Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment (1866) is a novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It is the story of Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov, a student in Petersburg, who is deeply in debt. Raskolnikov owes rent to his landlady. He has had to drop his studies at the university due to lack of money. He lives in poverty, and his clothes are in rags. He goes to an elderly woman pawnbroker to pawn his watch.

Raskolnikov goes to a pub, where he meets Marmeladov, an unemployed civil servant, who is a drunkard. Marmeladov tells him the story of his misfortunes. Marmeladovís daughter, Sonia, has become a prostitute, so that she can help to support their impoverished family (Marmeladov had married a widow with three children).

Raskolnikov receives a letter from his mother, telling him that his sister Dunya, who has been a governess in the home of the Svidrigaylov family, has had to endure mistreatment from Mr. Svidrigaylov. The letter informs him that Dunya has decided to accept a marriage proposal from a lawyer named Luzhin. Dunya has apparently decided to sacrifice her own happiness by marrying Luzhin for his money, so that her brother can continue his university studies. Luzhin has offered to marry her, because Luzhin wants a wife who has suffered poverty, and who has no dowry, so that he will not be under any obligation to her.

Raskolnikov is upset by his motherís letter, and wants to put a stop to the marriage. He decides to visit his friend Razumikhin, but along the way he gets tired, and has to sleep. He decides to return home, and walks through the Hay Market, where he overhears a couple of street traders talking to Lisaveta Ivanovna, the sister of the elderly woman pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna. The street traders tell Lisaveta to return the following day at seven oíclock. Thus, Raskolnikov discovers that Alyona Ivanovna will be at home alone the following evening, and Raskolnikov decides upon a plan to murder her for her money.

Raskolnikov goes to the home of the elderly woman the following evening, and when her back is turned, he attacks her, striking her on the head with a hatchet. He takes her purse and keys, but when he is looking into her trunk in the bedroom, her sister Lisaveta returns to the apartment. Raskolnikov also murders Lisaveta by striking her on the head with the hatchet. He escapes from the building, and returns to his room (end of Part I).

Raskolnikov develops a nervous delirium that makes him ill. He is summoned to the police station to sign a promissory note to pay the rent to his landlady. He returns to his room, takes the purse and earrings he has stolen from the woman he has murdered, and walks through the city. He buries the purse and stolen articles under a stone in a courtyard.

He receives thirty-five roubles that his mother has sent him, and his friend Razumikhin uses some of the the money to buy him new clothes. Luzhin visits him, and Razkolnikov insults the lawyer. Raskolnokov resents Luzhinís condescending attitude toward Dunya.

Razkolnikov revisits the scene of the murder. The drunken Marmeladov is accidently run over by a horse-drawn carriage (end of Part II). Raskolnikov is nearby, and brings him home, where Marmeladov dies in the arms of his daughter, Sonia. Raskolnikov takes the money which his mother has sent him, and gives it to Mrs. Marmeladov for the funeral.

Razkolnikov meets Razumikhin's friend, Porfiry Petrovitch, a police examining magistrate. Razkolnikov argues to Petrovitch that some men have the right to be criminals, and that the end justifies the means (Part III).

Luzhin meets Dunya, Raskonikov, and Mrs. Raskolnikov. Luzhin shows his arrogance, and Dunya rejects him as her fiancé (Part IV).

Meanwhile, Razumikhin is attracted to Dunya, and Raskolnikov feels sympathy toward Sonia.

A workman named Nikolay confesses to the murder of the elderly woman pawnbroker. Raskolnikov confesses to Sonia that he is actually the murderer, and tries to justify his crime by saying that men who dare to do anything, and who dismiss with contempt what other men regard as sacred, have the right to make their own laws. Sonia tells him to confess to the world, and says that he must learn to accept suffering, and be redeemed by it (Part V).

Svidrigaylov is listening through the door, and hears Razkolnikovís confession. Svidrigaylov then uses the information to try to force Dunya to sleep with him. Dunya refuses, and Svidrigaylov later takes a revolver and shoots himself in the head (Part VI)

Raskolnikov admits to Dunya that he has committed a murder, and yet he does not see it as a crime (Part VI, chapter 7). Raskolnikov goes to the police station, and confesses to the murder. He is sentenced to prison in Siberia (Epilogue), for a term of only eight years, due to his temporary insanity at the time of the murder. Sonia follows him to Siberia. Dunya and Razumikhin get married. Razkonikovís mother becomes mentally unbalanced, and dies. Razkolnikov still feels that his only wrong was not having committed his crime successfully, but with Soniaís help, he begins his rehabilitation.

One of the themes of Crime and Punishment is that no one can set themselves apart from the rest of humanity. Crime is inevitably followed by punishment. No one can commit crime with impunity. The criminal is eventually overwhelmed by a feeling of separation and alienation which he cannot tolerate, and which forces him to try to reestablish his link to humanity.

Raskolnikov initially believes that he has the right to commit any act to achieve his ends. He murders two women, but after the crime, he falls into a delirium for several days. He suffers a madness of doubts and fears. He realizes that he is not someone who can live outside of accepted morality, and he feels the need to confess.

Raskolnikov thinks of Napoleon as an example of the man who is beyond moral laws. Raskolnikov believes that Napoleon was beyond any moral laws, because he would not let anything stop him from reaching his goal. When Raskolnikov confesses to Sonia, he says that he has realized that he is not like Napoleon.

Crime and Punishment also portrays the dilemma of the Russian intellectual in the nineteenth-century. Dostoyevsky shows how Raskolnikov is corrupted by moral scepticism. The novel exposes the bankruptcy of intellectual or ideological arguments which lack moral concern or compassion.

Another theme of Crime and Punishment is that suffering can be a means to achieve moral redemption. Raskolnikov feels that suffering can be a means of atonement, a way to be forgiven of sin.

Raskolnikov sees Sonia as a symbol of human suffering. He feels compassion for her, and for her family. He acts unselfishly to try to help her family after Marmeladovís death. Sonia, in turn, tries to redeem Raskolnikov. When he admits his crime to her, she accepts his suffering, and takes his suffering upon herself. Through her unselfishness and devotion, she makes him realize that love can give him spiritual rebirth. She helps him realize that acting unselfishly to help others can be a means of moral redemption.

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