of Work and Year of Publication
and Punishment is a novel that probes the
psyche of a young man with
a good heart whose mind is infected by evil
ideology. The narrative point
of view is third person omniscient. The
character development is outstanding.
Although the novel is long, the plot moves
forward swiftly. The cat-and-mouse
game between Detective Petrovitch and
Raskolnikov is especially intriguing.
Overall, the novel is one of the greatest ever
written. The novel was serialized
in 1866 The Russian Messenger before
being published in book form.
all of the scenes
in the novel take place in St. Petersburg, Russia,
one summer in the middle
of the nineteenth entury. Near the end of
the novel, the scene moves to Siberia.
Luzhin, Petrovitch, Svidrigailov
(Rodya) Impoverished young man in whom
good and evil war against each
other. He believes himself intellectually
superior to others and therefore
entitled to take the law into his own hands to
suit his purpose. He murders
a grasping pawnbroker partly to prove his
superiority to himself and partly
to use her assets for himself, his family, and
other downtrodden members
of society. Through most of the novel, he
struggles to overcome the pangs
of his guilty
Raskolnikov's best friend. He is hard-working
and morally upright.
(Sonia) Shy, caring young woman who
becomes a prostitute to support
her destitute family.
Sonia's father. He is good at heart but is a
curse to his family because
of his alcoholism.
Raskolnikov Raskolnikov's mother.
(Dounia) Raskolnikov's sister.
pawnbroker whom Raskolnikov murders.
Simpleton sister of Alyona Ivanovna. She walks
in unexpectedly moments
after Alyona is murdered. Panicked, Raskolnikov
murders her also.
had given Raskolnikov the address of the
pawnbroker in the event that Raskolnikov
might want to pawn an item to raise money.
who treats Raskolnikov during his illness.
Clever detective who plays on Raskolnikov's
guilty conscience to get him
to confess to the murders.
Unworthy suitor of Raskolnikov's sister, Dounia.
He uses his money to attempt
to gain control of Dounia.
Man who employed Dounia as a governess and tried
to rape her.
who encounters Raskolnikov in a restaurant.
is going badly for a young man who lives in a shabby
attic apartment of
a five-story house in a working-class district of St.
His name is Raskolnikov—Rodion Romanovitch
Raskolnikov, or Rodya for short.
Deep in debt, he cannot afford to continue his
university education and
cannot pay his rent. His landlady, Praskovya Pavlovna,
has decided to report
him to the police.
Michael J. Cummings...©
had made some money tutoring, but he gave that job up
because he has no
presentable clothing. Making matters worse is his
on an extremely hot evening in July, Raskolnikov
forgets his personal woes
for a short while as he shifts all of his attentions
to a 60-year-old pawnbroker,
Alyona Ivanovna, who makes money from the misfortunes
of others, including
Raskolnikov. He walks a short distance down the street
to a large tenement,
goes up the back stairs to her fourth-floor apartment,
and knocks on the
door. When she answers and allows him to enter, he
offers her an old silver
watch on a steel chain. She agrees to give him
1½ rubles for it
but deducts interest
already owes her. He ends up with only 1 ruble and 15
kopecks. But it
is not primarily for the meager pledge that
Raskolnikov has come to the
pawnbroker's; rather, it is to observe her and her
surroundings one more
time as part of a rehearsal for murder.
the way back from the pawnbroker’s, he stops at a
tavern for a drink. There,
he and a drunken man, Semyon Zakharovitch Marmeladov,
strike up a conversation.
Marmeladov has financial problems of his own,
aggravated by his drinking.
He has a consumptive wife and three stepchildren,
along with a daughter
of his own, Sonia. Because he can no longer support
his family, Sonia (Sofya
Semyonovna Marmeladov) has turned to
prostitution to provide money
for the family to scrape by. Later, Raskolnikov helps
the staggering Marmeladov
return to his house. The scene in the poverty-stricken
home saddens Raskolnikov,
and he leaves money behind.
at his drab apartment, he opens a letter from his
mother, Pulcheria Alexandrovna
Raskolnikov, informing him that his sister, Dounia
(Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov),
plans to marry a man named Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin. The
wedding is to take
place in St. Petersburg, and Mrs. Raskolnikov and
Dounia will be coming
to the city soon. The news unsettles Rodya, for he
knows that Dounia plans
to marry this Luzhin fellow for his money so that she
can provide for her
mother—and help Rodya out of debt.
thinks again about the pawnbroker. Though he has a
dream which he takes
as a sign that he should abandon his plan to kill her,
continues to plot against her. Why?
he wants her money so that he can help his family
and others in need. Second,
he wants to prove to himself that his “extraordinary
man” theory is correct.
He had explained this theory in an article he sent
to the Periodical
Gazette, an article that has yet to be
published. In it, he contends
that there are two types of men in the world,
ordinary and extraordinary.
The extraordinary ones, like himself, are superior
humans who have the
right—nay, the duty—to violate the law, under
certain circumstances, in
order to benefit humankind. An extraordinary man
even has the right to
commit murder if the act will result in benefits to
the unfortunate. The
article, of course, does not reveal that Raskolnikov
himself is planning
and over again, he thinks the murder through. Since
the pawnbroker is little
more than a bloodsucker who cashes in on the misery
of the destitute, it
would be no crime to kill her and use her money to
benefit others. The
murder would demonstrate, too, that he is an
extraordinary man. After deciding
to go through with the crime, he finds out that the
pawnbroker will be
alone on the following evening. Her feeble-minded
sister, Lizaveta, will
be out. He is sure he has the composure and
intelligence to get away with
the designated night, he goes to the pawnbroker’s.
Even though at the last
minute a desire to flee seizes him, he commits the
deed, driving an axe
into pawnbroker’s skull. He grabs her purse, then
rummages and finds a
box containing valuables and loads his pockets.
returns while he is still inside. There is no
alternative but to kill her
too, and so he wields the axe one more time. Moments
later, someone rings
the doorbell and tries to enter, but the door is
locked from the inside.
Actually, there are two men at the door. One leaves
to find the caretaker,
and the other stays to watch the door. However,
after a short while, he
also leaves. After hearing him walk away,
Raskolnikov sneaks out, neglecting
to close the apartment door, and returns to his
apartment with his loot.
following morning, while running a fever and coping
with the gravity of
his crime, he receives a summons to appear at the
police station. He jumps
to the conclusion that the police somehow got on to
him and want him to
own up to the crime. But at the police station, he
discovers the summons
is for the back rent he owes. After signing a pledge
to pay 115 rubles
to his landlady, he overhears a discussion of the
murders. In his weak
physical state, exacerbated by the psychological
effects of his crime,
he faints. When he comes to, he wonders whether he
his apartment, he gathers up the loot—including the
purse, which he does
not open—and takes it to a courtyard, where he hides
it under a large stone.
He is satisfied now that the police—if they indeed
suspect him—won’t be
able to charge him because they won’t be able to
find any incriminating
evidence. On his way home, he visits a university
friend, Dmitri Prokofitch Razhumihin,
who also has suspended his education for lack of
funds. But he is working
to save money so he can return to complete his
education. Razhumihin is
his only friends from the university; other students
fancies himself superior to them, and they resent
immediately that Raskolnikov is ill, he feels his
pulse. Raskolnikov pulls
away, saying in broken sentences that he has come to
see whether Razhumihim
knows of tutoring work for him but adds that he
doesn’t really want tutoring
work. He is making no sense. Suddenly, he gets up
and decides to leave.
why the devil have you come? Are you mad, or what?”
then, I came to you because I know no one but you
who could help . . .
to begin . . . because you are kinder than anyone--
mean, and can
judge . . . and now I see that I want nothing. Do
you hear? Nothing at
all . . . no one's services . . . no
sympathy. I am by
myself . . . alone. Come, that's enough. Leave me
offers him a share of a project translating a German
manuscript into Russian.
At first, Raskolnikov accepts it, then rejects it
and leaves. Out on the
street, he is nearly run over. Hours later, in the
evening, he arrives
home, unable to remember where he had been since
leaving Razhumihim’s. He
lies down on a sofa, shivering, drawing his coat
he awakens in mid-morning, the landlady’s servant,
Nastasya, who is a good
friend of Raskolnikov, is in the room with a bearded
young man. Razhumihim
also comes in, informing Raskolnikov that he has
been deliriously ill for
four days, unable to take anything but tea by the
spoonful. He had tracked
down Rodya after the latter had left his residence
four days before.Zossimov,
a physician, has been in to examine him. His
finding: Raskolnikov is not
seriously ill; he just needs to eat more, take
better care of himself,
and settle his nerves.
bearded man then announces that he is a messenger
with money—thirty-five rubles—from
Raskolnikov’s mother. At first, Rodya refuses the
money but, on coaxing
from Razhumihim, accepts and signs for it. Later,
Razhumihim and Nastasya
get him soup.
the following days, when Razhumihim and the doctor
return to check on him
during his convalescence, Dounia’s fianceé,
Luzhin, visits Raskolnikov
to inform him that his mother and sister are
expected in St. Petersburg
in a few days. Raskolnikov accuses Luzhin of taking
advantage of his sister.
Because she is poor, Rodya says, Luzhin plans to use
his wealth to maintain
control over her and use her as he wishes. Luzhin
leaves in a huff.
as Raskolnikov recovers, he follows news of the
murder investigation closely.
At the Palais de Cristal Restaurant, while having
tea and reading back
issues of newspapers with accounts of the murders,
he runs into a police
clerk named Zametov. He is a friend of Razhumihim
who had visited Rodya’s
apartment with Razhumihim during Rodya’s four days
of delirium. When they
discuss the murders, Zametov opines that it was the
work of an amateur.
Raskolnikov, taken aback, describes the modus
operandi as it actually happened
and even tells what he would have done with the loot
if he had committed
are a madman,” Zametov says.
what if it was I who murdered the old woman and
turns white for a moment, seeming to believe that
Raskolnikov is the murderer.
Then he rejects the possibility as utterly absurd.
Raskolnikov leaves the restaurant, he comes across a
crowd gathered around
a man who has been run over by a carriage. It is
Raskolnikov tells police he knows the man and will
pay for a doctor to
attend him, they carry Marmeladov home and set him
down. Two of Marmeladov’s
small girls, Lida and Polenka, are terrified. His
wife has Polenka fetch
Sonia, who is working her prostitute’s trade. A
short time later, Marmeladov
dies in the comforting arms of Sonia. Raskolnikov
gives 20 rubles to his
wife and leaves his name and address with Polenka,
who hugs him before
spite of the unnerving experience, Raskolnikov now
feels good about himself.
He will forget about the old pawnbroker and the
murder investigation. He
will get on with his life. Excited, he goes to see
Razhumihim, who is entertaining
guests. However, when he arrives, he is feeling a
bit faint, and Razhumihim
accompanies him back to his apartment.
sister and mother are there. After they all have a
joyful reunion, he collapses
onto the floor. Mother and daughter are greatly
alarmed. After he recovers
and reassures them that he is simply getting over an
illness, he tells
Dounia of his angry encounter with Luzhin and that
he does not want her
to marry him on his account.
with dismay. Razhumihim calls the
mother and daughter aside and asks them to excuse
his friend’s behavior,
which he says is due to his illness. They become
very concerned, but Razhumihim
tells them not to worry; he will send for his doctor
and then stay with his friend overnight. While
talking with them, he becomes
fascinated with the attractive Dounia, who is tall
Zossimov arrives, he agrees to stay the night
elsewhere in the building
to check in on Rodya from time to time. Razhumihim
takes mother and daughter
home, taking many opportunities to compliment
Dounia, then returns.
following day, Raskolnikov is sleeping soundly, and
Razhumihim calls on
Pulcheria Alexandrovna and Dounia to tell them that
everything seems all
right. Everyone decides to visit Rodya—mother and
Zossimov. During the visit, Sonia appears. In the
presence of so many people,
she is extremely shy. Haltingly, she explains that
she has come to extend
her family’s thanks to Rodya for his help and to ask
him to attend the
funeral in the morning and a lunch afterward.
Raskolnikov talks alone with Razhumihim about the
noting that from time to time he had pawned various
items, including a
ring and a silver watch, at Alyona Ivanovna’s.
Because these items connect
him with the pawnbroker, police might regard him as
a suspect. He asks
his friend whether he knows the chief investigator
on the case, Porfiry
Petrovitch. Razhumihim indeed knows him, for he is a
relation. Rodya then
asks for advice: Should he go to the police station
to disclose this information,
showing that he has nothing to hide—or to
Petrovitch? Razhumihim says the
latter, and they decide to go to see Petrovitch at
that very moment.
this point, a great cat-and-mouse game begins
between Petrovitch and Raskolnikov.
Petrovitch, rotund and good-humored, is a wily,
highly competent detective
with piercing eyes. He tells Raskolnikov that he was
expecting him. What
is more, he says, he already knows what items
Raskolnikov pawned, that
he has been ill, that he encountered the police
clerk Zametov, and that
he helped the Marmeladovs. But the coup de
grâce is that he read
the article that Raskolnikov wrote for the Periodical
is dumbfounded on two accounts. First, he was not
aware that his article
had been published. Second, he is surprised that
Petrovitch knows so much
about him. It must be that he considers Raskolnikov
a prime suspect.
says he was intrigued by a central thesis in the
article: that extraordinary
people—people with superior intellects—have the
right to commit a crime.
Raskolnikov says he believes that, yes, but only
under when there are no
legal options to remedy a problem.
simply hinted that an 'extraordinary' man has the
right . . . that is not
an official right, but an inner right to decide in
his own conscience to
overstep . . . certain obstacles, and only in case
it is essential for
the practical fulfillment of his idea—sometimes,
perhaps, of benefit to
the whole of humanity.” Napoleon,
for example, waged war but was admired by millions,
further explains that “if the discoveries of Kepler
and Newton could not
have been made known except by sacrificing
of one, a dozen,
a hundred, or more men, Newton would have had the
right, would indeed have
been in duty bound to eliminate the dozen or the
hundred men for the sake
of making his discoveries known to the whole of
questions him further about this idea, with
Razhumihim occasionally interrupting
to ask whether his friend is serious about his
strange ideas. Then Petrovitch
says, “When you were writing your article, surely
you couldn't have helped,
he-he! fancying yourself . . . just a little, an
'extraordinary' man. .
possibly,” Raskolnikov says with contempt.
at his apartment, Raskolnikov gets some needed sleep
but has a disturbing
dream in which he is striking the pawnbroker. But no
matter what he does,
she does not die.
the evening, he receives a visitor, Arkady
Ivanovitch Svidrigailov. He
had sexually harassed Dounia when she was a
governess in his household,
but his wife, Marfa, mistakenly thought Dounia had
made a play for her
husband. She fired her, then attempted to ruin her
reputation with gossip.
Later, when she discovered Dounia was innocent, she
attempted to make amends.
She even introduced Dounia to Luzhin, believing he
was a good match for
her. Not long afterward, Marfa died of an
undisclosed cause and left 3,000
rubles to Dounia in her will. It is possible that
Marfa. Now that he is free to marry again, he wants
Rodya to help him get
back into the good graces of Dounia and offers to
give her 10,000 rubles
to help her get rid of Luzhin. Svidrigailov defends
the way he behaved
with Dounia, saying he loves her and has her best
interests at heart..But
Raskolnikov refuses to cooperate, saying “We dislike
you. We don’t want
to have anything to do with you.”
Dounia has an argument with her other suitor,
Luzhin, and breaks off with
him. Raskolnikov, his mother, and Razhumihim—who has
been lavishing his
attentions on Dounia—are all extremely pleased with
Raskolnikov—under severe pressure because of the
Sonia, whose mother has recently died. He tells
Sonia that both of them
are ill-fated creatures. They commiserate, and at
his request she reads
a passage in the Bible, the story of Lazarus.
next morning, Raskolnikov reports to Petrovitch at
11 a.m.—as Petrovitch
had requested—with information about the watch
Raskolnikov had pawned.
When they discuss the crime, the clever detective
says all he needs to
do is observe his suspect—and let the suspect know
that he is being observed.
“And he'll keep circling round me, getting nearer
and nearer and then--flop!
He'll fly straight into my mouth and I'll swallow
him, and that will be
very amusing, he-he-he!"
becomes uneasy and asks Petrovitch point blank
whether he suspects him
of the murder. “I will not allow myself to be
tortured,” Rodya says. “Arrest
me, search me, but kindly act in due form and don't
play with me! Don't
answering Raskolnikov's question, Petrovitch
dismisses him but says he
will need to see him again. Shortly
thereafter, Raskolnikov confesses the crime to
Sonia, telling her about
his extraordinary-man theory. It doesn’t register
with her. But she says
she will stand by him and urges him to confess to
his next meeting with Petrovitch, the detective says
Raskolnikov is the
type of man who would have committed the crime. If
he confesses, the courts
will be less harsh with him. But Raskolnikov
withholds his confession.
Svidrigailov has been giving money away—some to
Sonia, some to another
family. The next morning he shoots himself.
sees Sonia one more time. She gives him a cross to
wear. Then he goes to
the police and confesses. Because he was considered
at the time of the murders and because people
testify about his good acts,
he receives just eight years in prison in Siberia.
Sonia follows him.
marries Sonia. Raskolnikov’s mother dies of an
illness. And, after Raskolnikov
is released from prison, he and Sonia begin a new
climax of Crime and Punishment occurs when
his crime to Sonia. This confession starts him on
the road to redemption.
He does not complete this redemption until he
repents his wrongdoing after
he is sentenced to prison in Siberia.
Theme 1: No one
is above the law. At the time Dostoevsky was
writing Crime and Punishment,
nihilism was gaining sway among young radicals in
Russia. Nihilism (a term
derived from the Latin word nihil, meaning nothing)
philosophy that calls for the destruction of
existing traditions, customs,
beliefs, and institutions and requires its adherents
to reject all values,
including religious and aesthetic principles, in
favor of belief in nothing.
Raskolnikov believes at the beginning of the novel
that he is above divine
and state laws against murder—indeed, that he is
above all laws and is
free to do anything that he wishes. This radical
view is nihilistic. Dostoevsky
intended Raskolnikov's gradual breakdown and
ultimate admission of guilt
as a refutation of nihilistic philosophy.
Theme 2: A human
being often consists of a Hyde and a Jekyll.
Raskolnikov commits a
heinous crime but treats the downtrodden—in
particular, the Marmeladovs—with
true Christian charity. Sonia becomes a prostitute
but otherwise lives
a saintly life. Marmeladov is a drunken wretch, but
he cares about his
Theme 3: Success
in life requires hard work and righteous living.
in life because he is industrious and morally
upright. In this respect,
he represents the position of Dostoevsky after the
author rejected political
and ideological views he held as a young man.
Theme 4: Love is
loyal. Even though Raskolnikov confesses to
murder, Sonia stands by
him and follows him to Siberia after he is
sentenced. She sees the good
side in him and helps him exorcize the evil side.
Razhumihim remains a loyal
friend to Raskolnikov through all of his
Theme 5: No one
is beyond redemption. Although Raskolnikov has
committed what society
often regards as the unforgivable sin, murder, he
redeems himself through
suffering, penitence, and love.
Theme 6: Foolproof
plans can quickly become foolhardy.
Raskolnikov is confident that the
murder is well planned—even foolproof. But when he
carries it out, his
plan falters badly. The pawnbroker’s sister returns,
and he has to murder
her, too. People knock on the door, unnerving him.
When he finally exits
the crime scene, he leaves the door open. And then
his conscience gnaws
at him, presenting him fitful dreams and
exacerbating his illness.
Theme 7: Suffering
brings illumination. Raskolnikov suffers
through poverty, isolation,
confusion, and great psychological and physical
stress that ultimately
reshape him into a good and worthy human
lives on the top floor of a five-story building.
This “lofty” location
seems to represent his view that intellectually he
is far above ordinary
human beings—so far above them that he is above
their law and their moral
codes. But his “penthouse” is a small, shabby room,
suggesting that he
is quite ordinary in many respects—in some ways even
inferior to the common
man. Here, then, we have a veiled foreshadowing of
where the novel is going.
Heat: In the
opening paragraphs of the novel, the narrator tells
the reader that it
is an extremely hot day in St. Petersburg. The
oppressive heat appears
to symbolize the feverish state of Raskolnikov’s
mind and body as he contemplates
Ring, Watch: These items
appear to represent the moral values Raskolnikov
grew up with
and abandoned. The ring was a gift from his sister;
the watch was his father’s.
These items remain in the limbo of the pawnbroker’s
apartment while Raskolnikov
is in the limbo of nihilism, struggling to hold onto
his new and dangerous
ideas while his conscience tells him to redeem
himself by reaffirming the
old and unchanging moral values.
physical debilities represent his moral and
philosophical debilities. As
long as he rejects proven moral truths, he rejects
Steps: That is the
number of steps Raskolnikov must walk from his
to reach the residence of the pawnbroker, for he has
counted the steps.
This number seems to represent the self-confidence
of Raskolnikov in his
scheme to kill the pawnbroker. After all, he has
planned every detail,
even going so far as to measure the exact distance
from his residence to
the pawnbroker’s. His planning helps prop up his
view that he is a superior
Sonia gives Raskolnikov near the end of the novel
a prostitute, is the novel’s saintliest character.
rejects the moral law but helps the downtrodden.
That Enslaves: Raskolnikov
believes that he is free to make any decision, even
one, without suffering consequences. But when he
commits murder, his conscience
seizes control of him.
That Liberates: Raskolnikov
does not become truly free until he is in
Marmeladov children are rich in what really counts
in life, love.
pawnbroker’s moronic sister, Lizaveta, unwittingly
thwarts the perfect
crime planned by a self-styled superior human being.
Although she dies
and Raskolnikov escapes, she sets in motion a series
of events that eventually
result in Raskolnikov’s confession.
was born on November 11, 1821, in Moscow. While he
was a teenager, both
of his parents died. It has been said that his
father, a stern physician,
was murdered by serfs on an estate he bought later
in his life. However,
this report cannot be documented. After Dostoevsky
graduated from a military
engineering school, he served for about a year in an
then quit his job to pursue writing. In 1847 he
joined a group of socialists
who discussed their political ideas and read banned
In 1849 he
other members of the group were arrested and
imprisoned. After eight months,
they were taken to a place of execution where a
firing squad stood ready.
Moments before they were to be executed, the czar
commuted their sentences.
Dostoevsky then served four years at hard labor in a
prison in Siberia
and four more years in the military. Notes From
the House of the Dead,
one of his major novels, is based on his prison
experience. Among his other
major works—which are among the finest novels in
and Punishment (1866), The Idiot
(1868), The Possessed
(1870), and The Brothers Karamazov (1879).
Dostoevsky died on February
9, 1881, in St. Petersburg.
Questions and Essay Topics
the most admirable character
in the novel? Who is the least admirable?
causes Raskolnikov to confess
his crime? Is the reason remorse or weariness of
being under suspicion?
the real-life American
court case involving two young men, Nathan Leopold
and Richard Loeb, who
were convicted of murder. Then, in an essay,
compare and contrast them
and their motives with Raskolnikov and his
motives. To begin your research
type the phrase "Leopold and Loeb" in an Internet
search box, press ENTER,
then select from the information displayed.
essay comparing and
contrasting Raskolnikov and Razhumihin, who are
similar in some ways and
markedly different in others.
life like for ordinary
Russian citizens (like the Marmelodovs) in the
middle of the nineteenth Century?