Crime and Punishment

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Novels

Title Crime and Punishment
Author Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Original title Преступление и наказание
Cover artist Nikolai Yaroshenko
(drawing of "The Student")
Katya Evdokimova
Country Russia
Language Russian
Genre(s) Philosophical novel
Publisher Penguin Classics
Released 1866
Media type Print ( Hardback & Paperback)

Crime and Punishment (Russian: Преступление и наказание) is a novel written by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. First published in a journal named The Russian Messenger, it appeared in twelve monthly installments in 1866, and was later published as a novel. Along with Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, the novel is considered one of the best-known and most influential Russian novels of all time.

Crime and Punishment focuses on Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, an impoverished student who formulates a plan to kill and rob a hated pawnbroker, thereby solving his money problems and at the same time ridding the world of her evil. Exhibiting some symptoms of megalomania, Raskolnikov thinks himself a gifted man, similar to Napoleon, but wishes to test himself. As an extraordinary man, he feels justified in his decision to murder, since he exists outside the moral constraints that affect "ordinary" people. However, immediately after the crime, Raskolnikov becomes ill, and is troubled by the memory of his actions. Crime and Punishment portrays Raskolnikov's gradual realisation of his crime and his growing desire to confess. Moreover, Raskolnikov's attempts to protect his sister Dounya from unappealing suitors, and also his unexpected love for a destitute prostitute demonstrate Raskolnikov's longing for redemption.


Dostoevsky began work on Crime and Punishment in the summer of 1865. He was in serious financial difficulty from gambling, and also from his efforts to help the family of his brother Mikhail, who had died in early 1864; the author owed large sums of money to creditors. He signed an agreement with the editor Katkov having explained to him that the novel was to be about a young man who kills a pawnbroker in cold blood, and then tries both to escape and to defend his act, but finally confesses.

Dostoevsky had, at this point, two ideas for novels: one was to be called "The Drunkards", and chronicled the "problem of drunkenness"; the other was based around the notion of a "psychological account of a crime". However, the two works soon merged into one; indeed, the Marmeladov family in Crime and Punishment were first conceived with the intention of being characters in "The Drunkards".


Crime and Punishment is divided into six parts, with an epilogue. The notion of duality in Crime and Punishment has been commented upon, with the suggestion that there is a degree of symmetry to the book. The novel has 6 chapters, and "certain key episodes" are distributed in one half of the novel, and then again in the other half. Edward Wasiolek has likened the structure of Crime & Punishment to a "flattened X", saying:

Parts I-III [of Crime and Punishment] present the predominantly rational and proud Raskolnikov: Parts IV-VI, the emerging "irrational" and humble Raskolnikov. The first half of the novel shows the progressive death of the first ruling principle of his character; the last half, the progressive birth of the new ruling principle. The point of change comes in the very middle of the novel.

Crime and Punishment is written from a third person omniscient perspective. It is told primarily from the point of view of Raskolnikov, however it does switch to the perspective of Svidrigailov, Razumikhin, and Dunya throughout the novel.


Dostoevsky wrote various instances of wordplay, or double meanings, into Crime and Punishment.

In the original Russian text, the names of the major characters in Crime and Punishment have something of a double meaning. However, these are not seen when translated to different languages.

Name Word Meaning (in Russian)
Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov raskol a schism, or split
Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin luzha a puddle
Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin razum reason, intelligence
Alexander Grigorievich Zamyotov zametit to notice, to realize
Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov marmelad marmalade/jam
Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov Svidrigailo a Lithuanian prince

Plot summary

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

The novel portrays the 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. However, he falls in love with the prostitute Sonya along the way. Dostoevsky uses this relationship as an allegory of God's love for fallen humanity—and the redemptive power of that love—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 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 "super-human," that he could justifiably perform what society considered a despicable act—the killing of the pawn broker—if it led to his being able to do more good through the act. 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 Isaac Newton or Johannes 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. Thus he is thrown into a moral existential confusion over the death of the pawnbroker's sister. Never at any time in the novel is he repentant over the death of the pawnbroker.

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 realization that he is not a "super-human", as he could not cope with what he had done. His confessing to the prostitute, not his turning himself in, is the means to end his suffering.

Characters in "Crime and Punishment"

Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov

Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, (Russian: Родион Романович Раскольников) variously called Rodya and Rodka, is the protagonist from whose perspective the story is primarily told. He was a student, but due to his abject poverty, had to leave the university. He resides in a small and squalid top-floor flat in the slums of Saint Petersburg. Despite the name of the novel it does not so much deal with his crime and its formal punishment as with Raskolnikov's internal struggle. In the main, his punishment results more from his conscience than from the law. He commits the murder in the belief that he possesses enough intellectual and emotional fortitude to deal with a murder [based on his paper/thesis, "On Crime"], that he is a Napoleon, but his paranoia and guilt soon engulf him. It is only in the epilogue that his formal punishment is realized, having decided to confess and end his alienation. His name derives from the Russian word raskolnik, meaning “schismatic” or “divided,” an allusion to Raskolnikov's self-imposed schism from Russian society, as well as his own split personality and constantly changing emotional state.

Sonya Semyonovna Marmeladova

Sonya Semyonovna Marmeladova, (Russian: Софья Семёновна Мармеладова) variously called Sonya and Sonechka, is the daughter of a drunk, Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov, 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, but she is still strongly religious. Rodion finds himself drawn to her to such an extent, that she becomes the first person to whom he confesses his crime. She supports him even though she is friends with one of the victims (Lizaveta). For most of the novel, Sonya serves as the spiritual guide for Raskolnikov; she encourages him to take up faith and confess. He does, and after his confession she follows him to Siberia where she lives in the same town as the prison; it is here that Raskolnikov begins his spiritual rebirth.

Other characters

  • Porfiry Petrovich (Порфирий Петрович) - 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 confess voluntarily. He is very interested in the psychology behind the motives of criminals. His eyes are his most expressive part, squinting, dripping, menacing and even winking, which drives Raskolnikov insane with guilt and eventually leads him to his confession.
  • Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov (Авдотья Романовна Раскольникова) - Raskolnikov's strong willed and self-sacrificing sister, called Dunya, Dounia or Dunechka for short. She initially plans to marry the wealthy, yet somewhat smug and self-possessed, Luzhin to save the family from financial destitution but 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 (Аркадий Иванович Свидригайлов) - Sensual, depraved, and 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. Whereas Sonya represents the path to salvation, Svidrigailov represents the other path towards suicide. Despite his apparent malevolence, Svidrigailov is similar to Raskolnikov in regard to 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 juvenile fiancée.
  • Dmitri Prokofich Razumikhin (Дмитрий Прокофьич Разумихин) - 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. He can be seen as a foil to Raskolnikov, they both studied at the university together, however Razumihin is energetic and optimistic in contrast to Raskolnikov's nihilism. He and Dunya ultimately fall in love and marry.
  • Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladov (Катерина Ивановна Мармеладова) - Semyon Marmeladov's sick and (understandably) ill-tempered (second) wife, step-mother to Sonya. She drives Sonya into prostitution in a fit of rage, but later regrets it. Following Marmeladov's death she becomes insane and dies shortly after.
  • Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov (Семён Захарович Мармеладов) - Hopeless but amiable drunk who indulges in his own suffering, and father of Sonya. In the bar he informs Raskolnikov of his familial situation and how he feels incapable of helping them. When Marmeladov is run over by a carriage and killed, Raskolnikov identifies the man's body in the street; Raskolnikov also donates all of his money (which was obtained by his mother as a loan for her pension and sent to Raskolnikov just prior to her arrival to Petersburg) to Marmeladov's family to help with funerary expenses. Marmeladov could be seen as a Russian equivalent of the character of Micawber in Charles Dickens' novel, David Copperfield.
  • Pulkheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikov (Пульхерия Александровна Раскольникова) - Raskolnikov's relatively clueless, hopeful mother. She informs him of his sister's plans to marry Luzhin. Following Raskolnikov's sentence, she falls ill (mentally and physically) and eventually dies. She hints in her dying stages that she is slightly more aware of her son's fate, which was hidden from her by Dunya and Razumikhin.
  • Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin (Пётр Петрович Лужин) - 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, leaves St. Petersburg in shame.
  • Andrey Semyenovich Lebezyatnikov (Андрей Семёнович Лебезятников) - Luzhin's utopian socialist roommate who witnesses his attempt to frame Sonya and subsequently exposes him.
  • Alyona Ivanovna (Алёна Ивановна) - Old pawnbroker who is not particularly kind. She is Raskolnikov's intended target for murder.
  • Lizaveta Ivanovna (Лизавета Ивановна) - Alyona's simple, innocent sister who arrives during the murder, and is subsequently killed. She was a friend of Sonya's.
  • Zosimov (Зосимов) - A friend of Razumikhin and a doctor who cared for Raskolnikov.
  • Nastasya Petrovna (Настасья Петровна) - Raskolnikov's landlady's servant and a friend of Raskolnikov.
  • Nikodim Fomich (Никодим Фомич)- The amiable Chief of Police.
  • Ilya Petrovich (Илья Петрович) - A police official and Fomich's assistant, often referred to as "Lieutenant Gunpowder" in regards to his short temper.
  • Alexander Grigorievich Zametov (Александр Григорьевич Заметов) - Corrupt head clerk at the police station and friend to Razumikhin. Raskolnikov arrouses Zametov's suspicions by explaining how he, Raskolnikov, would have committed various crimes. This scene illustrates the argument of Raskolnikov's belief in his own superiority as übermensch.
  • Nikolai Dementiev (Николай Дементьев) - A painter and sectarian who admits to the murder, since his sect holds it to be supremely virtuous to suffer for another person's crime.
  • Polina Mikhailovna Marmeladova (Полина Михайловна Мармеладова) - Ten-year-old adopted daughter of Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov and younger step-sister to Sonya, sometimes known as Polenka.


Behaviour and beliefs similar to those of Raskolnikov can be found in other works of Dostoevsky, such as Notes from Underground and The Brothers Karamazov, (his behaviour is most similar to Ivan Karamazov from The Brothers Karamazov). He creates suffering for himself by killing the pawnbroker and living so destitutely despite his ability to get a good job. Razumikhin is in the same situation as Raskolnikov and lives to a large degree better off, however, when Razumikhin offers to get him a job, Raskolnikov refuses. Later, Raskolnikov arrogantly hints at being the murderer to the police for both the exhiliration of the mental game, as well as the fact that he needs to get it off his chest. He constantly tries to reach and defy the boundaries of what he can or cannot do to find out whether he is the extraordinary man as depicted in his own theory, or whether he is just a "louse" (throughout the book he is always measuring his own fear, and mentally trying to talk himself out of it), and he commonly interprets his depravity (referring to his irrationality and paranoia) as an affirmation of himself as a transcendent conscience and a rejection of rationality and reason. This is a theme common in existentialism; interestingly enough Friedrich Nietzsche, in Twilight of the Idols praised Dostoevsky's writings despite the theism present in it: "Dostoevsky, the only psychologist, by the way, from whom I had anything to learn; he is one of the happiest accidents of my life, even more so than my discovery of Stendhal." Walter Kaufmann considered Dostoevsky's works to be the inspiration for Franz Kafka's " The Metamorphosis". Dostoevsky also uses Sonya to show how only belief in God can cure man's depravity, which is where Dostoevsky differs from many other existentialists. Though this particular philosophy is unique to Dostoevsky, because of its emphasis on Christianity and existentialism (whether or not Dostoevsky was a true existentialist is debated), similar themes can be seen in writings by Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Herman Hesse and Franz Kafka.

The novel makes several references to stories from the New Testament, including the story of Lazarus, whose death and reawakening parallel Raskolnikov's spiritual death and rebirth; and the Book of Revelation, mirrored in a dream Raskolnikov has of a nihilistic plague turning into a world-wide epidemic.

Major themes

Salvation through suffering

Crime and Punishment illustrates the theme of attaining salvation through suffering, a common feature in Dostoevsky's work. This is the notion that the act of suffering has a purifying effect on the human spirit allowing for salvation in God. A character who embodies this theme is Sonya, who maintains enough faith to guide and support Raskolnikov despite her own immense suffering. While it may seem grim, it is a relatively optimistic notion in the realm of Christian morality. For example, even the originally malevolent Svidrigailov is able to perform extreme acts of charity following the suffering induced by Dunya's complete rejection. Dostoevsky holds to the idea that salvation is a possible option for all people, even those who have sinned grievously. It is the realization of this fact that leads to Raskolnikov's confession. Although Dunya could never love Svidrigailov, Sonya loves Raskolnikov and exemplifies the trait of ideal Christian forgiveness, allowing Raskolnikov to confront his crime and accept his punishment.

Christian existentialism

A central idea in Christian existentialism is defining the moral boundaries of human action within a God ruled world. Raskolnikov examines the set boundaries and decides that an ostensibly immoral act is justifiable under the condition that it leads to something incredibly great, a hallmark of utilitarianism. This is the motive sketched in the first part of the novel, but later, when Raskolnikov confesses to Sonya and tries to explain the grounds for an act he now despises himself, he expounds the idea that he wanted to prove his independence of any morality by committing murder and assuring that his conscience would not trouble him: if this proved viable, he could see himself as one of the few men born to lead, standing high above the dumb masses. This thought points directly toward Nietzsche's " overman" and in turn, it had been foreshadowed by Vautrin's speech to Rastignac in Balzac's Le Père Goriot (written thirty years before Crime and Punishment). Already there, Vautrin makes plain the idea that someone like Napoleon can sweep morality aside and the strong man must do so, without moving an eyebrow. However, Dostoevsky rules against such ambitious thinking by having Raskolnikov crumble and fail in the aftermath of his crime.


The Dreams

Rodya's dreams always have a symbolic meaning, which suggests a psychological view. In the dream about the horse, the mare has to sacrifice itself for the men who are too much in a rush to wait. This could be symbolic of women sacrificing themselves for men, just like Rodya's belief that Dunya is sacrificing herself for Rodya by marrying Luzhin. Some critics have suggested this dream is the fullest single expression of the whole novel, containing the nihilistic destruction of an innocent creature and Rodion's suppressed sympathy for it (although the young Rodion in the dream runs to the horse, he still murders the pawnbroker soon after waking). The dream is also mentioned when Rodya talks to Marmeladov. He states that his daughter, Sonya, has to sell her body to earn a living for their family. The dream is also a blatant warning for the impending murder.

In the final pages, Raskolnikov, who at this point is in the prison infirmiary, has a feverish dream about a plague of nihilism, that enters Russia and Europe from the east and which spreads senseless dissent (as said above, Raskolnikov's name alludes to "raskol", dissent) and fanatic dedication to "new ideas": it finally engulfs all of mankind. Though we don't learn anything about the content of these ideas they clearly disrupt society forever and are seen as exclusively critical assaults on ordinary thinking: it is clear that Dostoevsky was envisaging the new, politically and culturally nihilist ideas which were entering Russian literature and society in this watershed decade, and with which Dostoevsky would be in debate for the rest of his life (cp. Chernyshevsky's What Is to Be Done?, Dobrolyubov's abrasive journalism, Turgenev's Fathers and Sons and Dostoesvsky's own The Possessed). Just like the novel demonstrates and argues Dostoevsky's conviction that "if God doesn't exist (or is not recognized) then anything is permissible" the dream sums up his fear that if men won't check their thinking against the realities of life and nature, and if they are unwilling to listen to reason or authority, then no ideas or cultural institutions will last and only brute barbarism can be the result. Janko Lavrin, who took part in the revolutions of the WWI era, knew Lenin and Trotsky and many others, and later would spend years writing and researching on Dostoevsky and other Russian classics, called this final dream "prophetic in its symbolism".

The Cross

Sonya gives Rodya a cross when he goes to turn himself in. This cross represents suffering. He takes his pain upon him by carrying the cross through town, like Jesus; in an allusion to the account of the Crucifixion, he falls to his knees in the town square on the way to his confession. Sonya carried the cross up until then, which indicates that, as literally mentioned in the book, she suffers for him, in a semi-Christ-like manner. Sonya and Lizaveta had exchanged crosses and become spiritual sisters, originally the cross was Lizaveta's - so Sonya carries Lizaveta's cross, the cross of Rodya's innocent victim, whom he didn't intend to kill. Also, Rodya sees that the cross is made of cypress, which is a cross that symbolizes the ordinary and plain population, and by taking that particular cross he then admits that he's a plain human being, not a Nietzschean übermensch (although this specific concept had yet to be developed by Nietzsche). Finally, the name Rodya itself resembles the English word "rood," still used for "cross" at the time the novel was written.

St. Petersburg

This could be a symbol for Rodya's mind or his mental state. It is very confusing, dirty and disgusting. Even Rodya gets disgusted by the sight of it. The city is filled with prostitutes, symbolizing its utter social decadence. Sidney Monas likened its appearance to imagery found in T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, another example of its grotesque demeanor. Indeed, the city plays such an important part in the novel that it is almost a character in itself.

Many of the characters in the novel might be said to be symbolic doubles of Raskolnikov: they share some of his personal traits or something in his situation: his pride and sense of ambition (Dunya), his ongoing moral dilapidation (Svidrigailov), the threat of sinking into destitution and going under (Marmeladov), the loyalty to one's family (Sonya; this feeling is undermined in him by the crime, but the opening scene when Rodion reads the letter from home makes it clear that the bond between him and his mother and, in particular, his sister, has always been a strong one, and Dunya is, after Sonya, the second person to whom he confesses his crime).

English translations

There have been several translations of Crime in Punishment into English.

  • Constance Garnett
  • David McDuff
  • Jessie Coulson
  • Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
  • Joakim Ivarson
  • Sidney Monas
  • David Magarshack

Movie versions

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

  • Crime and Punishment (1935, starring Peter Lorre, Edward Arnold and Marian Marsh)
  • Crime et Châtiment (1935, France directed by Georges Lampin, starring Lino Ventura and Jean Gabin)
  • Eigoban Tsumi to Batsu (1953, Japanese animation by Tezuka Osamu, under his interpretation)
  • Преступление и наказание (USSR, 1969, starring Georgi Taratorkin, Tatyana Bedova, Victoria Fyodorova)
  • Crime and Punishment (1979, miniseries starring Timothy West, Vanessa Redgrave and John Hurt)
  • Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (1998, a TV movie starring Patrick Dempsey, Ben Kingsley and Julie Delpy)
  • Crime and Punishment in Suburbia (2000, an adaptation set in modern America and "loosely based" on the novel)
  • Crime and Punishment mini-series (2002, starring John Simm)
  • Robert Bresson's Pickpocket is a loose adaptation of the novel which substitutes murder with the crime of pickpocketing.
  • Aki Kaurismaki's Rikos ja Rangaistus (1983; Crime and Punishment), the acclaimed debut film of the Finnish director with Markku Toikka in the lead role; the story is set in modern-day Helsinki and this hard-boiled version is convincingly close to the spirit of the original).
Retrieved from ""