Crime and Punishment

Introduction to Crime and Punishment

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

Summary of Crime and Punishment

Rodion Raskolnikov is 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. However, finds himself involved in the familial issues of Marmeladov after he has had a brawl with his wife, Katerina, and sees their messy life. On the following day, he receives information from his brother Pulcheria Alexandrovna about his sister’s marriage, Duyna, and his family’s migration to the same city. 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 tries to find money instead he finds her sister. Rodion kills her, too, and escapes empty-handed.

The next day Rodion tries to wash 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, it is his landlady trying to extort money from him. The police suspect him of any crime and they do not find any clue either. He also hides things he has taken from the widow. Meanwhile, Rodion visits Dmitri, his friend, who has offered him work but he rejects his offer, comes back home, 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 discomfort at the mention of the murder, they do not suspect him.

Later, Rodion’s 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 it doesn’t raise any kind of suspicion. Unfortunately, he finds Marmeladov killed in an accident while he assists Sonya and his mother. When his sister and brother-in-law come again to meet him, he asks them to part ways, while his friend Dmitri also tries to explain his involvement with them. After some thought, he seeks an apology for his behavior and admits having given money to Marmeladov, expressing his fury over his sister and his fiancé for marrying her. When he meets Sonya after that he agrees to join her father’s final rituals. Soon Rodion meets the investigator and talks about the murder. However, again it comes to naught, as a stranger follows him whom he found in his room in that morning. He suspects him having discovered his secret but the stranger shares another plan, talking to him about his sister’s fiancé whom he does not like, and offers a huge sum to him to leave his sister.

Following this, Rodion meets his friend Dmitri 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. Both Rodion and Dmitri talk about establishing the business as well as helping 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 incident, 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 confused. Later, he comes to know that the confessor has no clues about his crime. Then, he bumps into Sonya and Luzhin after which he confesses the murder before Sonya and his motives for killing the lady. He also finds himself mixed up in the affairs of Sonya who encourages him to confess before the authority. She soon leaves and Svidrigailov informs her that he knows about the murder too.

Dmitri goes to meet his friend to tell him about Rodion’s mental condition and the situation his mother and sister have gone through because of him. The police officer, Porfiry, arrives and explains Nikolai’s situation and also tells him that he knows his crime but has no evidence to arrest him. Instead of confessing, Rodion goes after Svidrigailov who tells him about his involvement with a young girl. Then, he goes to meet his mother and comes to know that Svidrigailov has committed suicide after which Rodion goes straight to the police station. He finds Sonya and confesses his crime after which the police arrest him. Finally, they send Rodion to Siberia for the murder.

Major Themes in Crime and Punishment

  1. Alienation: Crime and Punishment shows the thematic strand of alienation of an individual from society through Rodion Raskolnikov. Although he struggles to work hard, he falls low. He commits the crime and kills the pawnbroker lady. That makes him paranoid with the suspicion that he may face arrest at any time. This also leads him to feel estranged from Dunya, his sister, as well as Sonya, his lover, whom he could not marry. His extreme self-reflective nature causes him to have delirious fits of temperament. 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 Sonya forces him to do the right thing. 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. 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 is 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 until Sonya point’s that to him. Rodion then breaks down realizing his mistake. However, Nikolai enters the scene and confuses the police. Though, Rodion has committed the murder and even starts by confessing. Finally, when he faces the punishment of exile to Siberia, his atonement starts, making him morally satisfied.
  3. Free Will: Free will is a secondary theme of Crime and Punishment. The first instance of this free appears with Rodion’s action when he kills the pawnbroker lady. It has never occurred to him that it the mind that made him do that and he had a choice. From this act of free will to his next acts of taunting his sister, Dunya, seducing Sonya and letting her go 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 mix up the concept of free will, yet they show that human beings commit acts on their own, showing they are having free will.
  4. Madness: The novel highlights the theme of madness through the character of Rodion Raskolnikov and how it impacts him first when he decides to kill the pawnbroker lady and then experiences fit of madness, and then further severe hallucinations when the police try to get evidence on him. Sonya also suffers from depression while his friend, Marlmeladov’s drinking leads him to another type of madness. Svidrigailov also experiences madness after facing rejection from Dunya.
  5. Suffering: The novel not only highlights suffering but also the ways to redeem oneself from the causes. Rodion murders the old lady, a crime that haunts him throughout his life until he confesses it before the police officer. He suffers after the act, impacting all his near and dear ones. When he finally goes to Siberia to take his punishment, he experiences peace.
  6. Nihilism: The theme of nihilism is apparent through the resigned attitude of Rodion Raskolnikov after he murders the old lady, Alyona, and his sister, though the second murder is purely coincident. His comments about the lady as a good-for-nothing show his nihilism, including his indifferent attitude toward his mother and sister.
  7. Moral Framework: The theme of a moral or ethical framework through the murder is observed in this story. When Rodion 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.
  8. Psychology of Crime: The novel shows the theme of the psychology of crime through its main character, Rodion Raskolnikov, who kills the pawnbroker lady merely because he needed money, after learning that the lady has money and resources. As soon as he commits the crime, he is paranoid, thinking that every policeman is after him. He keeps trying to get caught and escape the police, thinking that the police already know about his crime. He believes they are after him. At one point, Rodion breaks down and confesses his crime. Porfiry shows him Nikolai who has already confessed the crime despite having no clue of the actual murder. Finally, when he confesses, it is too late. Rodion accepts his fate after he is dispatched to Siberia to serve his punishment.
  9. Superiority Complex: The novel also shows the theme of the superiority complex as opposed to the inferiority complex. As Rodion Raskolnikov suffers from it. 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 Rodion is punished after he confesses the crime. However, this becomes complex when he starts having fits of hallucination after he loses his own ethical framework after the murder. The guilt of committing murder and the ensuing mental conflict leads him nowhere. Finally, he’s sent to Siberia where the police send him after the confession of his crime. This makes him let go of his superiority complex as he resigns to his fate.
  10. Utilitarianism: Rodion’s justification for murdering Alyona 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: Rodion is the protagonist and the central figure of the storyline. The story starts with his obsession to earn money followed by his act of crime, murdering Alyona, the pawn broker lady, and her sister. This double murder further leads him to experience a mental breakdown when the police pursue the case. While trying to escape the punishment, he also has to take care of his mother and Dunya, his sister, including his sweetheart, Sonya, and his friends, and acquaintances. He becomes paranoid and depressed, and he continuously falls sick and even falls unconscious due to the impending fear of the police and punishment. He continues to hide from the police and his confession is not given serious consideration either. The police can’t arrest him without evidence. He falls apart and becomes indifferent towards Sonya and his sister, including her brother-in-law. Finally, with Sonya’s encouragement, he confesses his crime and is sent to Siberia to serve his punishment, which he accepts with peace.
  2. Sonya Marmeladov: Sonya meets Rodion immediately after he wants greatness following the death of the pawnbroker lady, Alyona, and her sister. She provides Rodion necessary emotional and monetary support. Sadly, she doesn’t see a future with him, as he stays engaged with the dilemma of his crime he had committed. She is poor but holds high moral standards. Thus playing a very important role in Rodion’s transformation in the end. She persuades him to confess his crime and free himself from the mental torture he has been undergoing since the day he had murdered both women. She stands by Rodion despite his difficult times and accompanies Rodion to Siberia even though she knows that he has to be away to endure his punishment.
  3. Dmitri Razumikhin: Dmitri is a close friend of Rodion and knows that he would not abandon the idea of greatness. Despite his inept thinking and action, Dmitri is quite generous and assists his friend in many ways including providing support 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. He remains loyal by marrying Dunya, Rodion’s sister by the end of the novel.
  4. Dunya Romanovna: Dunya is Rodion’s sister. She is taunted by him and even goes after her when she is engaged to Luzhin. She finally comes to know about her brother’s crime, murdering two women. She asks him to give himself over to the authorities. However, it is interesting that she saves herself from Svidrigailov and Luzhin with Rodion’s help. Finally, she marries Rodion’s loyal friend, Dmitri.
  5. Svidrigailov: Svidrigailov is a manipulator and works for Dunya. He pursues Dunya and becomes bitter when he can’t marry her. However, it is interesting to note that he assists the family several times which can be interpreted as parts of his seductive efforts toward her. He commits suicide after he fails to win her.
  6. Marfa Petrovna Svidrigailov: Marfa is Svidrigailov’s wife. She comes to his financial rescue. Despite knowing his promiscuous nature, she stays loyal and later assists Dunya to meet Luzhin. Her goodness of heart stays after her death when it becomes apparent that she has willed her entire property to Dunya.
  7. Zakharovich Marmeladov: Marmeladoy is an alcoholic and an ex-civil servant. Rodion and Semyon suffer from the same ailment poverty and guilt. In spite of his awareness of his addiction, he continues to ruin his life and his family’s and three children until his death.
  8. Katerina Marmeladov: Katerina is Semyon’s wife. She suffers from tuberculosis as well as her husband’s addiction. She remains honest and hardworking. Although she is from the upper class, she suffers from an abusive husband first. Out of love and kindness, she leaves all her savings to Sonya and her daughter.
  9. Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin: An arrogant rich person, Luzhin tries his best to deceive Dunya into marriage but Rodion’s timely interference saves her from his deceit.
  10. Pulcheria Alexandrovna: Pulcheria is Rodion’s mother. She has premonitions about the doom of her son. She later briefs him about the harrowing situations both, she and her daughter, have gone through.

Writing Style of Crime and Punishment

The story is written in third-person narrative and dramatic form. Crime and Punishment exhibit Dostoyevsky’s dexterous use of drama in fiction, using short as well as long sentences and alluring syntax. The most important passages related to philosophy, mental dilemmas, 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 sentences are examples of allusions,
    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 following sentence are good examples of anaphora,
    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 more than one antagonist in the novel. For example, Luzhin, the fiancé of his sister Dunya, Ilya Petrovic, and the landlady 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 accepts his punishment and feels peaceful after he kills the widow, Alyona, and her sister, in their apartment.
  8. Foreshadowing: The novel has many instances of foreshadows. A few examples are given below,
    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: The following sentences are examples of imagery,
    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 -1)
    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 good use of metaphors. The following sentences are examples of metaphors,
    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 -!)
    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 dull 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 the 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, is narrated by the third-person narrator, who happens to be Fyodor Dostoevsky himself.
  14. Parallelism: The novel shows the use of parallelism in the following examples,
    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 following sentences show examples of paradox from the novel,
    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 following sentences are examples of personifications,
    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 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 following examples of rhetorical questions are given below,
    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 examples show the use of rhetorical questions that mostly Rodion does to question his own ideas and situation.
  19. Repetition: The novel has many examples of repetition. A few are given below,
    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 is St. Petersburg and Siberia in Russia.
  21. Simile: The following sentences are examples of similes,
    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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