rodion from realizing his dream of achieving greatness.
  5. Conflict: The novel shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between Rodion and the police about the murder he has committed. However, the internal conflict is his mental conflict about the morality of his action.
  6. Characters: The novel, Crime and Punishment, shows both static as well as dynamic characters. The young man, Rodion, is a dynamic character as he shows a considerable transformation in his behavior and conduct by the end of the novel after he confesses his crime and goes to Siberia for punishment. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Dunya, Svidrigailov, and Razumikhin including his own mother.
  7. Climax: The climax in the novel occurs when he kills the widow, Alyona, and her sister, in her apartment.
  8. Foreshadowing: The novel shows many instances of foreshadows such as;
    i. On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the tiny room which he rented from tenants in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. Bridge. (Chapter-1)
    ii. He woke up late next day after a troubled sleep. But his sleep had not refreshed him; he woke up bilious, irritable, ill-tempered, and looked with hatred at his room. (Chapter-3)
    iii. Instantly he thrust them all under his overcoat and fixed his eyes intently upon her. Far as he was from being capable of rational reflection at that moment, he felt that no-one would behave like that with a person who was going to be arrested. “But . . . The police?” (Part-2, Chapter-1)
    The mention of the hot evening, hesitation, sleep, and his character traits point to something sinister that Rodion is going to do.
  9. Imagery: Crime and Punishment shows the use of imagery such as;
    i. He was, by the way, exceptionally handsome, above average in height, slim, well-built, with beautiful dark eyes and dark brown hair. Soon, though, he sank into deep thought, or more accurately speaking into a complete blankness of mind; he walked along not observing what was around him and not caring to observe it. (Chapter-I)
    ii. His nervous shudder had passed into a fever that made him feel shivering; in spite of the heat he felt cold. With a kind of effort he began almost unconsciously, from some inner necessity, to stare at all the objects before him, as though looking for something to distract his attention; but he did not succeed, and kept lapsing every moment into brooding. (Chapter-5)
    iii. He was in full possession of his faculties, free from confusion or giddiness, but his
    hands were still trembling. He remembered afterwards that he had been particularly cautious and careful, trying all the time not to get stained . . .He pulled out the keys at once, they were all, as before, in one bunch on a steel ring. He ran at once into the bedroom with them. (Chapter-7)
    These examples show images of length, height, movements and feelings.
  10. Metaphor: Crime and Punishment shows a good use of various metaphors such as;
    i. It was a long while since he had received a letter, but another feeling also
    suddenly stabbed his heart. (Chapter-3)
    ii. A gloomy sensation of agonizing, eternal solitude and remoteness took conscious form in his soul. (Part-2, Chapter-I)
    These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the novel such as the first shows feeling compared with a knife, isolation compared with the driver of control, and sleep with a lake.
  11. Mood: The novel, Crime and Punishment, shows a commonplace banal mood in the beginning but turns out highly absurd as well as tragic when Rodion kills the widow. The mood turns to be confusing and ironic when Rodion tries to dodge the police and cope with his confusion and mental torture he comes across after the murder.
  12. Motif: Most important motifs of the novel, Crime and Punishment, are poverty, vision, mental dilemma, and morality.
  13. Narrator: The novel, Crime and Punishment, has been narrated by the third person narrator, who happens to be Fyodor Dostoevsky himself.
  14. Parallelism: The novel shows the use of parallelism such as;
    i. The landlady who provided him with the room and with dinner and service lived on the floor below, and every time he went out he was obliged to pass her kitchen, the door of which was always open. (Chapter-1)
    ii. He had given up attending to matters of practical importance; he had lost all desire to do so. (Chapter-1)
    iii. It would have been difficult to sink to a lower ebb of slovenliness, but to
    Raskolnikov in his present state of mind this was even agreeable. (Chapter-3)
    iv. He drove away thought; thought tortured him. (Part-2, Chapter-5)
    These three examples show the parallel structure of the sentences used by Dostoevsky.
  15. Paradox: The novel shows examples of paradox such as;
    i. Almost from the first, while he read the letter, Raskolnikov’s face was wet with tears; but when he finished it, his face was pale and distorted and a bitter, wrathful and malignant smile was on his lips. (Chapter-3)
    ii. Yes, he remembered that he began laughing a thin, nervous noiseless laugh, and went on laughing all the time he was crossing the square.” (Part-2, Chapter-2)
    iii. “Evidence against him! Evidence that was no evidence, and that’s what
    we have to prove. (Part-2, Chapter-4)
    These examples show that the writer has put paradoxical ideas or things together.
  16. Personification: The novel shows examples of personifications such as;
    i. The letter was quivering in his hand; he did not want to open it in her presence; he wanted to be left alone with this letter. (Chapter-3)
    ii. At last he was conscious of his former fever and shivering, and he realized with relief that he could lie down on the sofa. Soon heavy, leaden sleep came over him, as
    though crushing him. (Chapter-6)
    iii. “Good evening, Aliona Ivanovna,” he began, trying to speak as casually as possible, but his voice would not obey him, it broke and shook. “I have come . . . I have brought something . . . but we’d better go over here . . . to the light . . .”. (Chapter-7)
    iv. At first he thought he was going mad. A dreadful chill came over him; but the chill was from the fever that had begun long before in his sleep. (Part-2, Chapter-1)
    v. At the end of the courtyard, the corner of a low, seedy stone shed, apparently part of some workshop, peeped from behind the hoarding. (Part-2, Chapter-2)
    These examples show as if the letter, sleep, voice, chill, and shed have life and emotions of their own.
  17. Protagonist: Rodion is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his entry into the story, his family situation, his own problem, and above all the murder he commits.
  18. Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows several examples of rhetorical questions such as;
    i. “Why am I not at the office? Does not my heart ache to think what a useless worm I am? A month ago when Mr. Lebeziatnikov beat my wife with his own hands, and I lay drunk, didn’t I suffer? Excuse me, young man, has it ever happened to you . . . hm . . . well, to ask hopelessly for a loan?” (Chapter-2)
    ii. But why had he happened to hear just such a discussion and such ideas at the very moment when his own brain was just conceiving . .. the very same ideas? And why, just at the moment when he had brought away the embryo of his idea from
    the old woman had he happened upon a conversation about her? (Chapter-6)
    Both of these examples show the use of rhetorical questions that mostly Rodion does to question his own ideas and situation.
  19. Repetition: The novel shows the examples of repetition such as;
    i. In the first place, it was evident, far too evident, actually, that Peter Petrovich had eagerly used his few days in the capital to buy himself a new set of clothes in which to greet his fiancée—which was in fact an entirely innocent, permissible thing to do. (Part-2, Chapter-5)
    ii. “Oh, damn . . . these are the items of intelligence. An accident on a staircase, spontaneous combustion of a storekeeper from alcohol, a fire in Peski . . . a fire in the Petersburg quarter . . . another fire in the Petersburg quarter . . . and another fire in the Petersburg quarter . . . Ah, here it is!” (Part-2, Chapter-5)
    These examples show the use of repetitions such as “evident” and “a fir” in which the writer has emphasized the idea.
  20. Setting: The setting of the novel, Crime and Punishment, St. Petersburg and Siberia in Russia.
  21. Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes such as;
    i. Meanwhile Razumikhin sat down on the sofa beside him, as clumsily as a bear put his
    left arm round Raskolnikov’s head, although he was able to sit up, and with his right hand gave him a spoonful of soup, blowing on it so it would not burn him. But the soup was only just warm. (Part-2, Chapter-3)
    ii. The murderer was upstairs, locked in, when Koch and Pestriakov knocked at the door.
    Koch, like an ass, didn’t stay at the door; so the murderer popped out and ran down, too, because he had no other way of escape. (Part-2, Chapter-4)
    These use of words “like” and “as” show the comparison between Razumikhin and bear and Koch and an ass.

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