Crime and Punishment

From Academic Kids

Crime and Punishment (Преступление и наказание) is a novel written in 1866 by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Along with War and Peace, this novel is amongst the best known and most influential Russian novels of all time. The novel expresses Dostoevsky's religious and existentialist views, with a predominant focus on the theme of attaining salvation through suffering.



The novel portrays the haphazardly planned murder of a miserly, aged pawnbroker and her younger sister by a destitute Saint Petersburg student named Raskolnikov, and the emotional, mental, and physical effects that follow.

After falling ill with fever and lying bedridden for days, Raskolnikov is overcome with paranoia and begins to imagine that everyone he meets suspects him of the murder; the knowledge of his crime eventually drives him mad. Along the way, however, he meets the prostitute Sofya Semyonovna, with whom he falls in love. Dostoevsky uses this relationship as an allegory of God's love for fallen humanity, and that love's redemptive power: but only after Raskolnikov has confessed to the murder and been sent to imprisonment in Siberia.

Apart from Raskolnikov's fate, the novel, with its long and diverse list of characters, deals with themes including charity, family life, atheism, alcoholism, and Russian revolutionary activity, with Dostoevsky highly critical of contemporary Russian society. Although Dostoevsky rejected socialism, the novel also appears to be critical of the capitalism that was making its way into Russian society at that time.

Raskolnikov believed that he was a "superhuman," that he could justifiably perform a scrofulous act—the killing of the money lender—if it led to him being able to do a lot of good. Throughout the book there are examples: he mentions Napoleon many times, thinking that for all the blood he spilled, he did good. Raskolnikov believed that he could transcend this moral boundary by killing the money lender, gaining her money, and using it to do good. He argued that had Newton or Kepler had to kill one or even a hundred men in order to enlighten humanity with their laws and ideas, it would be worth it.

Raskolnikov's real punishment is not the labour camp he is condemned to, but the torment he endures throughout the novel. This torment manifests itself in the aforementioned paranoia, as well as his progressive belief that he is not a "superhuman", as he could not cope with what he had done.

See also: Russian literature.


Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov

Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, variously called Rodya and Rodka, is the protagonist from whose perspective the story is primarily told. The reader is told that he was a student, now fallen out, who is living in abject poverty in a top-floor flat in the slums of Saint Petersburg. Despite the name of the novel it does not deal with his crime and its formal punishment but with Raskolnikov's internal struggle and failing justification of his actions. The murder is committed in the belief that he is strong enough to deal with a murder, that he is a Napoleon, but his paranoia and guilt soon engulf him. It is only in the epilogue that his formal punishment is realised, having decided to confess and end his alienation.

Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladova

Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladova, variously called Sonya and Sonechka, is the daughter of a drunk, Semyon Zakharovich, Raskolnikov meets in a tavern at the beginning of the novel. It is not until Semyon's death, and Sonya's thanks for Raskolnikov's generosity, that the two characters meet. She has been driven into prostitution by the habits of her father, despite which she is strongly religious. Rodion finds himself drawn to her to such an extent she is the first person to whom he confesses his crime. Despite one of the victims, Lizaveta, being a friend of hers she supports him—encouraging him to take up faith and confess. After his confession she follows him to Siberia where she lives in the same town as the prison - it is here that Rodion finally falls in love with her.

Other Characters

  • Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikova - Raskolnikov's sister, called Dunya for short, who plans to marry the wealthy, yet morally depraved, Luzhin to save the family from financial destitution. She is followed to St. Petersburg by the disturbed Svidrigailov, who seeks to win her back through blackmail. She rejects both men in favour of Raskolnikov's loyal friend, Razumikhin.
  • Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov - Wealthy former employer and current pursuer of Dunya, suspected of multiple acts of murder, who overhears Raskolnikov's confessions to Sonya. With this knowledge he torments both Dunya and Raskolnikov but does not inform the police. When Dunya tells him she could never love him (after attempting to shoot him) he lets her go and commits suicide. Despite his apparent malevolence, Svidrigailov is similar to Raskolnikov with his random acts of charity. He fronts the money for the Marmeladov children to enter an orphanage (after both their parents die) and leaves the rest of his money to his rather young fiancee.
  • Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin - Raskolnikov's loyal, good-natured and only friend. Raskolnikov repeatedly entrusts the care of his family over to Razumikhin, who lives up to his word.
  • Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova - Semyon Marmeladov's sick and (understandably) ill-tempered wife. Following Marmeladov's death she becomes insane and dies shortly after.
  • Porfiry Petrovich - The detective in charge of solving Raskolnikov's murders who, along with Sonya, guides Raskolnikov towards confession. Despite the lack of evidence he becomes certain Raskolnikov is the murderer following several conversations with him, but gives Raskolnikov the chance to come clean of his own accord. The chracter inspired the popular Television character, Lt. Columbo.
  • Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov - Hopeless drunk who indulges in his own suffering, and father of Sonya. In the bar he informs Raskolnikov of his familial situation and when he's run over by a carriage Raskolnikov gives his family what remains of his money (not a lot) to help with funerary expenses.
  • Pulcheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikova - Raskolnikov's relatively clueless, hopeful mother. She informs him of his sister's plans to marry Luzhin.
  • Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin - Despicable man who wants to marry Dunya so she'll be completely subservient to him. Raskolnikov does not take kindly to him and Luzhin is embittered. He embodies the evils of monetary greed, and after attempting to frame Sonya for theft, is cast out.
  • Andrei Semyonovich Lebezyatnikov - Luzhin's radically Socialist roommate who witnesses his attempt to frame Sonya.
  • Alyona Ivanovna - Old pawnbroker who is not particularly kind. She is Raskolnikov's intended target for murder.
  • Lizaveta Ivanovna - Alyona's simple, innocent sister who arrives during the murder and is subsequently killed.
  • Zossimov
  • Nastasya Petrovna
  • Ilya Petrovich
  • Alexander Grigorievich Zamyotov
  • Nikolai Dementiev
  • Polina Mikhailovna Marmeladova


The novel is divided into six parts with an epilogue. Each part contains between five and eight chapters and the epilogue has two. The entire novel is written from a third person past tense omniscient perspective chiefly from Raskolnikov's point of view though it briefly switches to Dunya, Svidrigailov and Sonya during its course.

Movie versions

There have been literally dozens of film adaptions of the novel. Some of the best-known are:

External links

Template:Wikiquoteda:Forbrydelse og straf de:Verbrechen und Strafe he:החטא ועונשו ja:罪と罰 nl:Misdaad en straf pt:Crime e Castigo sv:Brott och straff pl:Zbrodnia i kara


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