Crime and Punishment Theme of Criminality
As you might have guessed from the title, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is obsessed with crime, criminality, and vice. Like many of the best books, it asks more questions than it answers. As the novel unfolds, we are faced with a repulsive array of crimes, including murder and all kinds of child abuse. Some of the crimes are more subtle – crimes of power and privilege, crimes against the poor, crimes of meanness, pettiness, and apathy, many of which, legally speaking, might not even be considered crimes. The novel's ending suggests that maybe even murderers can free themselves from criminal impulses and learn to truly love.
Questions About Criminality
- Who is the bigger criminal, Raskolnikov or Svidrigaïlov? Why do you think so?
- Has reading Crime and Punishment changed your definition of "crime," or made you think abut it in new ways? If so, how?
- Do you think Raskolnikov has really changed, or will he fall back into his murderous ways? Why do you think so?
- Is Sonia a criminal? What about Marmeladov? Katerina? If so, what crimes do they commit? If not, why?
- The police don't "catch" Raskolnikov – he turns himself in. Why doesn't Porfiry arrest him earlier, when he realizes that Raskolnikov is guilty? Would you feel differently about Raskolnikov if he never confessed, but was "found guilty" instead?
- Could Svidrigaïlov, a child molester, have "changed" in the way Raskolnikov did? Why or why not? Why does Svidrigaïlov perform "good deeds" before his suicide?
- Was Alyona Ivanovna, the pawnbroker, a criminal? Why or why not?
Chew on This
Crime and Punishment argues that child molestation is a worse crime than murder.
In Crime and Punishment, punishment ideally leads not to suffering, but to happiness and redemption.