Meet the star of Crime and Punishment: a young, good-lookin' "ex-student," dressed in rags, as he's coming out of his crummy little room. His name is Raskolnikov, and he's thinking of doing something really, really bad. He even has a plan.
Dum dum dummm.
He's talking to himself (always a good sign, right?) and doesn't think he's really capable of doing the mysterious bad deed. In fact, he isn't even sure he wants to. Still, he's doing a practice run as we speak.
Dum dum—no, we'll stop. If we had to use ominous sound effects all throughout C & P, we'd dum dum ourselves hoarse. (Welcome to the wild world of Dostoevsky, folks. It's bleak in here.)
Back to our man, Raskolnikov. He gets to the house of a pawnbroker named Alyona Ivanovna. She's a mean old lady who lives with her half sister Lizaveta, who's mentally challenged and, unlike her sister, a very sweet person. Raskolnikov pawns his father's watch, and it becomes clear that the bad thing he wants to do is…murder. He wants to kill Alyona and steal her money.
But, he's not sure if he can, should, or will go through with it. (Ugh. We could answer the first two for you, buddy.)
On his way back home, he goes to a bar and meets Marmeladov, an unemployed drunk, and hears his sad story: Marmeladov is married to Katerina. Katerina has three young kids from a previous marriage, and Marmeladov has an 18-year-old daughter, Sonia, from his previous marriage.
Since Marmeladov is a drunk and money is tight, Katerina has made Sonia start selling sex for money, and now Sonia lives by herself because the other tenants in the Marmeladovs' building didn't want a prostitute living there. Eventually, Raskolnikov takes Marmeladov home. Seeing how bad things are there, he leaves some money on a windowsill for Katerina to find and then goes home.
So, this guy isn't 100 percent evil.
Back at his room, Raskolnikov goes to sleep. When he wakes up, he gets a letter from his mother, Pulcheria. From the letter, he learns that his sister, Dounia, is finally free from working as a nanny for the Svidrigaïlov family. Mr. Svidrigaïlov had been sexually harassing her, but she couldn't leave because she owed him money (which she'd borrowed to help Raskolnikov). She's paid back the money and now plans to marry a guy named Pyotr Petrovitch Luzhin, who sounds like a total jerkbag. Now, Dounia and Pulcheria are moving to St. Petersburg, and they think that Luzhin will be able to help Raskolnikov get back on his feet.
The letter freaks out Raskolnikov, and he leaves his room. He thinks Dounia is only marrying Luzhin to help him. He compares Dounia to Sonia and vows that he'll stop the wedding. But, he doesn't know how he'll stop it...because he doesn't have any money or power. He falls asleep in some bushes and dreams that he's a little boy. In the dream, he sees a horse brutally beaten.
Hey, Shmoopster: don't look so shocked and depressed. This is a book by Dostoevsky. Things are bad now...but they're just going to get worse.
When our hero ("hero") wakes, he decides he can't possibly kill the pawnbroker with an axe, like he'd planned. But then, he sees the pawnbroker's sister, Lizaveta, in the marketplace and learns that she won't be home that night. Which means there wouldn't be any obstacles to Raskolnikov committing the murder as planned. This information gets him back on track with his murderous scheme.
Later that night, he "borrows" an axe—because what's sketchy about that?—goes to the pawnbroker's house, and splits her skull. Yeesh.
As he's stealing their stuff, Lizaveta comes in (because Raskolnikov forgot to lock the door), and he kills her, too. Raskolnikov manages to steal a few things, almost gets caught leaving the scene, and manages to get home, where he falls asleep.
He wakes up very early the next morning and tries to hide all evidence in his room, and then he falls asleep again. When he wakes up, he takes the stuff he stole from the pawnbroker and hides it under a rock. He then goes to see his friend Razumihin, acts really weird, goes back home, and falls asleep. Dude likes his power naps.
He has a horrible fever and is sick for about a week. When he wakes up, he has a hard time remembering what happened...but then it all comes back to him.
Razumihin thinks Raskolnikov was acting strange and so comes to look for him. He decides to take care of Raskolnikov during his illness. He buys Raskolnikov new clothes with some money that came from Pulcheria while Raskolnikov was sick.
Luzhin, Dounia's fiancé, comes to visit, and Raskolnikov threatens him and makes him leave. Raskolnikov manages to get everybody else out of his room, too, then puts on his new duds and hits the street.
He goes to the Crystal Palace and runs into Zametov, a cop. He plays with Zametov and practically confesses to the murder, but then says he's just fooling around. Later that evening, he finds Marmeladov on the verge of death. In his drunken state, he was run over by a horse-drawn carriage.
Raskolnikov convinces the cops that Marmeladov should go home to die, and he helps get him there. Marmeladov dies, and Raskolnikov finally gets to see Sonia. He gives all his money to Marmeladov's widow, Katerina, and then leaves. Sonia's little sister, Polenka, follows him down the stairs and gets his name and address.
When he gets back to his room, his mother and sister are waiting for him. He'd forgotten all about them coming. He acts really weird toward them and tells them he won't let Dounia get married because Luzhin is a jerk, and he doesn't want Dounia selling herself for his sake.
Eventually, Raskolnikov makes everybody leave, and he passes out again. This guy sleeps more than a cat.
Meanwhile, Razumihin takes care of Raskolnikov's mother and sister and does everything he can to make them feel better. He also falls in love with Dounia...but thinks he will never be worthy of her.
The next day, they all meet back up in Raskolnikov's room. Raskolnikov is doing much better and even manages to carry on a fairly normal conversation. He learns that Luzhin sent Pulcheria and Dounia a letter saying he wanted to meet them the following night but that he didn't want Raskolnikov there. If Raskolnikov was to be there, he would leave and it would be Dounia's fault.
However, Dounia wants Raskolnikov and Razumihin to be there, and they agree.
All of a sudden, Sonia comes into the room. She's here to invite Raskolnikov to her father's funeral and the dinner after. Pulcheria and Dounia leave, and Raskolnikov tells Razumihin that he pawned some stuff with the murdered pawnbroker and wants to know how to get it back. Razumihin says he'll take him to see Porfiry, the guy investigating the murders. Raskolnikov tells Sonia he wants to come over later to talk to her, and he gets her address.
Then, they all go down to the street. Sonia leaves them, and she's followed by an older man (Svidrigaïlov). He's happy to see that they live in the same building, right next door to each other. He talks to her, but she doesn't say anything back.
Raskolnikov and Razumihin go to visit Porfiry, and they have a long conversation about crime. As it turns out, Raskolnikov wrote an article about crime, and Porfiry read it in a magazine. This is news to Raskolnikov—he didn't even know it was published. In the article, Raskolnikov argues that there are both "ordinary" and "extraordinary" people and that the extraordinary ones have the "right" to kill—but only if the murder is necessary in order to help make progress in the world.
Hmm. Probably not a watertight idea to write an article defending murder...and then commit a murder.
Later, Raskolnikov is sleeping in his room. (Shocker, we know.) When he wakes up, he finds Svidrigaïlov (Dounia's sketchy former employer) sitting there watching him. Now that his wife is dead, he's come to St. Petersburg to try to hook up with Dounia. Raskolnikov says he'll do anything to keep Svidrigaïlov away from his sister.
Luckily, Razumihin shows up, and they all leave. It's almost time for the big meeting with Luzhin. The meeting doesn't go well for Luzhin. When Dounia tells him to beat it, he accuses her of selling herself to Svidrigaïlov, a known child molester and murderer. He blames Raskolnikov for everything and vows revenge.
After Luzhin leaves, Raskolnikov tells everybody that they should leave him alone, that they shouldn't see him or talk to him. He has stuff to do, and he doesn't want them around. He tells Razumihin to stay with his mother and sister and take care of them. Then, he goes to Sonia's place, and he's pretty mean to her. He says he'll return the next day to tell her who killed Lizaveta (who was Sonia's friend). It also turns out that Svidrigaïlov (who lives next door to her) is listening through the wall and hears everything.
The next day, Raskolnikov goes to see Porfiry at the police station. Porfiry basically accuses Raskolnikov of being the murderer...but then another man, Nikolay, comes in and confesses. What are the odds?
Later that day, the dinner in honor of Marmeladov is being held in Katerina's flat. Luzhin happens to be staying in that same building, with a guy named Andrey Semyonovitch, whom Luzhin really doesn't like. He gets Andrey Semyonovitch to bring Sonia to see him. Luzhin gives her 10 roubles and tells her he's going to try to help Katerina and the orphans.
At the dinner itself, Katerina makes a huge scene and insults her landlady repeatedly. When the two women are fighting, Luzhin arrives at the dinner. He walks up to Sonia and accuses her of stealing 100 roubles from him. She denies it, but the bill is found in her pocket.
Luckily, Andrey Semyonovitch has been listening by the door (there's a ton of eavesdropping in this book), and he tells everybody that he saw Luzhin slip Sonia the money. Raskolnikov says this was part of Luzhin's plan to try to get Dounia back (it doesn't make much sense), and Luzhin leaves, again vowing revenge on Raskolnikov, determined to get Dounia back. The landlady wants to evict Katerina and the kids, and Sonia leaves.
Later, Raskolnikov goes to Sonia's and tells her that he killed Lizaveta. She says she'll follow him to prison and advises him to surrender to God, and the cops. Soon, Andrey Semyonovitch shows up and tells her that Katerina is down on the street begging with the kids, out of her mind, and making a big scene. On the street, Katerina dies, and her body is taken to Sonia's house.
Svidrigaïlov shows up and reveals to Raskolnikov that he heard his confession to Sonia. Raskolnikov has another meeting with Porfiry, who again tells Raskolnikov he knows he's guilty of murder and that it will only be a matter of time before he confesses. (Our boy is really in a tight spot at this point.)
After that, Raskolnikov goes looking for Svidrigaïlov, and they have a long and creepy conversation. (Is there any other kind in Crime and Punishment?) Raskolnikov tries to stick by Svidrigaïlov that night, but the man manages to lose him. Svidrigaïlov meets Dounia, and he holds her prisoner in his room. He seems about to rape her, but she shoots him (in a minor fashion) and then he lets her go.
Soon after, Svidrigaïlov gets a hotel room and has tons of nightmares. In the morning, he shoots himself while standing next to a policeman on the street. Death + nightmares = Crime and Punishment.
Meanwhile, Sonia pressures Raskolnikov to turn himself in...which he does. He's sentenced to eight years in Siberia, and Sonia follows him there because she's docile like that. Meanwhile, Razumihin and Dounia get married. The newlywed couple plans to move to Siberia in the near future.
Sonia is doing well in Siberia. Everybody loves her. Unfortunately, Raskolnikov still treats her like dirt and hates the world—what are the odds? Some prisoners want to kill him because they think he's an atheist, but the warden intervenes.
Raskolnikov gets sick and has to go to the hospital. After leaving the hospital, he meets Sonia by a beautiful riverbank where he's working. Something comes over him, and he feels real love for her. He will have to go through lots of struggles and suffering, but after he gets out of prison (in seven years), he'll have found a new way to live and he will be happy, and so will Sonia.
The end. And hey—it's actually kind of an uplifting one.