Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment

by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Table of Contents
1. Crime and Punishment: Introduction
2. Crime and Punishment: Fyodor Dostoevsky Biography
Crime and Punishment: Summary
¨ Part 1 Summary

¨ Part 2 Summary
¨ Epilogue Summary
4. Crime and Punishment: Themes
5. Crime and Punishment: Historical Context
6. Crime and Punishment: Critical Overview
Crime and Punishment: Character Analysis
¨ Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov
¨ Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov
¨ Other Characters
Crime and Punishment: Essays and Criticism
¨ Humanity in Crime and Punishment
¨ The Principles of Uncertainty in Crime and Punishment
¨ Traditional Symbolism in Crime and Punishment
9. Crime and Punishment: Compare and Contrast
10. Crime and Punishment: Topics for Further Study
11. Crime and Punishment: Media Adaptations
12. Crime and Punishment: What Do I Read Next?
13. Crime and Punishment: Bibliography and Further Reading
14. Crime and Punishment: Pictures
15. Copyright
Crime and Punishment: Introduction
When the first installment of Crime and Punishment appeared in the journal Russian Messenger in January of
1866, its debt-ridden author, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky, had not yet finished writing the novel.
However, even before the entire work had appeared in serial form, the novel was a public success. Early
Russian readers and critics recognized that, artistically and socially, Crime and Punishment was one of the
most important novels of its time, and it was widely discussed.
Crime and Punishment 1
On the surface, Crime and Punishment is the story of a murder, set in the city of St. Petersburg, then the
Russian capital. It is not, however, a murder mystery: we know the murderer's identity from the very
beginning. Moreover, although Dostoyevsky depicts the crime and the environment in which it takes place
with great realism, he is more interested in the psychology of the murderer than in the external specifics of the
Like many of the great nineteenth-century novelists, Dostoyevsky often uses a series of incredible
coincidences to move the plot forward. Nonetheless, the story takes on a compelling life of its own.
Dostoyevsky's use of parable and of dream sequences is also original and remarkable. Furthermore,
Dostoyevsky creates a gallery of memorable characters, including the proud and tormented ex-student
Raskolnikov and his two murder victims; the drunken civil servant Marmeladov and his daughter, the meek
prostitute Sonya, whose love helps to redeem Raskolnikov; Raskolnikov's devoted sister, mother, and best
friend (Dunya, Pulkheria Aleksandrovna, and Razhumikhin); Dunya's scheming suitor Luzhin and the sinister
Svidrigailov; and the canny police investigator. Porfiry Petrovich. Finally, beyond its powerful plot and
colorful characters. Crime and Punishment is marked by its insightful treatment of several major themes.
Among other things, the book is an expose of social conditions in nineteenth-century Russia, a satirical
analysis of liberal and radical politics, and a religious call for redemption through suffering. As an intensely
dramatic study of the nature of good and evil, it is commonly considered the quintessential Russian novel.
Crime and Punishment: Fyodor Dostoevsky Biography
When Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment in the mid-1860s, he was already a
well-known author. Nonetheless, he lived in near-poverty and was plagued by gambling debts. Born in
Moscow in 1821, he was the second child in a family that eventually consisted of seven children. The family's
life was unhappy: Dostoyevsky's father, a doctor, ruled the family with an iron hand; his mother, a meek
woman, died when the boy was sixteen. Young Dostoyevsky developed a love of books and enthusiastically
read Russian, French, and German novels. However, his father insisted that Dostoyevsky study engineering,
and from 1838 to 1843 Dostoyevsky trained in this subject at the military engineering academy in St.
Petersburg. During this time the elder Dostoyevsky was murdered by one of his serfs, an incident that had a
profound impact on Fyodor.
In the mid-1840s Dostoyevsky embarked on a literary career, writing several short stories and novellas,
including "The Double" (1846). The concept of the "double" — the notion that a person may have a divided
personality, symbolized by a good or evil "twin" — surfaced in several of his later works, including Crime and
Punishment. His early published works brought Dostoyevsky some recognition. In 1848 Dostoyevsky joined a
group of radical intellectuals (known as the "Petrashevsky Circle" after their leader Mikhail Petrashevsky).
The group discussed literary and political ideas and advocated reforming the autocratic tsarist government.
Dostoyevsky and several of his friends were arrested for treason, tried, and sentenced to death. Just as they
were lined up in front of the firing squad, a messenger arrived with news that the tsar had commuted the death
sentence to a term of hard labor in Siberia. Dostoyevsky later alluded to this event in Crime and Punishment
and in other books. (It is believed that the authorities intended a mock execution all along.) During his five
years in prison, Dostoyevsky came to know many of the prisoners, the great majority of whom were ordinary
criminals rather than political prisoners. Through his dealings with them, the writer developed an
understanding of the criminal mentality and the Russian soul. His political views also changed. He rejected
his earlier pro-Western liberal-socialist ideas and instead embraced a specifically Russian brand of
Christianity. His prison experiences provided the material for his later book The House of the Dead (1861).
After his release from prison camp in 1854, Dostoyevsky had to spend several more years in Siberia as an
army private. He returned to St. Petersburg in 1859 and resumed his literary career. In the early 1860s he
traveled extensively in Western Europe. However, he was troubled by personal misfortune, including the
Crime and Punishment: Introduction 2
death of his wife and his brother, with whom he edited a literary journal. He also was afflicted by epilepsy, a
condition little understood at the lime. Moreover, he was unable to control his compulsive gambling habit, and
he found himself on the brink of poverty. His writing during this period was stimulated not only by an intense
desire to express important ideas but also by a need to earn money. In 1864 he wrote Notes from
Underground, whose narrator is a self-confessed "sick ... spiteful ... unattractive man," an embittered character
who resents society. Immediately after this book, Dostoyevsky started work on Crime and Punishment
(1865-66), regarded as his first true masterpiece. Important Russian critics hailed the work, and Dostoyevsky
was acclaimed as one of Russia's most significant writers and thinkers. However, he still faced financial ruin,
and the next year he wrote, in just one month, a novella called The Gambler in order to pay his debts. He
subsequently married the stenographer to whom he had dictated the work, Anna Snitkina. She helped reform
his life, and they lived abroad for several years. Foremost among his later novels are The Idiot (1869), The
Possessed (also translated as The Devils, 1871), and The Brothers Karamazov (1880). With Crime and
Punishment, these books express the essence of Dostoyevsky's social and moral philosophy and his insight
into human character. In the last decade of his life, Dostoyevsky finally gained critical acclaim, social
prestige, and financial security. He died in St. Petersburg in 1881.
Dostoyevsky's reputation and his influence remain strong to the present day. Virtually all his books have been
translated into English and are in print. His insights into the complexities of human psychology anticipated the
theories of Sigmund Freud and other early psychologists. (Indeed, Freud acknowledged Dostoyevsky's
importance in this field.) Later novelists as diverse as Robert Louis Stevenson, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus,
and Iris Murdoch all drew inspiration from Dostoyevsky's themes and characters, while Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn carries on with Dostoyevsky's unique brand of Russian nationalism and Christianity. Filmmakers
Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen have also acknowledged a debt to Dostoyevsky in their views of human
nature. Some scholars have gone so far as to claim that Dostoyevsky's view of the Russian character and
politics prophesied the Russian Revolution and the terrible deprivations that Russia suffered under Soviet
Communist rule in the twentieth century. With his contemporary Leo Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky is today regarded
as one of the two greatest nineteenth-century Russian novelists and indeed as one of the most important
novelists of any nation or period.
Crime and Punishment: Summary
Part 1 Summary
As the novel Crime and Punishment begins, an impoverished student named Rodion Raskolnikov sets out to
visit a pawnbroker in a poor section of St. Petersburg, the Russian capital. This visit serves as a trial run for a
sinister mission: Raskolnikov plans to murder and rob the old woman. After the visit, Raskolnikov feels
miserable, so he stops at a tavern for a drink. There he meets a drunk named Marmeladov who tells him how
his daughter Sonya became a prostitute to support her family. Raskolnikov helps Marmeladov home, and he is
touched by the pitiful scene of poverty he sees there. After leaving the family some money, he returns to his
cramped room.
The next day, Raskolnikov receives a letter from his mother. She informs him that Raskolnikov's sister Dunya
is set to marry a bachelor named Luzhin. Raskolnikov realizes that his mother and sister are counting on
Luzhin to give Raskolnikov financial assistance after the wedding. As he sees it, Dunya is sacrificing herself
for her brother, a sacrifice that reminds him of Sonya's prostitution. He berates himself for his passivity. Soon
afterwards, he falls asleep, and he dreams of watching a peasant beat an overburdened horse to death. When
he awakens, he articulates for the first time his plan to kill the pawnbroker with an axe. Hearing that the
pawnbroker's sister would be away from their apartment the next evening, he realizes that the time to execute
his plan has arrived. The murder itself does not unfold as intended. Lizaveta, the pawnbroker's sister, returns
home unexpectedly, and Raskolnikov kills her too. Distraught, he finds only a few items of value, and he is
Crime and Punishment: Fyodor Dostoevsky Biography 3
nearly discovered by two of the pawnbroker's clients who knock at the door. When they leave momentarily,
Raskolnikov slips out of the apartment undetected.
Part 2 Summary
During the next few days, Raskolnikov alternates between lucidity and delirium. He feels torn between an
impulse to confess his crime and an impulse to resist arrest. He begins a game of cat-and-mouse with the
examining magistrate, Porfiry Petrovich. Porfiry has read an article written by Raskolnikov in which
Raskolnikov expounds the theory that a few select individuals may have the right to commit crimes if they
think it necessary to attain special goals. Raskolnikov now explains his theory to Porfiry, beginning with the
idea that there are two categories of people in the world—the masses and the elite.
The first group, that is the material, are, generally speaking, by nature staid and conservative,
they live in obedience and like it. In my opinion they ought to obey because that is their
destiny, and there is nothing at all degrading to them in it. The second group are all
law-breakers and transgressors, or are inclined that way, in the measure of their capacities.
The aims of these people are, of course, relative and very diverse, for the most part they
require, in widely different contexts, the destruction of what exists in the name of better
things. But if it is necessary for one of them, for the fulfillment of his ideas, to march over
corpses, or wade through blood, then in my opinion he may in all conscience authorize
himself to wade through blood—in proportion, however, to his idea and the degree of its
importance—mark that. It is in that sense only that I speak in my article of their right to
commit crime.
(From Crime and Punishment, translated by Jessie Coulson, Norton, 1989)
Porfiry wonders whether Raskolnikov might consider himself to be an "extraordinary man," and if so, whether
the murder of the pawnbroker could be connected with his cynical theory. Porfiry hints that he suspects
Raskolnikov of the murder, but he avoids making definitive accusations at first, thus keeping Raskolnikov on
While this covert duel between Raskolnikov and Porfiry Petrovich continues, Dostoyevsky develops several
subplots. Marmeladov is run over by a carriage, and when Raskolnikov takes the dying man home, he sees
Sonya. Struck by her image of humble self-sacrifice, he feels drawn to her. In the meantime, Raskolnikov's
sister Dunya breaks off her engagement to Luzhin, who has become insufferably demanding. Yet she now
must contend with a new pursuer, her former employer Svidrigailov. Svidrigailov is rumored to have abused
young women and to have beaten his wife. He had made advances to Dunya when she worked for him, and
his scandalous behavior had unjustly given her a bad reputation. Now he turns up again.
Wracked by continuing anxiety, Raskolnikov makes two important visits to Sonya's apartment. In the first
visit, he alternates between antagonizing her and seeking her sympathy. He wonders how she could go on
living despite her humiliating profession. It occurs to him that the answer may lie in religion. He asks Sonya
to read aloud the Gospel account of the raising of Lazarus. This story of a dead man restored to life perhaps
suggests to Raskolnikov that he too may someday be able to return to normal life. He tells Sonya that on his
next visit he will disclose to her the murderer's identity.
During his second visit, Raskolnikov reveals to Sonya his awful crime. The moment of confession takes place
without words. In a scene that uncannily recalls the original murder of the pawnbroker and Lizaveta,
Raskolnikov looks into Sonya's eyes, and she reacts with the same terror he had seen on Lizaveta's face. In an
instant, she perceives his guilt. Instead of turning away with horror, though, she embraces him and shows that
Part 1 Summary 4
she understands how much he suffers. Her selfless acceptance of his suffering gives Raskolnikov new
strength. He tells her that he committed the murder to find out whether he was someone special, someone with
the right to step over conventional codes of behavior. He now asks her what to do. She tells him to go to the
crossroads, kiss the earth, and make a public confession. God will then send him new life. Yet Raskolnikov is
not ready to surrender, and he leaves her apartment in a renewed state of indecision.
Unbeknownst to Raskolnikov and Sonya, Svidrigailov had been eavesdropping on their last conversation, and
he attempts to use Raskolnikov's confession as a tool to win Dunya's affections. Luring her to his apartment,
Svidrigailov tells Dunya that he knows of Raskolnikov's crime, and he indicates that he will save Raskolnikov
if Dunya gives herself to him. She tries to leave the room, but he has locked the door. She takes a revolver out
of her pocket, and while he taunts her to shoot him, she pulls the trigger twice. The first bullet misses, and
then the gun misfires. Although Svidrigailov gives her the opportunity to shoot again, Dunya throws the gun
down. Svidrigailov hopes that she will now surrender to him, but she tells him that she will never love him,
and he lets her go. Disheartened by her rejection, Svidrigailov spends a fitful night in a cheap hotel. A series
of dreams reveals to him the extent of his internal corruption. In the morning, he leaves the hotel and shoots
himself in front of an astonished watchman.
On that same day, Raskolnikov resolves to turn himself in to the police. He makes a final visit to Sonya and
departs for the police station. Crossing a public square, he recalls Sonya's words about confessing to the
world. He falls to his knees and kisses the ground. The mockery of the bystanders, however, quells his
impulse to make a public confession, so he moves on to the police station. There he learns that Svidrigailov
has committed suicide. He begins to leave the station, perhaps feeling the lure of suicide himself. Outside the
building, however, he sees Sonya looking at him in anguish. He reenters the station and declares in a loud
voice: "It was I who killed the old woman and her sister Lizaveta...."
Epilogue Summary
The novel's epilogue focuses on Raskolnikov's experiences as a convict in Siberia. Raskolnikov initially feels
a deep sense of alienation from his fellow prisoners. During Lent and Easter, he falls ill, and he has a strange
dream in which everyone in the world becomes infected with a disease that causes each person to believe that
he or she is the sole bearer of truth. The deluded people kill each other, and the world heads toward total
collapse. After recuperating from his illness, Raskolnikov walks to a riverbank and gazes at the landscape.
Sonya appears at his side. Suddenly, Raskolnikov is seized with an entirely new sensation of love and
compassion. Both he and Sonya realize that something profound has occurred within his soul. Love has raised
him from the dead, and he will become a new man. Dostoyevsky concludes his novel by stating that the story
of Raskolnikov's regeneration might be the subject of a new tale, but that the present one has ended.
Crime and Punishment: Themes
On the surface, Crime and Punishment belongs to the popular genre known as the crime novel. A young man
(Raskolnikov) commits a murder and then tries to conceal his guilt and evade arrest. In the end he confesses,
is arrested, and is sent to prison, where he begins a process of spiritual regeneration. The novel's suspense
arises not only from the question "what will happen next?", but from Dostoyevsky's close and relentless
examination of the murderer's psyche. Dostoyevsky is more interested in important philosophical questions
than in the technical police procedures of bringing a criminal to justice. He is also interested in the criminal's
motives, which are ambiguous. The title indicates Dostoyevsky's interest in opposites and in the duality of
human nature. The nature of guilt and innocence, the role of atonement and forgiveness, and the opposition of
good and evil (and God and the Devil) all play an important thematic role in the book. While Dostoyevsky
also examines social and political problems in the Russia of his day, his concerns are universal.
Part 2 Summary 5
Guilt and Innocence
In large part, Crime and Punishment is an examination of the guilty conscience. For Dostoyevsky, punishment
is not a physical action or condition. Rather (much as in Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost), punishment
inherently results from an awareness of guilt. Guilt is the knowledge that one has done wrong and has become
estranged from society and from God. From the very beginning of the novel, Raskolnikov (whose name
derives from the Russian word for "schism") suffers from this estrangement. In murdering the pawnbroker, he
seeks to prove that he is above the law. But his crime only reinforces his sense that he is not a part of society.
Although she is a prostitute, Sonya is the embodiment of innocence. Her motive in becoming a prostitute was
not one of lust. Indeed, in all of the novel, there is no indication that Sonya has any lustful or sexual
inclination. On the contrary, she is embarrassed by, and ashamed of, her profession. In Dostoyevsky's eyes,
she is not guilty of any transgression. She does what she does out of sheer necessity, not out of any base
instincts or any hope for personal gain.
In contrast with Sonya's sense of shame over the life she leads, Pyotr Luzhin is shameless in the way he
manipulates Raskolnikov's sister and mother (Dunya and Pulkheria Aleksandrovna). He is guilty of emotional
blackmail as well as of fraud. Arkady Svidrigailov is an even more "guilty" character. Luzhin's crimes are
calculated, whereas Svidrigailov's crimes result from his complete surrender to his evil nature. Rather than
facing up to his guilt and its consequences, as Raskolnikov does, Svidrigailov partially acknowledges his guilt
but evades the consequences by committing suicide. Although Raskolnikov is the central figure of Crime and
Punishment, Dostoyevsky suggests that Raskolnikov may not quite be the book's most guilty criminal.
Svidrigailov and Luzhin are also guilty of criminal misdeeds, and they are less open than Raskolnikov to the
possibility of redemption.
Atonement and Forgiveness
The theme of atonement and forgiveness is closely related to that of guilt and innocence. As Dostoyevsky's
title suggests, punishment is the only logical and necessary outcome of crime. Punishment, however, does not
mean merely a legal finding and a sentence of imprisonment. In Dostoyevsky's view, the criminal's true
punishment is not a sentence of imprisonment. Nor is legal punishment the definitive answer to crime. The
criminal's punishment results from his own conscience, his awareness of his guilt. However, he must not only
acknowledge his guilt. The criminal must atone for it and must seek forgiveness.
Raskolnikov at first tries to rationalize his crime by offering various explanations to himself. Foremost among
these is his "superman" theory. By definition, the superman theory denies any possibility of atonement. The
superman does not need to atone, because he is permitted to commit any crime in order to further his own
ends. Raskolnikov also rationalizes his crime by arguing that the old pawnbroker is of no use to anyone; in
killing her, he is ridding the world of an unpleasant person. Driven by poverty, he also claims that he wants to
use her money to better his position in life. In the course of the book, he comes to realize that none of these
excuses justifies his crime.
Raskolnikov's reasons for fearing arrest are equally complex. It is clear, however, that without the example
and the urging of Sonya, he would not be able to seek forgiveness. He finds it remarkable that when he
confesses his crime to her, Sonya immediately forgives him. She urges him to bow down before God and
make a public confession. This act of contrition, she believes, will enable him to begin to cleanse his soul.
Svidrigailov is aware of his own guilt, but he does not seek forgiveness. Unlike Raskolnikov, he does not
believe in the possibility of forgiveness. In giving money to Sonya and others, he attempts a partial atonement
for his sins. However, even these gestures are motivated partly by base self-interest. Because he is spiritually
dead, he feels that the only atonement he can make is to commit suicide.
Crime and Punishment: Themes 6
Ubermensch ("Superman")
Part of the motive for Raskolnikov's crime comes from a theory that he has developed. In an essay that he
publishes, Raskolnikov argues that humankind is divided into two categories: ordinary people, and geniuses
or supermen. Ordinary people must obey the law, but "supermen" — of whom there are very few in any
generation — are entitled to break existing laws and make their own laws. Raskolnikov cites the French
emperor Napoleon as the epitome of the superman type. He argues that Napoleon rose to power by
overstepping the laws that govern ordinary people. Napoleon made his own laws and achieved his goals by
killing tens of thousands of people in wars. Because Napoleon was a genius, Raskolnikov reasons, he was not
regarded as a criminal. On the contrary, he was hailed as a hero. Early in Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov
has become obsessed with the notion that he himself is a "superman." Therefore, he thinks, he is not subject to
the laws that govern ordinary people. (In the original Russian text, Dostoyevsky frequently uses a word that
means "overstepping" or "stepping over"—that is, transgressing. This word is closely related to the Russian
word for "crime" (prestuplenie). Raskolnikov decides to murder the pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna partly to
prove that he is a superman. However, his indecision and confusion throughout the novel indicate that he is
not a superman. Moreover, in the course of the novel, Dostoyevsky seeks to prove that there is no such thing
as a superman. Dostoyevsky believes that every human life is precious, and no one is entitled to kill.
Dostoyevsky's formulation of the superman theory (through Raskolnikov) clearly anticipates the ideas
developed by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in the 1880s. For Nietzsche, the superman and his
"will to power" were supreme ideals. Christianity stood in the way of the superman, and Nietzsche scorned
Christianity as a "slave morality." Dostoyevsky's view of the superman is absolutely opposed to Nietzsche's.
For Dostoyevsky, following the "superman" theory to its natural conclusion inevitably leads to death,
destruction, chaos, and misery. Rather than seeing Christianity as a "slave mentality," Dostoyevsky views it as
the true vision of the human place in the world and of the human relationship with God. In Dostoyevsky's
view, all people are valued in the eyes of God.
Crime and Punishment is written in the third person. However, Dostoyevsky's narrative focus shifts
throughout the novel. Crime and Punishment is widely credited as the first psychological novel, and in many
passages, Dostoyevsky is concerned with the state of mind of the central character, Rodion Romanovich
Raskolnikov. In these passages—including those that relate Raskolnikov's brooding, the murder itself, and his
encounters with the inspector Porfiry Petrovich—Dostoyevsky puts us inside Raskolnikov's head. We view the
action from Raskolnikov's viewpoint and share his often-disordered and contradictory thoughts. These
passages read more like a first-person confession than a detached third-person fictional narrative. At the same
time, he describes exterior events with clear realism. Critics have pointed out that Dostoyevsky is essentially a
dramatic novelist. He does not so much tell a story as enact it. Crime and Punishment is full of dramatic
scenes, of which Raskolnikov's murder of the pawnbroker is only one. There are also a number of dramatic
confrontations between characters. Dostoyevsky's characters rarely have calm discussions; rather, they have
fierce arguments and verbal duels. Generally (but not always) Raskolnikov is at one end of these
confrontations. At the other, in various scenes, are his friend Razumikhin, his sister and mother, his sister's
corrupt suitor Luzhin, the police investigator Porfiry Petrovich, the innocent prostitute Sonya, and the cynical
landowner Svidrigailov. These duels and pairings help to illustrate the idea of the double, discussed further
The action of the book takes place in St. Petersburg, the capital city of Russia, in the summer of 1865. (The
brief epilogue is set in Siberia.) Crime and Punishment is a distinctly urban novel. In choosing a definite
urban setting, Dostoyevsky was paving new ground for Russian fiction. His Russian predecessors and
contemporaries such as Gogol, Turgenev, and Tolstoy generally set their stories on country estates. In
confining the action of his novel entirely to St. Petersburg, Dostoyevsky was emulating the English author
Charles Dickens, who set his well-known stories in the British capital, London. Moreover, St. Petersburg is
Crime and Punishment: Themes 7
not just a backdrop, but it is an inherent part of the novel. Dostoyevsky recreates St. Petersburg's
neighborhoods and its streets, bridges, and canals with great realism. In his narrative, Dostoyevsky does not
give the full street names, but uses only abbreviations. (In the very first paragraph, for example, he refers to
"S—Lane" and "K—n Bridge.") Readers who were familiar with St. Petersburg would probably have been able
to identify most of these specific locations, as modern scholars have done.
Much of the action takes place indoors, generally in cramped tenement apartments. With these settings,
Dostoyevsky creates a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere. For example, in the weeks before he commits the
murders, Raskolnikov has been lying in his tiny room and brooding. He retreats to this room after the
murders, occasionally leaving his lair to wander the city's streets.
Most of the book's main characters are not natives of St. Petersburg, but have come to the city from Russia's
far-flung rural provinces. Thus, they are not at ease in this urban setting. Provincial Russians might normally
regard the capital city, created by Peter the Great as Russia's "window on the West," as a place of opportunity.
However, for Raskolnikov, Katerina Ivanovna, Svidrigailov, and other characters, the city turns out to be a
destination of last resort, a place where their diminished expectations are finally played out. (Svidrigailov
remarks that "there aren't many places where there are as many gloomy, harsh and strange influences on the
soul of man as there are in St. Petersburg.") This sense of the city as a dead-end is emphasized by the settings.
The apartments where Raskolnikov and the Marmeladovs live are so small that there is scarcely enough space
for a small group of visitors. Moreover, at several points in the novel, characters are threatened with eviction
and fear that they will wind up on the streets. Near the end of the book, Katerina Ivanovna and her children
beg on the streets by singing and dancing.
Most readers tend to think of Russia as a "winter" country, with lots of snow and cold weather. Dostoyevsky
contradicts these expectations by setting his story during an unusual summer heat wave. The heat and
humidity add to the general sense of discomfort that pervades the narrative. They also reflect and reinforce the
feverish state that afflicts Raskolnikov throughout the book.
Crime and Punishment is divided into six parts plus an epilogue. Each part is broken further into several
chapters. For the most part, each chapter centers around a self-contained dramatic episode. Much of this
episodic structure is attributable to the fact that Crime and Punishment was written for serialization in a
magazine. Magazine readers wanted each installment to be complete in itself and to contain colorful incidents.
Many chapters end with the sudden, unexpected arrival of a new character. By introducing such developments
at the end of many of the chapters, Dostoyevsky maintained a high level of suspense. He knew that his readers
would be curious to know what would happen in the next chapter and that they would look forward to the next
installment. Moreover, an unresolved complication at the end of a particular chapter would also stimulate
Dostoyevsky to write the next chapter. This method of writing helps account for the numerous abrupt shifts in
the plot focus.
Like many other important nineteenth-century novelists, Dostoyevsky does not hesitate to use coincidence to
advance the plot. Indeed, many of the crucial developments in Crime and Punishment depend on sheer
coincidences that seem highly unlikely to the modern reader. However, coincidence was an accepted literary
convention of the period. Dostoyevsky does not attempt to explain away his coincidences, but on the contrary
he simply states them as matters of fact. He uses this technique as a shortcut to bring together certain
characters and set up dramatic situations.
While he is walking down the street, Raskolnikov comes upon the scene of an accident. The accident victim
turns out to be Marmeladov, a drunken civil servant whom he had met earlier in the novel. Marmeladov has
been run over by a horse-drawn carriage. Raskolnikov takes charge of the situation and has Marmeladov
Crime and Punishment: Themes 8
carried home, where the injured man dies. This coincidence leads to Raskolnikov's first meeting with
Marmeladov's daughter Sonya, who has turned to prostitution to support the poverty-stricken family. Drawn
to Sonya by her meek nature and pure heart, Raskolnikov will later confess to her. In another coincidence,
Sonya turns out to have been a friend of Lizaveta. This disclosure serves to increase Raskolnikov's sense of
guilt and further points up Sonya's selflessness.
It is also purely coincidence that the scheming Luzhin happens to be living temporarily in the same building
as Katerina Ivanovna. This makes plausible his appearance at Katerina's funeral party and his attempt to frame
Sonya for robbery. Later, Svidrigailov just happens by coincidence to be renting the apartment next door to
Sonya's apartment. Thus, he is able to overhear Raskolnikov's murder confession. Svidngailov's awareness of
Raskolnikov's guilty secret helps set into motion another chain of events. There are many more such
coincidences in the course of the story. That such coincidences involving a relatively small number of
characters would occur in a large city like St. Petersburg is almost unbelievable. However, Dostoyevsky's
narrative has such dramatic force that the reader is able to overlook the implausibility of these coincidences.
Symbolism and Imagery
As already discussed, Dostoyevsky's literary technique mixes narrative realism, dramatic scenes, and
psychological analysis. He also uses symbolism and imagery, not so much for aesthetic effect as to emphasize
certain points about his characters' psychology. One of his main symbolic devices is the pairing of certain
characters. Early in his writing career, Dostoyevsky formulated the idea of the "double." That is, he believed
that there may be two sides to a human personality. In giving a character like Raskolnikov several "doubles,"
Dostoyevsky emphasizes certain aspects of Raskolnikov's personality by contrasting him with these
Among Raskolnikov's symbolic "doubles" are Marmeladov, Razumikhin, Dunya, Sonya, and Svidrigailov.
Where Raskolnikov is obsessed with a theory, Marmeladov lives entirely by impulse. Where Raskolnikov is
extreme, Razumikhin is reasonable. (The Russian word razum means "reason.") Raskolnikov cuts himself off
from his family, while his sister Dunya is completely dedicated to the family. Sonya too sacrifices herself for
her family. Furthermore, her meekness and faith contrast with Raskolnikov's pride and his rejection of God.
Raskolnikov is literally sickened by his crime and does not give any indication that he will commit more
murders, whereas Svidrigailov takes pleasure in his criminal lust and persists in it.
Appropriately enough, blood and blood imagery pervade the book. Before he commits the murder,
Raskolnikov has a horrific nightmare in which a group of drunken men flog "a little grey mare" to death. The
notion of "shedding blood" becomes quite literal. Raskolnikov's murder of the pawnbroker and her sister with
an axe is naturally a bloody act. As he attempts to escape notice, Raskolnikov becomes obsessed with the idea
that he is covered in blood and that this will give him away. Toward the end of the novel, his sister Dunya
tells him that "you have blood on your hands"; Raskolnikov defiantly replies that the world is covered in
blood. It can be noted, as well, that the novel's blood imagery is paralleled by frequent references to tears.
Dostoyevsky uses dreams to give insight into his characters' psychology, as well as for symbolic purposes.
Critics have debated the meaning of Raskolnikov's nightmare about the horse, mentioned above. As well as
indicating his tormented state of mind, this nightmare may also symbolize the brutality of murder and the
helplessness of the innocent. In the book's epilogue, in Siberia, Raskolnikov dreams that the world is swept by
a terrible plague that turns people mad. This dream is generally believed to symbolize what would happen if
all people rejected traditional morality and acted out Raskolnikov's "superman" theory. Svidrigailov, too, has
terrible dreams and claims that he has seen the ghosts of his deceased wife and of a servant. The night before
he kills himself, he dreams about a little girl whom he has victimized. In this dream, he sees the moral
consequences of his crimes.
Crime and Punishment: Themes 9
Crime and Punishment: Historical Context
Dostoyevsky's Russia: Social and Political Background
For most modern Americans, the Russia of Dostoyevsky's time is almost incomprehensible. Sir Winston
Churchill's comment in 1939 that Russia "is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" can apply
equally to the Russia of the 1860s when Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment. In the most simple terms,
much of Russia's historical difference from the West has to do with the fact that for centuries it was cut off
from Western Europe. The Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment that helped transform the
countries of Western Europe from feudalism to modern nations with well-educated citizens and important
cultural institutions barely touched Russia. Moreover, large-scale foreign invasions (from the Mongols in the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to the Nazi armies in the early 1940s) periodically devastated the country.
As a result, Russia has historically been suspicious of other nations. Also, early in its national history, Russia
developed a tradition of government that centralized immense power in the hands of an emperor—the tsar—and
a handful of his advisors. (The Russian title "tsar" derives from the Latin word "Caesar.") In the mid-1500s,
Tsar Ivan IV (known as Ivan the Terrible) established what for more than the next four hundred years became
the model for Russian government, alternating short-lived periods of ineffectual reform with periods of severe
Relatively "liberal" rulers such as Tsar Peter the Great (reigned 1682-1725) and Tsarina Catherine the Great
(who was actually German; reigned 1762-96) pursued a policy of "westernization." They attempted to import
modern technology and manners from Western Europe. At the same time, however, they held tightly onto
absolute power and ruthlessly suppressed any challenge to the established political order.
During the period when Dostoyevsky was receiving his education and then establishing his literary career—the
1830s into the 1860s—Russia was stirred by intense intellectual debate. The small class of the educated people
recognized that major changes were needed if the huge but backward country was to address its social
problems and find its way successfully in the world. One general approach to change was proposed by certain
intellectuals collectively known as Westernizers. The Westernizers were influenced by German philosophy
and by social ideas that developed in Western Europe during the Industrial Revolution. They were also
influenced by contemporary European revolutionary movements. The Westernizers were not united in their
goals or methods. There were various factions. Some favored gradual democratic reforms, while others called
for revolution to replace the tsarist government with a socialist regime. Among the leading Westernizers was
Vissarion Belinsky (1811-48), the most famous Russian literary critic of his day. Belinsky praised
Dostoyevsky's first book, Poor Folk (1846), and declared that Dostoyevsky was the literary successor of
Another group of thinkers, known as the Slavophiles, proposed an entirely different approach to Russia's
problems. Broadly speaking, the Slavophiles felt that Western ideals of rationalism and modernization were
dangerous and alien to Russia. Rather than relying on a program of legislation and material improvement, the
Slavophiles argued that Russia could only fulfill its destiny when Russians returned to their native spiritual
values. Although they disagreed with the Westernizers, the Slavophiles were also opposed to the existing
Russian government. By Western standards, the Slavophiles could be considered romantic and reactionary,
but they made an important contribution to the debate over the future of Russia.
As a young man, Dostoyevsky was influenced by the Westernizers. In the mid-1840s he joined the so-called
Petrashevsky Circle, a small group that met weekly to discuss socialist ideas. The group demanded political
reforms and generally opposed the government of Tsar Nicholas I. In the spring of 1849 the members were
arrested. Twenty-one of them, including Dostoyevsky, were sentenced to death but were pardoned at the last
minute. During his subsequent imprisonment in Siberia, Dostoyevsky underwent a profound spiritual and
political change. He renounced political radicalism and came to believe that Russia's hope lay in Slavic
Crime and Punishment: Historical Context 10
idealism. His travels in Western Europe in the 1860s and 1870s reinforced his distaste for modern industrial
society. In the great novels of his mature period, including Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky expresses his
sympathy with the Slavophiles and attacks the Westernizers and radicals. Raskolnikov reflects the viewpoint
of the radical Nihilists (from the Latin word for "nothing"), who rejected all the traditional conventions of
By the time Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment Tsar Alexander II (reigned 1855-81) was in the midst
of a significant reform policy. In 1861 the Tsar signed a proclamation that freed millions of Russian serfs
(peasants who lived and worked in conditions similar to slavery). This was followed by reforms of local
government, the courts, and the military. (The police inspector Porfiry Petrovich refers to these reforms.)
However, these reforms failed to resolve the major problems in Russia and helped to create new problems.
Again, the immense social problems facing Russia at the time—widespread poverty, ignorance, and social
agitation—form the background to Crime and Punishment.
Crime and Punishment in a Literary Context
In the words of historian Nicholas Riasanovsky, "Literature constituted the chief glory of Russian culture in
the first half of the nineteenth century." Like most educated Russians of his time, Dostoyevsky knew and
revered the work of the great Russian poets Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) and Mikhail Lermontov
(1814-1841). In his verse novel Eugene Onegin (written 1822-31), Pushkin cast a clear light on Russian
society and its problems. Dostoyevsky was also familiar with the work of the novelist Nikolai Gogol
(1809-1852), the most important Russian novelist before Dostoyevsky himself. Gogol was a master both of
realism and of the fantastic. In his masterpiece Dead Souls (1842), Gogol examined the state of Russia with
deep psychological understanding. Significantly, certain elements in Crime and Punishment can also be traced
to two non-Russian writers whose work Dostoyevsky knew and admired, the French novelist Victor Hugo
(author of Les Miserables) and the English novelist Charles Dickens (author of David Copperfield, which
Dostoyevsky read while in prison). Indeed, Dostoyevsky frequently mentioned Dickens in his letters and
notebooks. In Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky shares Dickens' s concern with contemporary urban life,
poverty, crime, and the sufferings of children and the innocent.
Among Dostoyevsky's Russian contemporaries, two other major novelists stand out. Ivan Turgenev (1818-83)
sided with the Westernizers and lived in Western Europe for much of his life; however, his subjects are
thoroughly Russian. In his best known novel, Fathers and Sons (1862), he examines the relations between the
older Russian democratic reformers and the younger, more radical generation. He also coined the term nihilist.
Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) is often placed as Dostoyevsky's equal, though he was very different. His epic
novel, War and Peace (1863-69) began to appear in installments around the same time as Crime and
Punishment. In his later years, Tolstoy developed a unique philosophy of nonviolence that has been compared
to the philosophy of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Interestingly, both Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy knew and respected
Turgenev although both disagreed with him, but Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy never met.
Crime and Punishment: Critical Overview
Crime and Punishment excited much attention when it started to appear in serial form in a Russian literary
journal in early 1866. Reviewing the first installment, an anonymous critic declared that "the novel promises
to be one of the most important works of [Dostoyevsky]." The British scholar and translator David McDuff
notes that "as the subsequent parts of the novel began to appear it acquired the status of a social and public
event." A Russian critic of the time, N. N. Strakhov, later recalled that Crime and Punishment was "the only
book the addicts of reading talked about." Strakhov noted that the novel was so powerful that people became
agitated when they read it.
Crime and Punishment: Critical Overview 11
Some Russian critics—especially liberals and "Westernizers"—disapproved of the book because of its implicit,
controversial political viewpoint. They viewed the novel as an attack on the younger generation in Russia.
One reviewer, G. Z. Yeliseyev, accused Dostoyevsky of "fanaticism." An anonymous reviewer in the journal
the Week criticized Dostoyevsky for implying "that liberal ideas and the natural sciences lead young men to
murder and young women to prostitution." D. I. Pisarev, a leading nihilist critic of the time, wrote an in-depth
analysis of Raskolnikov's motives. Pisarev understood the conflicting emotions that drove Raskolnikov, but
believed that Raskolmkov was basically a product of his environment. Emphasizing a social view of the
novel, Pisarev rejected Dostoyevsky's insistence on redemption through suffering. Instead, he called for social
change through a revolution.
N. N. Strakhov, mentioned above, praised the novel for its important treatment of universal themes and
disagreed with the interpretations offered by the Westernizers. The book did not mock young Russian
idealists, said Strakhov, but was a "lament" over the way that these young people were the victims of nihilistic
ideas. When Strakhov's article appeared, Dostoyevsky wrote to him and told him that "you alone have
understood me."
After Dostoyevsky's death, his philosopher friend Vladimir Soloviev gave several speeches about the meaning
of Dostoyevsky's work. Soloviev distinguished between the outward (legal) and inward (moral) definitions of
the terms "crime" and "punishment." Soloviev interpreted Raskolnikov's inward sins as "pride" and
"self-idolatry, which can only be redeemed by an inner moral act of self-renunciation." Another important
assessment of the novel was given by Russian critic Vasily Rozanov in 1893. Rozanov remarked on the power
with which Dostoyevsky gave readers a glimpse into the criminal soul. According to Rozanov, the book "lets
us feel criminality with all the inner fibers of our being." Rozanov found that "the general mood of the novel...
is far more remarkable than any of its individual episodes."
As Dostoyevsky's work became more widely known, it began to influence writers outside of Russia. Robert
Louis Stevenson was an early British admirer of Dostoyevsky. In 1886 he declared that Crime and
Punishment was "the greatest book I have read in ten years." (Coincidentally, that same year Stevenson
published The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which embodies the Dostoyevskyan theme of the
double.) Stevenson went on to note, however, that "many find [Crime and Punishment ] dull; Henry James
could not finish it." James's dislike was shared by such British authors as Joseph Conrad, John Galsworthy,
and D. H. Lawrence. However, Dostoyevsky was championed in England by the translator Constance Garnett
(1862-1946). Between 1912 and 1920, Garnett translated Crime and Punishment and Dostoyevsky's other
major novels into English. Despite the criticism of James, Conrad, and others, mentioned above, Garnett's
translation proved enormously influential. It introduced this novel to a new generation of British and
American readers, and the book's reputation soared. For many years, Garnett's translation remained the
standard English-language version of Crime and Punishment. (Garnett's translation is now considered to be
somewhat flawed and has been largely superseded by others, including the 1991 translation by David McDuff
published by Penguin.)
Debate over the interpretation of Crime and Punishment has continued throughout the twentieth century to the
present. Writing in 1939, scholar Helen Muchnic observed that what critics say about Dostoyevsky really tells
more about those critics than about Dostoyevsky. McDuff agrees that "in many of the critical analyses of his
work the operative factors are of an ideological rather than a purely aesthetic nature." Thus, Russian critics
during the Soviet period hailed Dostoyevsky as a great writer, but they tended to overlook the book's
Christian, anti-revolutionary, and anti-materialist sentiments. Instead, they praised it as an attack on the
decadent bourgeoise society of pre-Revolutionary tsarist Russia. Similarly, the American critic Philip Rahv
believed that the book's epilogue did not offer a satisfactory resolution. On the other hand, critics like
Konstantin Mochulsky and Nicholas Berdyaev have emphasized the book's Christian and existentialist ideals.
The French novelist Andre Gide believed that the ideas Dostoyevsky worked out in Crime and Punishment
led directly to the author's subsequent novels. The Scottish poet and critic Edwin Muir wrote that
Crime and Punishment: Critical Overview 12
"Dostoyevsky wrote of the unconscious as if it were conscious; that is ... why his characters seem
'pathological,' while they are only visualized more clearly than any other figures in imaginative literature."
Translator McDuff believes that "Raskolnikov, far from being a madman or psychopathic outcast, is an image
of Everyman." And Ernest J. Simmons lauds the novel for "the characteristic spiritual glow that radiates
through all the action and illuminates the darkest recesses of the minds of these tormented and suffering men
and women."
Crime and Punishment: Character Analysis
Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov
The central character of Crime and Punishment. He is a poverty-stricken twenty-three-year-old. Described as
an "ex-student," Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov has dropped out of the university presumably because of
his inability to pay his fees. Beyond this, he has been suffering from a spiritual crisis. Proud, aloof, and
scornful of humanity, at the beginning of the novel Raskolnikov has become obsessed with the idea that he is
a "superman" and therefore not subject to the laws that govern ordinary humans. He has published an essay on
his superman theory. To prove this theory, he intends to kill an old pawnbroker, whom he regards as
worthless. However, the murder goes horribly wrong: he also kills the old woman's simple-minded innocent
sister (Lizaveta), who stumbles upon the scene of the crime. Moreover, the crime fails to confirm
Raskolnikov's cool superiority. Tormented by feelings of guilt, he acts erratically, and he fears that his guilt
will be obvious to others. Much of the novel centers on Raskolnikov's irrational state of mind and the
eccentric behavior that follows from this. On several occasions he comes close to boasting that he could have
committed the crime, and dares others (notably the detective Porfiry Petrovich) to prove that he did it. He
insults his friend Razumihkin and deliberately offends his mother and sister. However, he also acts in ways
that show he still has a moral conscience. For example, he defends his sister against her scheming fiance
Luzhin. He gives money to Marmeladov's widow Katerina Ivanovna. He recoils in horror from the depraved
Svidrigailov. Most significantly of all, he is drawn to the young prostitute Sonya Marmeladova, who is
morally pure and innocent despite her terrible life. He ultimately confesses his crime to her and begins his
journey to redemption. The Russian word Raskol means "schism." The term was used to describe a split in the
Russian Orthodox Church that occurred in the mid-1600s. Dostoyevsky's Russian readers would have been
aware of the significance of Raskolnikov's name, which suggests contradictions in his own personality as well
as his rebellion against God. In the complex Raskolnikov, Dostoyevsky created one of the most interesting
and most human of all fictional characters.
Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov
A mysterious wealthy landowner, Svidrigailov is a shadowy, highly ambiguous character. He does not appear
directly until the last third of the novel, although he is mentioned earlier. He is about fifty years old but looks
younger. His "strange face" resembles a mask. He has blue eyes, a blond beard and blond hair, and ruby-red
lips. Svidrigailov's background is thoroughly distasteful. He and his wife had employed Raskolnikov's sister
Dunya as a governess, and he became obsessed with her. (Marfa Petrovna helped to arrange Dunya's
engagement to Luzhin in order to get the girl away from Svidrigailov.) He confesses to Raskolnikov that his
marriage to an older woman, Marfa Petrovna, was one of convenience. He is a shameless sensualist whose
favorite activity was seducing young girls. There are rumors that he is responsible for the deaths of a servant,
a girl whom he had raped, and his wife; he is occasionally visited by their ghosts. Svidrigailov has recently
arrived in St. Petersburg. While lodging in the apartment next to Sonya's, he overhears Raskolnikov tell Sonya
that he (Raskolnikov) is a murderer. Svidrigailov subsequently lets Raskolnikov know that he is aware of the
young man's secret, and he attempts to blackmail Raskolnikov emotionally. Yet, for all his lurid interests,
Svidrigailov is apparently capable of compassion. He gives much-needed money to both Dunya and Sonya,
Crime and Punishment: Character Analysis 13
and he arranges for Katerina Ivanovna's children to be put in a good orphanage after their mother dies.
(However, he hints that his motives for this last act may be entirely selfish.) After his last meeting with
Raskolnikov, he again attempts to seduce Dunya. When this fails, he spends a night in a run-down hotel and is
troubled by dreams about his former victims. In the morning he goes outside, puts a gun to his head, and
commits suicide. Svidrigailov is often considered Raskolnikov's "double." His utterly selfish, callous, and
destructive nature points to what Raskolnikov might become if Raskolnikov were to abandon all conscience
and follow his theories through to their logical conclusion.
Other Characters
Pulkheria Aleksandrovna
Raskolnikov's mother. A widow, she is forty-three years old, but her face "still retains traces of her former
beauty." When she arrives in St. Petersburg with her daughter Dunya and meets Raskolnikov, whom she has
not seen for three years, she is deeply concerned about him. She finds his behavior puzzling, and she worries
about him. Raskolnikov is embarrassed (among other things) by his mother's attention and attempts to rebuff
her. In his final encounter with his mother, Raskolnikov reveals his love for her but does not tell her about his
crime. However, with a mother's intuition, she is more aware of what is happening to her son than he realizes.
See Dunya Avdotya Romanovna.
Alyona Ivanovna
A pawnbroker whom Raskolnikov murders. The widow of a college registrar, in Raskolnikov's eyes she is a
suspicious, miserly old woman who preys on unfortunate people who are forced to pawn their few possessions
with her. Raskolnikov reasons that she is a "vile, harmful louse" who is no good to anyone and who only
causes pain and suffering to others (including her simple-minded sister, Lizaveta Ivanovna). Therefore, for
Raskolnikov, her murder is justified. However, Dostoyevsky suggests that the murder of even such an
unsympathetic character is a crime against humanity.
Katerina Ivanovna
The wife of Marmeladov. Marmeladov tells Raskolnikov that she is "full of magnanimous emotions" but
"hot-tempered and irritable." The daughter of a military officer, she was a poor widow when she met
Marmeladov, and since her marriage to Marmeladov she has been reduced to total poverty. She has three
children from her previous marriage. She is "a thin, rather tall woman, with a good figure and beautiful
chestnut hair." Raskolnikov guesses that she is about thirty years old. She suffers from consumption
(tuberculosis) and has been driven to despair by her husband's drunkenness and extreme poverty. In this
piteous state she abuses her children, and on her deathbed she refuses to forgive Marmeladov for his
irresponsibility. After her husband's death, she retreats into the fantasy that she has an aristocratic background.
She dies shortly thereafter.
Lizaveta Ivanovna
The simple-minded younger half-sister of the pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna. Raskolnikov kills Lizaveta when
the woman unexpectedly enters the apartment where Raskolnikov has just murdered Alyona Ivanovna.
Ironically, Raskolnikov had earlier expressed some sympathy for Lizaveta, a poor soul who was abused by her
sister. Raskolnikov had learned that Alyona would be alone when he overheard Lizaveta talking to someone
in the market. Curiously, his unpremeditated killing of the innocent Lizaveta plays little part in his subsequent
feelings of guilt. He later learns that Lizaveta was a friend of Sonya Marmeladova.
Andrei Semyonovich Lebezyatnikov
A former student of Luzhin, with whom Luzhin lodges temporarily in St. Petersburg. Lebezyatnikov belongs
Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov 14
to a radical Utopian organization. Luzhin attempts to enlist him as a witness when he accuses Sonya of
robbery. However, Lebezyatnikov realizes that Luzhin has framed Sonya, and he speaks up on her behalf and
tells the truth. Dostoyevsky ridicules Lebezyatnikov's naïve political ideas, but the character is commended
for his basic honesty and decency.
Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin
The manipulative fiance of Raskolnikov's sister, Dunya. Luzhin is related to Svidrigailov and Svidrigailov's
wife, Marfa Petrovna, for whom Dunya previously had worked as a governess. In his early forties, Luzhin is
depicted as a self-important dandy with uncertain government connections. He clearly does not love Dunya,
and his motives for marriage are suspect. After a brief acquaintance, he has arranged for Raskolnikov's sister
and mother (Dunya and Pulkheria Aleksandrovna) to follow him to St. Petersburg. However, his arrangements
are less than satisfactory. Raskolnikov takes an instant dislike to Luzhin and insults him. Raskolnikov vows to
stop his sister's marriage to a man whom he regards as a hypocrite and an opportunist. Luzhin later falsely
accuses Sonya of having robbed him, but the charges are disproven and Luzhin is humiliated. For
Dostoyevsky, Luzhin embodies superficiality and corruption.
Semyon Zaharovitch Marmeladov
A drunken civil servant; the father of Sonya and the husband of Katerina Ivanovna. In the novel's second
chapter, Raskolnikov encounters Marmeladov in a tavern, where Marmeladov tells the former student the
story of his degeneration. Despite his drunkenness, Marmeladov is intelligent and perceptive, but he has
abandoned his job and lost all self-respect. Consequently, his family has fallen into dire poverty, and his
daughter Sonya has resorted to prostitution in order to help support them. Marmeladov is fully aware of his
irresponsibility and its disastrous consequences for his family. Indeed, he seems to take pleasure in his
depravity and suffering. However, he is unwilling or unable to change his ways and reform himself.
Marmeladov is later run over by a carriage and is fatally injured. Raskolnikov happens to come along and has
the older man carried to Marmeladov's apartment, where he dies. Both comic and pathetic, Marmeladov is
regarded as one of Raskolnikov's "doubles." Dostoyevsky may also intend him to be symptomatic of a
Russian national tendency toward slothfulness and irrationality and an inability to reform or modernize.
Sonia Marmeladova
See Sonya Marmeladova.
Sonya Marmeladova
A meek young prostitute to whom Raskolnikov first confesses his guilt. The eighteen-year-old daughter of the
drunken civil servant Semyon Marmeladov, and the stepdaughter of Katerina Ivanovna, Sonya has become a
prostitute in order to help support Katerina's children. She is thin, fair-haired, and has "remarkable blue eyes."
Raskolnikov first learns about her from Marmeladov. Although other characters scorn Sonya because of her
profession, Raskolnikov is drawn to her because of her innocence. She reads Raskolnikov the biblical passage
about Jesus's raising of Lazarus from the dead. She also tells Raskolnikov that she was a friend of the
murdered woman Lizaveta. When Raskolnikov confesses that he is the murderer, Sonya is horrified because
she realizes that he has murdered his own human spirit. She forgives him and urges him to go to a public place
and bow down and confess his sin to God. Sonya follows him to Siberia. Sonya represents Dostoyevsky's
religious faith. Her Christianity emphasizes redemption through suffering.
Natasya is the cook and only servant of Raskolnikov's landlady. Dostoyevsky describes her as a "country
peasant woman, and a very talkative one." She tells Raskolnikov that the landlady has been talking about
calling the police because he has been behind in his rent and will not leave. She is very kind to the poor
student, bringing him tea and urging her cabbage soup on him, rather than taking his money to buy sausage.
Other Characters 15
Nikolay is one of the workmen. He is a house painter who confessed to the murders and who is described by
Porfiry as a "child ... responsive to influences." His false evidence serves to distract people from suspecting
Raskolnikov and provides Porfiry with a chance to urge Raskolnikov to make a full confession for his own
See Alyona Ivanovna.
Porfiry Petrovich
A police inspector whose interviews with Raskolnikov provide much dramatic tension in the book. A relative
of Raskolnikov's friend Razumikhin, he is about thirty-five years old and pudgy. At times he seems a
somewhat befuddled, comical character, but in fact he is extremely perceptive and intelligent. His
investigative methods are highly unorthodox. He is more interested in criminal psychology than in standard
police procedure or material evidence. Raskolnikov is uncertain how much Porfiry really knows about the
crime, and he attempts to outwit the detective. However, Porfiry's friendly but persistent and all-knowing
manner upsets and confuses Raskolnikov. In the end, Raskolnikov breaks down and confesses. Porfiry's
emphasis on criminal psychology reflects Dos-toyevsky's own ideas and interests as a novelist.
Dmitry Prolcovich Razumikhin
Raskolnikov's best friend. A former student himself, Razumikhin helps to nurse Raskolnikov back to health
after the latter's breakdown (following Raskolnikov's murder of the pawnbroker and her sister). His attitude
toward Raskolnikov is complex: he often berates Raskolnikov, but he is also protective toward his wayward
friend. Razumikhin falls in love with Raskolnikov's sister, Dunya, and he subsequently acts as her protector.
He is a cousin of the police inspector Porfiry Petrovich, to whom he introduces Raskolnikov. On the surface,
Razumikhin is himself no paragon of virtue. He is unkempt and ungainly, and when he meets Raskolnikov's
mother and sister after a party he is drunk. Razumikhin's name derives from the Russian word for "reason."
Some critics have compared Razumikhin and his role in this novel to Shakespeare's character Horatio, the
friend of Hamlet.
See Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov.
Dunya Avdotya Romanovna
Raskolnikov's sister. She bears a physical resemblance to her brother, but in contrast to his morbid character
she is self-confident, strong, and straightforward. She is devoted to Raskolnikov, and initially decides to
marry Pyotr Luzhin primarily for her brother's financial benefit. With her mother (Pukhena Aleksandrovna),
she unexpectedly arrives in St. Petersburg from the provinces and visits Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov is horrified
at the thought of her loveless arranged marriage to Luzhin and attempts to stop it. Indirectly through Dunya,
Raskolnikov also encounters Svidrigailov, whom Dunya earlier had served as a governess and whose
intentions toward Dunya are not entirely honorable. Raskolnikov's friend Razumikhin falls in love with Dunya
and serves as her protector; he eventually marries her.
Sofya Semyonovna
See Sonya Marmeladova.
The police clerk who tells Porfiry of his suspicions that Raskolnikov is the murderer early in the story. When
Raskolnikov asks for him at the end of the novel in order to make his confession, he learns that Zametov is no
longer there.
Other Characters 16
Dr. Zossimov
Dr. Zossimov is a young physician and friend of Razumikhin who comes to treat Raskolnikov. Described as
"a tall fat man with a puffy, colourless, clean-shaven face and straight flaxen hair," he is fashionably dressed
and nonchalant in manner, but he is known to be excellent at his work. Dr. Zossimov continues to look after
Raskolnikov, "his first patient," he says, and is one of two friends to attend the wedding of Razumikhin and
Raskolnikov's sister.
Crime and Punishment: Essays and Criticism
Humanity in Crime and Punishment
In Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky created an unforgettable novel of haunting intensity. With its
sustained focus on the emotions and thoughts of its young protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov, Dostoyevsky's
novel provides a harrowing portrait of human error and misfortune. Dostoyevsky had originally intended to
write an account of murder from the perspective of the murderer himself. As he worked on the project in
November 1865, however, he concluded that such a perspective might be too limited, so he chose an
omniscient, third-person narrative mode instead. Yet traces of the original design remain: much of the novel
offers direct insight into Raskolnikov's impressions and experiences. One of the ways in which Dostoyevsky
allows the reader intimate access into his protagonist's mind is by describing Raskolnikov's dreams. Early in
the novel, for example, Raskolnikov has a vivid dream in which he sees himself as a young boy
accompanying his father on a visit to the grave of a younger brother who died in infancy. On the way to the
grave, Raskolnikov and his father witness an enraged peasant beating an old, overburdened mare. The young
boy is horrified to see how the peasant whips the horse across the eyes. Finally, the peasant kills the horse
with an iron crowbar, and the shocked child runs over to kiss the horse's bloody muzzle. It is after he awakens
from this dream that Raskolnikov utters aloud for the first time his plan to take an axe and smash open the old
pawnbroker's skull. Clearly, Raskolnikov's vivid dream has brought to the surface his unexpressed, murderous
Dostoyevsky's treatment of this dream has additional significance, however. Some dream analysts might argue
that every character in one's dream represents some aspect of the dreamer's personality or impulses. Therefore,
not only does the figure of the murderous peasant evoke Raskolnikov's own murderous urges, but also, the
figure of the murdered horse might represent some part of the dreamer. Indeed, Raskolnikov's crime not only
has the effect of killing the pawnbroker and Lizaveta in a physical sense, it also has the effect of killing
Raskolnikov himself in a spiritual sense. Long after the murder he would tell Sonya: "I killed myself, not that
old creature!" Having "died" at the moment when he killed the pawnbroker and Lizaveta, Raskolnikov is
faced with the challenge of being restored to "life," and much of the novel records his struggle with this
Raskolnikov's interactions with Sonya play a significant role in this process. During the meeting in which he
confesses his crime to her, Raskolnikov's conduct and words have the effect of creating a kind of
psychological or emotional reen-actment of the original murder. Just as Raskolnikov feels that he killed
himself when he murdered the pawnbroker, so too must he now have a second victim: the innocent Sonya
takes the symbolic place of the innocent Lizaveta. The unconscious aim of Raskolnikov's behavior during this
scene is to see how Sonya handles the dreadful experience. Will she be devastated by her recognition of
Raskolnikov's crime, or, on the contrary, will she find a way to go on living and thus serve as a model for
Raskolnikov himself? Her religious faith and her love for Raskolnikov serve as a potent force for the
criminal's regeneration.
Dostoyevsky's treatment of the theme of death and regeneration makes distinctive use of religious imagery,
from the Gospel account of the raising of Lazarus (first mentioned to Raskolnikov by Porfiry Petrovich and
Crime and Punishment: Essays and Criticism 17
then read aloud by Sonya to Raskolnikov) to the final scene of the novel, which takes place soon after the
Christian holiday of Easter. During that final scene, Raskolnikov feels a surge of overwhelming love for
Sonya, as if his soul has undergone a sudden cleansing or purification. Dostoyevsky's description of this
moment emphasizes its religious dimensions. He writes that Raskolnikov and Sonya experience "a perfect
resurrection into a new life" and that "Love had raised them from the dead."
In addition to its religious imagery, Crime and Punishment also incorporates other symbolic systems.
Landscapes and physical settings often suggest a character's emotional or psychological conditions.
Raskolnikov lives in a tiny, cramped room, an evocative emblem of how constricted his lifestyle and thinking
have become. He buries the items stolen from the pawnbroker under a huge rock. This rock serves as a
reminder of the crushing burden of guilt that Raskolnikov carries with him. Recognizing the cramped nature
of Raskolnikov's lifestyle and thinking, Porfiry Petrovich tells him that he needs "air" and that he should learn
to be a "sun." The only time that Raskolnikov feels some sense of ease is when he leaves the stifling city
streets behind and walks out into the countryside. His spiritual conversion at the end of the novel takes place
on the bank of a river with a wide, pastoral scene displayed in front of him.
Yet it is not only the physical landscape that amplifies and reflects Raskolnikov's inner condition.
Dostoyevsky's handling of other characters also plays a key role in the development and exposition of the
central figure. As Raskolnikov moves through the city, he seems to move through a charged atmosphere in
which every encounter triggers a resonant response in his soul. Thus, his chance meeting with Marmeladov
introduces the concepts of suffering and self-sacrifice, concepts that will become so important to Raskolnikov
later in the novel. More importantly, the characters who surround Raskolnikov often seem to serve as potential
doubles or alter egos. That is, the traits that these characters embody represent potential directions for
Raskolnikov himself. On one side stands the humble Sonya. She is willing to sacrifice herself for her family,
and she puts the ideals of love and service to one's fellow humans above any notion of self-glorification. On
the other side stands the corrupt Svidrigailov. He indulges in extreme forms of debauchery simply to relieve
his boredom. Svidngailov tells Raskolnikov that he considers the young man to be something of a kindred
spirit. Although Raskolnikov does not wish to admit it, he senses that there may be some validity to
Svidrigailov's assertions. When Svidrigailov informs Sonya that Raskolnikov only has two paths to choose
from, either "a bullet in the brain" or "Siberia," he has effectively identified the choices that lie in front of the
wretched young man. Only Sonya's appearance outside the police station at the end of the main section of the
novel prevents Raskolnikov from emulating Svidrigailov's example and committing suicide. Instead, he
follows her advice, confesses his crime, and with her love and support he ultimately finds redemption in
In addition to the main characters who reflect and amplify Raskolnikov's conflicting impulses, several
secondary characters appear in the novel to convey Dostoyevsky's scorn for certain ideological trends in
contemporary Russian society. The pompous Luzhin, for example, has come to St. Petersburg to curry favor
with the new "progressive" elements among the intelligentsia. Dostoyevsky uses Luzhin's simplistic praise for
scientific thought and the virtues of self-interest to mock the popular ideas of the progressive writer N. G.
Chernyshevsky. Even more satirical in this regard is the character of Lebezyatnikov, who has been so
impressed with scenes from Chernyshevsky's novel, What Is to Be Done, that he tries to outdo the behavior of
characters from that novel. He tells Luzhin that if he had a wife, he would encourage her to take a lover
simply so he could show his magnanimity and understanding in refusing to condemn her.
Dostoyevsky's disdain for the radical movement was perhaps fueled by his own early exposure to progressive
social movements. As a young man in the 1840s he had belonged to a small circle devoted to the discussion
and dissemination of Utopian socialist thought. His participation in this group had led to his arrest and
imprisonment in 1849. He was subsequently sentenced to prison camp and exile in Siberia, and a decade
would pass before he could return to St. Petersburg. Through his portrait of the young Raskolnikov,
Dostoyevsky wished to show the dangers of errant thought in contemporary Russia. Those who believed that
Humanity in Crime and Punishment 18
society's ills could be cured through rationalistic schemes, without regard for the inner spiritual and emotional
complexity of the human subject, were not only doomed to fail, but from Dostoyevsky's perspective, they
represented a serious threat to society itself. Raskolnikov's crime, then, serves to illustrate the pernicious
nature of the radicals' self-centered and self-elevating intellectual schemes. Yet Dostoyevsky's novel offers
much more than a partisan ideological tract. His haunting description of Raskolnikov's desperate struggles and
aspirations has resulted in one of the most memorable and thought-provoking works in all of world literature.
Source: Julian Connolly, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1998.
Connolly is a professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia.
The Principles of Uncertainty in Crime and Punishment
As the novel [Crime and Punishment] grew under Dostoevski's pen, his notebooks and drafts show that he
went from uncertainty to uncertainty in depicting Raskolnikov and his crime, even jotting down reminders to
himself to elucidate the murderer's motives more clearly. It would be easy enough to conclude from this that
Dostoevsky ... had simply not suspected the full richness and potential of his character and his theme, but this
would be too simple a conclusion. Uncertainty is an important artistic principle in much of Dostoevsky's
work, and it is at the very heart of Crime and Punishment....
In Crime and Punishment Dostoevsky sacrifices to the principle of uncertainty many of the conventional
prerogatives of the novelist: his most far-reaching sacrifice was that of omniscience .... In Crime and
Punishment the narrator enjoys no consistent perceptual advantage over the participants: he sees the world
through the same haze of subjective uncertainty as Raskolnikov does. It is this above all else that gives the
novel its permanently nightmarish quality.
The most obvious manifestation of this kind of uncertainty is in the presentation of motive. Raskolnikov
becomes a "criminal in search of his own motive"; he does not in the end know why he committed his crime,
and neither does the reader. The narrator offers us no definite explanation, only a share in Raskolnikov's
confusion.... Dostoevsky originally conceived Raskolnikov's crime as a means of exposing the absurdity of
the moral utilitarianism characteristic of many leading intellectuals in the 1860s....
The utilitarian principle undoubtedly remains a major aspect of Raskolnikov's crime in the finished novel.
Indeed, he does not finally renounce it until his conversion in the Epilogue. In a conversation with Dunya late
in the novel he vigorously defends the morality of his crime in utilitarian terms: " 'Crime? What crime!' he
cried in a sort of sudden frenzy. 'That I killed a vile, harmful louse, an old hag of a moneylender of no use to
anybody, for whose murder one should be forgiven forty sins, and who bled poor people dry. Can that be
called a crime? I don't think about it, and I have no desire to wipe it out.'" But the utilitarian ethic alone can
satisfy the demands of neither the reader nor Raskolnikov himself for a comprehensive explanation of his act.
In a sense, this affirms Dostoevsky's point that the complex and often contradictory impulses behind human
action cannot in the end be reduced to simple causal chains or primary motives. But Raskolnikov, as a "man
of the sixties," cannot countenance the possibility that he has committed an irrational or irreducible act. He
craves a comprehensive motive to restore his belief in the lucidity of human values and behavior. Yet rational
utilitarianism is not adequate to the task, and he loses himself in the maze of his own personality. He embarks
upon his crime ostensibly with the aim of robbery to further the fortunes of himself and other socially worthy
people at the expense of a worthless parasite—a simple and logical adjustment of society's faulty arithmetic.
Yet he fails to ascertain in advance the extent and whereabouts of his victim's wealth; he leaves with only a
few cheap trinkets which he soon abandons under a stone and never reclaims. At no stage does he consider the
possibility of appropriating the old woman's wealth without resorting to murder. It quickly becomes obvious
that Raskolnikov has not murdered in order to steal; he has fabricated a shabby robbery in order to murder. He
The Principles of Uncertainty in Crime and Punishment 19
has only murder on his mind, not the appropriation and redistribution of wealth.
After the murder the utilitarian motive slips farther and farther into the background as Raskolnikov's probing
intellect discerns the shapes of other and more disturbing implications of his act. It is worth remembering that
he is rarely troubled by the murder of Lizaveta, the innocent victim of an unanticipated turn of events. This
second killing does not engage his concern, for it was an unpremeditated, simple, even "innocent" slaying
with a clear motive: Raskolnikov killed Lizaveta in order to escape. It is the "rationally justified" murder of
the old hag that gnaws at his soul and that in the end he cannot account for.
Porfiry Petrovich, the examining magistrate, is the first to associate the murder with the ideas expounded in an
article of Raskolnikov's on crime, and thus to open the way to an explanation of the crime, not in terms of
Raskolnikov's professed utilitarian altruism, but in the light of his insane pride, egoism, and craving for
power. Raskolnikov's article, published without his knowledge, is a product of the narrow, cloistered
intellectualism which characterizes the young ex-student and makes it so difficult for him to enter the
mainstream of life. It is composed of the cramped and arid thoughts engendered by the coffinlike room in
which he leads only the ghost of a life. The article divides humanity into two distinct categories: the
Supermen, such as Newton and Napoleon, who by virtue of their originality, strength of will, or daring, write
their names boldly in the history of human achievement; and the Lice, the ordinary men and women who are
the bricks and not the architects of history and who contribute nothing new. The former, according to
Raskolnikov, have an inherent right to moral and intellectual freedom; they create their own laws and may
overstep the bounds of conventional law and morality. The latter are condemned by their ordinariness to a life
of submission to common law and common morality; their sole function is to breed in the hope of one day
giving birth to a Superman.
Clearly belief in any such division of humanity must tempt the man of pride into a harrowing dilemma of
self-definition; and Raskolnikov is a man of immense pride. Does he therefore murder in the conviction that,
as a superior man, he has the right to brush aside conventional morality in order to expedite the contribution
he must make to history? This is unlikely, for, although Raskolnikov is seduced by his pride into longing for
the status of Superman, his persistent doubts as he plans and rehearses the murder reveal all too clearly his
uncertainty and fear of the Superman's freedom. Is the crime therefore conceived as a grotesque act of
self-definition, whereby by assessing his reaction to moral transgression Raskolnikov seeks to choose his true
self from the differing options offered by his pride and his uncertainty? This affords a tantalizingly plausible
explanation of the murder; after all, we would expect the abstract Raskolnikov to respond most readily to
abstract motives. Somehow it is impossible to imagine this unphysical intellectual murdering in response to
such physical needs as hunger or want; but we can imagine him chasing the specter of self-knowledge.
Moreover, Raskolnikov's need of self-definition is acute; in the novel's early chapters he oscillates wildly
between satanic pride and abject humility, between unbounded admiration for the strong and limitless pity for
the weak....
But the crime could be an authentic attempt at the resolution of this duality only if Raskolnikov were
genuinely uncertain to which category of humanity he belonged, and this is not the case. In his pride he might
long to be a Napoleon, but he knows that he is a louse, knows it even before he commits the crime, as he later
acknowledges: "and the reason why I am finally a louse is because I am perhaps even nastier and viler than
the louse I killed, and I felt beforehand that I would say that to myself after I had killed her." The implications
of this admission are startling: Raskolnikov embarked upon the murder of the old woman knowing in advance
that he had no right to kill and no clear motive, and, moreover, clearly anticipating the destructive effect such
an act would have upon the rest of his life. Perhaps it is this he has in mind when he later asserts: "Did I really
kill the old hag? I killed myself, not the old hag! At that moment in one blow I did away with myself for
good!" This feature of Raskolnikov's behavior illustrates the incompatibility of knowledge and pride.
Raskolnikov's knowledge that he is ordinary and has no special right to overstep conventional moral limits
cannot contain his proud and essentially irrational need to assert himself. In the end his crime is an act of
The Principles of Uncertainty in Crime and Punishment 20
terrifying inconsequence: a proud, petulant, and meaningless protest against the certain knowledge that he is
not superior; a moment when the demands of frustrated pride are so insistent that he is prepared to sacrifice
the whole of his future to them. "I simply killed; I killed for myself, for myself alone, and at that moment it
was all the same to me whether I became some sort of benefactor of humanity or spent the rest of my life
catching people in my web and sucking the life forces out of them like a spider."
In Crime and Punishment the principle of uncertainty encompasses more than the question of motivation.
Even the spatial and temporal coordinates of the novel are blurred and at times distorted by a narrator whose
precise nature and point of view are neither clearly defined nor absolutely fixed. The notebooks reveal that the
adoption of a narrative point of view presented Dostoevsky with his greatest difficulty in writing the novel. He
onginally planned to use the first-person confession form, which would have allowed direct and easy access to
the thought processes of the hero, but which would have created real difficulties when it came to filling in the
objective details of the world in which the murderer moves. Dostoevsky wrestled with this form until the third
and final draft, when a new approach occurred to him: "Narration from point of view of author, a sort of
invisible but omniscient being who doesn't leave his hero for a moment." The third-person narrator anticipated
in this comment is retained for the novel itself, but his omniscience is open to doubt. Complete omniscience
would have robbed the novel of its haunting uncertainty and provided the reader too clear an insight into
Raskolnikov's behavior and motivation. The first chapter illustrates this particularly well, as the alleys of St.
Petersburg, with their stifling heat, dust, stuffiness, and smells, are conveyed to the reader in terms of the
impression they make upon Raskolnikov. These details of the physical world, in passing through Raskolnikov'
s awareness, lose their tactile and sensual authenticity and are transformed into psychological stimuli....
In much the same way our sense of real space is distorted by this subjective third-person narrative. Many
years after the appearance of Crime and Punishment Einstein argued that we cannot experience space in the
abstract, independent of the matter that fills it; and it is Raskolnikov's consciousness that fills this novel. Like
a gravitational field, it warps the space around it. For example, the description of Raskolnikov's room as seen
through Raskolnikov's eyes at the start of the novel is uncomfortably inconsistent with objectively narrated
events which occur in this same room later. The room appears to shift its size with the narrative point of view.
The early description is clearly conditioned by Raskolnikov's own sensations of claustrophobia; he is
oppressed and haunted by ideas, theories, pride, poverty, and illness, and the room he describes with hatred
upon waking from a restless sleep resembles a tomb. A mere six feet long, not high enough for a man to stand,
littered with dusty books, its yellow wallpaper peeling from the walls, it is dominated by a huge, clumsy sofa.
The description accords so perfectly with what we know of Raskolnikov's state of mind that we hardly
distinguish where his consciousness ends and the outside world begins. Yet a few chapters later, as
Raskolnikov lies in bed semidelirious after the crime and the narrative adopts a more objective course in order
to permit the introduction of several new characters, our sense of the room's size is quite different. As the sick
Raskolnikov is visited by his maid Nastasya, his friend Razumikhin, the doctor Zosimov, and his sister's suitor
Luzhin, the "tomb" seems to open out in order to accommodate each new arrival.
Distance is equally intangible. When, in Chapter 1, Raskolnikov visits his victim's flat, we have no real
sensation of his physically moving from one environment to another. Dostoevsky tells us that "exactly seven
hundred and thirty" paces separate the pawnbroker's flat from Raskolnikov's hovel, but the precision of this
figure is entirely numerical. Locked inside Raskolnikov's consciousness as he rehearses a multitude of doubts
and hesitations, we measure the physical distance only in terms of the number of thoughts which flash through
his mind.
But the most uncertain quantity of all is time. Nearly all readers of Crime and Punishment experience the loss
of a sense of duration in the course of the novel. It seems hardly possible, but the entire action requires only
two weeks, and Part I a mere three days. Directed by the narrative mode into the inner world of Raskolnikov's
turbulent imagination, we lose our temporal reference points.
The Principles of Uncertainty in Crime and Punishment 21
Absolute time ceases to be; we know time only as Raskolnikov experiences it. At moments it is severely
retarded—indeed, in Part I, as Raskolnikov prepares for the kill, its flow is all but arrested; later the sense of
time is violently accelerated as Raskolnikov undergoes the vertiginous fall from his crime to his confession. In
this way time becomes a function of consciousness. We might go further and suggest an analogy with
Einsteinian time, which, like Dostoevsky's, depends fundamentally upon point of view. For Einstein there
could be no absolute time, the time experienced by separate observers differed according to their relative
motion. Dostoevsky seems to be suggesting something very similar in a cryptic remark in the drafts for Crime
and Punishment: "What is time? Time does not exist; time is only numbers. Time is the relation of what exists
to what does not exist." This remark might perhaps be interpreted as meaning that there is no abstract,
absolute time. Time exists only when actualized in an event or series of events. The importance of this for
Crime and Punishment is that events and their duration are experienced differently by different observers.
Through Raskolnikov's consciousness the reader of the novel observes only the hero's experiences of intervals
between events. There are no events narrated with consistent objectivity which form reference points against
which to judge Raskolnikov's sense of time....
Despite all the uncertainties upon which Crime and Punishment rests, one overriding certainty is sustained
throughout the novel: the conviction, shared by author, reader, and hero, that the crime is in the final analysis
Source: William J. Leatherbairow, "The Principles of Uncertainty: Crime and Punishment," in his Fedor
Dostoevsky, Twayne, 1981, pp. 69-95.
Traditional Symbolism in Crime and Punishment
It may seem paradoxical to claim that critics have not sufficiently concerned themselves with Dostoevsky's
attack against rationalism in Crime and Punishment; yet this aspect of the novel has frequently failed to
receive adequate attention, not because it has been overlooked, but because often it has been immediately
noticed, perfunctorily mentioned, and then put out of mind as something obvious. Few writers have examined
the consequence of the anti-rationalistic tenor of the novel: the extent to which it is paralleled by the structural
devices incorporated in the work.
Dostoevsky held that dialectics, self-seeking, and exclusive reliance on reason ("reason and will" in
Raskolnikov's theories and again in his dream of the plague) lead to death-in-life. In Crime and Punishment
he set himself the task of exposing the evils of rationalism by presenting a laboratory case of an individual
who followed its precepts and pushed them to their logical conclusion. By working out what would happen to
that man, Dostoevsky intended to show how destructive the idea was for individuals, nations, and mankind;
for to him the fates of the individual and the nation were inseparably interlocked....
The underlying antithesis of Crime and Punishment, the conflict between the side of reason, selfishness, and
pride, and that of acceptance of suffering, closeness to life-sustaining Earth, and love, sounds insipid and
platitudinous when stated in such general fashion as we have done here. Dostoevsky, however, does not
present it in the form of abstract statement alone. He conveys it with superb dialectical skill, and when we do
find direct statements in the novel, they are intentionally made so inadequate as to make us realize all the
more clearly their disappointing irrelevancy and to lead us to seek a richer representation in other modes of
Symbolism is the method of expression with which we are primarily concerned here, but it is far from being
the only indirect, non-intellectual manner of expression on which Dostoevsky depends. Oblique presentation
is another means which he uses; one example is the introduction of the subject of need for suffering. The idea
is first presented in a debased and grotesque form by Marmeladov. His confession of how he had mistreated
Traditional Symbolism in Crime and Punishment 22
his family, of his drinking, and of the theft of money—to Raskolnikov, a stranger whom he has met in the
tavern—is almost a burlesque foreshadowing of Raskolnikov's later penance, the kissing of the earth and his
confession at the police station. Marmeladov is drunk, irresponsible, and still submerged in his selfish course
of action; he welcomes suffering but continues to spurn his responsibilities; he is making a fool of himself in
the tavern. His discourse throughout calls for an ambiguous response. Raskolnikov's reaction may be pity,
agreement, laughter, or disgust; the reader's is a mixture and succession of all those emotions.
Thus the important ideas summed up in Marmeladov's "it's not joy I thirst for, but sorrow and tears" are
introduced in a derogatory context and in an ambivalent manner, on the lowest, least impressive level. Yet the
concept is now present with us, the readers, as it is with Raskolnikov—even though it first appears in the guise
of something questionable, disreputable, and laughable—and we are forced to ponder it and to measure against
it Sonya's, Raskolnikov's, Porfiry's and others' approaches to the same subject of "taking one's suffering."
A simple, unequivocal statement, a respectable entrance of the theme on the stage of the book, would amount
to a reduction of life to "a matter of arithmetic" and would release the reader from the salutary, in fact
indispensable task of smelting down the ore for himself....
In Crime and Punishment the reader, as well as Raskolnikov, must struggle to draw his own conclusions from
a work which mirrors the refractory and contradictory materials of life itself, with their admixture of the
absurd, repulsive, and grotesque....
Traditional symbolism, that is, symbolism which draws on images established by the Christian tradition and
on those common in Russian non-Christian, possibly pre-Christian and pagan, folk thought and expression, is
an important element in the structure of Crime and Punishment. The outstanding strands of symbolic imagery
in the novel are those of water, vegetation, sun and air, the resurrection of Lazarus and Christ, and the earth.
Water is to Dostoevsky a symbol of rebirth and regeneration. It is regarded as such by the positive characters,
for whom it is an accompaniment and an indication of the life-giving forces in the world. By the same token,
the significance of water may be the opposite to negative characters. Water holds the terror of death for the
corrupt Svidrigaylov, who confirms his depravity by thinking: "Never in my life could I stand water, not even
on a landscape painting." Water, instead of being an instrument of life, becomes for him a hateful, avenging
menace during the last hours of his life....
Indeed it will be in the cold and in the rain that he will put a bullet in his head. Instead of being a positive
force, water is for him the appropriate setting for the taking of his own life.
When Raskolnikov is under the sway of rationalism and corrupting ways of thinking, this also is indicated by
Dostoevsky by attributing to him negative reactions to water similar to those of Svidrigaylov. In Raskolnikov,
however, the battle is not definitely lost. A conflict still rages between his former self—which did have contact
with other people and understood the beauty of the river, the cathedral (representing the traditional, religious,
and emotional forces), and water—and the new, rationalistic self, which is responsible for the murder and for
his inner desiccation.... There is still left in Raskolnikov an instinctive reaction to water (and to beauty) as an
instrument of life, although this receptivity, which had been full-blown and characteristic of him in his
childhood, is now in his student days overlaid by the utilitarian and rationalistic theories....
But Raskolnikov also realizes that his trends of thought have banished him, like Cain, from the brotherhood of
men and clouded his right and ability to enjoy beauty and the beneficent influences of life symbolized by
water; hence his perplexity and conflict....
Related to the many references to the river and rain, and often closely associated with them, are two other
groups of symbolic imagery: that of vegetation (shrubbery, leaves, bushes, flowers, and greenness in general)
Traditional Symbolism in Crime and Punishment 23
and that of the sun (and the related images of light and air).
In contrast to the dusty, hot, stifling, and crowded city, a fitting setting for Raskolnikov's oppressive and
murderous thoughts, we find, for example, "the greenness and the freshness" of the Petersburg islands.... The
natural surroundings reawakened in him the feelings of his youth, through which he came close to avoiding
his crime and to finding regeneration without having to pass through the cycle of Crime and Punishment.....
By the same token, vegetation exercised the opposite effect on Svidrigaylov: it repelled him. In the inn on the
night of his suicide, when he heard the leaves in the garden under his window, he thought, "How I hate the
noise of trees at night in a storm and in darkness." Whereas Raskolnikov received a healthy warning during
his short sleep "under a bush," Svidrigaylov uses the sordid setting of an amusement park which "had one
spindly three-year-old Christmas tree and three small bushes" merely for vain distraction on the eve of his
suicide, and contemplates killing himself under "a large bush drenched with rain." In him all positive elements
had been rubbed out or transformed into evil.
Similar to water and vegetation, sunshine, light in general, and air are positive values, whereas darkness and
lack of air are dangerous and deadening. The beauty of the cathedral flooded by sunlight ought to be felt and
admired.... Before the murder, he looks up from the bridge at the "bright, red sunset" and is able to face the
sun as well as the river with calm, but after the murder, "in the street it was again unbearably hot—not a drop
of rain all during those days .... The sun flashed brightly in his eyes, so that it hurt him to look and his head
was spinning round in good earnest—the usual sensation of a man in a fever who comes out into the street on a
bright, sunny day." The sun is pleasant for a man in good spiritual health, but unbearable for a feverish
creature of the dark, such as Raskolnikov had become....
Absence of air reinforces the lack of light suggestive of inner heaviness. Raskolnikov, whom Svidrigaylov
tells that people need air, feels physically and mentally suffocated when he is summoned to the police-station:
"There's so little fresh air here. Stifling. Makes my head reel more and more every minute, and my brain too."
Later he tells his friend Razumikhin: "Things have become too airless, too stifling." Airiness, on the contrary,
is an indication of an advantageous relation between outward circumstances and Raskolnikov's inner state.
The warning dream of the mare comes to Raskolnikov in a setting not only of greenness but also of abundance
of fresh air: "The green vegetation and the fresh air at first pleased his tired eyes, used to the dust of the city,
to the lime and mortar and the huge houses that enclosed and confined him on all sides. The air was fresh and
sweet here: no evil smells."
When we turn to specifically Christian symbolism in Crime and Punishment, we find the outstanding images
to be those of New Jerusalem, Christ's passion, and Lazarus. New Jerusalem is an important concept
throughout Dostoevsky's work.... Porfiry asks Raskolmkov, "Do you believe in New Jerusalem?" The
significance of Raskolnikov' s positive answer lies in the fact that the New Jerusalem which he means is the
Utopian perversion of it, to be built upon foundations of crime and individual self-assertion and transgression
(prestuplenie). It is the "Golden Age," as Raskolnikov called it in the draft version in Dostoevsky's notebook:
"Oh why are not all people happy? The picture of the Age of Gold—it is already present in minds and hearts.
Why should it not come about? ... But what right have I, a mean murderer, to wish happiness to people and to
dream of the Age of Gold?"
The confession of Raskolnikov is described in terms reminiscent of Christ's passion on the road to Golgotha:
he goes on "his sorrowful way." When Raskolnikov reads in his mother's letter of Dunya' s having walked up
and down in her room and prayed before the Kazan Virgin, he associates her planned self-sacrifice in
marrying Luzhin with the biblical prototype of self-assumed suffering for the sake of others: "Ascent to
Golgotha is certainly pretty difficult," he says to himself. When Raskolnikov accepts Lizaveta's cypress cross
from Sonya, he shows his recognition of the significance of his taking it—the implied resolve to seek a new
life though accepting suffering and punishment—by saying to Sonya, "This is the symbol of my taking up the
Traditional Symbolism in Crime and Punishment 24
One of the central Christian myths alluded to in the novel is the story of Lazarus. It is the biblical passage
dealing with Lazarus that Raskolnikov asks Sonya to read to him. The raising of Lazarus from the dead is to
Dostoevsky the best exemplum of a human being resurrected to a new life, the road to Golgotha the best
expression of the dark road of sorrow, and Christ himself the grand type of voluntary suffering....
The traditional emphasis of the Eastern Church is on Resurrection—of the Western, on the Passion. In Crime
and Punishment both sides are represented: the Eastern in its promise of Raskolnikov's rebirth, the Western in
the stress on his suffering. Perhaps at least part of the universality of the appeal of the novel and of its success
in the West may be due to the fact that it combines the two religious tendencies....
The Christian symbolism is underlined by the pagan and universal symbolism of the earth. Sonya persuades
Raskolnikov not only to confess and wear the cross, but also to kiss the earth at the crossroads—a distinctly
Russian and pre-Christian acknowledgment of the earth as the common mother of all men.... In bowing to the
earth and kissing it, Raskolnikov is performing a symbolic and non-rational act; the rationalist is marking the
beginning of his change into a complete, organic, living human being, rejoining all other men in the
community. By his crime and ideas, he had separated himself from his friends, family, and nation; in one
word, he had cut himself off from Mother Earth. By the gesture of kissing the earth, he is reestablishing all his
Now that we have examined selected examples of symbolism in the novel, let us take a look at the epilogue as
a test of insights we may have gained into the structure and unity of the novel, for the epilogue is the
culmination and juncture of the various strands of images which we have encountered earlier....
If we approach the epilogue with the various preparatory strands of images clearly in our minds, what do we
find?... [We] see the state of the soul of the unregenerate Raskolnikov, the Lazarus before the rebirth,
expressed by Dostoevsky through the symbolic imagery to which the novel has made us accustomed—water
and vegetation. The love for life (which Raskolnikov does not yet comprehend) is represented by a spring
with green grass and bushes around it.
When the regeneration of Raskolnikov begins, it is expressed in a manner still more closely linked to
previously introduced imagery. His dream of the plague condemns Raskolnikov's own rationalism. It shows
people obsessed by reason and will losing contact with the soil.... This dream of the plague, coming
immediately before the start of the hero's regeneration, may also be another reminiscence of the Book of
Revelation with its last seven plagues coming just before the millennium and the establishment of the New
The epilogue then goes on to emphasize that it is the second week after Easter—the feast of Christ's passion,
death, and resurrection; and that it is warm, bright spring—the season of the revival of dead nature, again a
coupling of Christian and non-Christian symbolism of rebirth such as we have encountered earlier in the
The crucial final scene which follows takes place on "a bright and warm day," and "on the bank of the river."
The river which Raskolnikov sees now is no longer a possible means for committing suicide nor a sight
inducing melancholy; it is the river of life.
Then appears Sonya, and with her arrival comes the moment when Raskolnikov is suffused with love for his
guide and savior.... Vivid response to all that lives is a joining with the creator in creating and preserving the
world; Sophia is a blissful meeting of god and nature, the creator and creature. In Orthodox thought Sophia
has come close to being regarded as something similar to the fourth divine person. Love for Sophia is a
Traditional Symbolism in Crime and Punishment 25
generalized ecstatic love for all creation, so that the images of flowers, greenness, landscape, the river, air, the
sun, and water throughout Crime and Punishment can be regarded as being subsumed in the concept of Sophia
and figuratively in the person of Sonya, the embodiment of the concept. Sonya sees that all exists in God; she
knows, and helps Raskolnikov to recognize, what it means to anticipate the millennium by living in rapt love
for all creation here, in this world.
It was Sonya who had brought Raskolnikov the message of Lazarus and his resurrection; she had given him
the cypress cross and urged him to kiss the earth at the crossroads. On the evening of the day when, by the
bank of the river and in the presence of Sonya, Raskolnikov's regeneration had begun, the New Testament lies
under his pillow as a reminder of the Christian prototype of resurrection which had been stressed earlier in the
novel. Against the background of all the important symbols of the book, Easter, spring, Abraham's flocks, the
earth of Siberia, the river, the dream, and Sonya, the drama within Raskolnikov's mind assumes its expressive
outward form.
There follow several explicit statements of what happened. We read that "the dawn of a full resurrection to a
new life" was already shining "in their faces, that love brought them back to life, that the heart of one held
inexhaustible sources of life for the heart of the other," and that "the gradual rebirth" of Raskolnikov would
follow. But the power of the general, overt statements depends on the indirect, oblique, dramatic, and
symbolic statements which preceded them and prepared the ground for our acceptance of them. If we sense
the full significance of the statement that now "Raskolnikov could solve nothing consciously. He only felt.
Life had taken the place of dialectics," for example, it is because we have seen dialectics and apathy
dramatized in Luzhin, Lebezyatnikov, Raskolnikov, and Svidrigaylov, and resurrection in Sonya and various
symbols throughout the novel of which the epilogue is a climax and a recapitulation.
Source: George Gibian, "Traditional Symbolism in Crime and Punishment," in PMLA, Vol. LXX, No. 5,
December, 1955, pp. 970-96.

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