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 subtlecrimes 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.
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.
Crime and Punishment is very interested in the idea of judgment: judgment of self and others, judgment of and by society, and judgment of and by religion. The novel asks us to judge not only the characters but also the characters' judgments of each other. The prize that we and the characters seek as we travel through this maze of judgment and judging is justice or, in plain language, fairness. Whether or not that prize is realized within or at the end of the novel is a question you might want to ask as you read.
Because Raskolnikov learns how to become a nonviolent member of society while in prison, Crime and Punishment argues that prison is an important element of social justice.
The characters who stand by Raskolnikov even after his crime is known demonstrate that love and friendship can work together with judgment to help bring justice.
Since violence and criminality dominate much of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, we often have to peel back layers of text to get to the love. Most of the novel's "romantic" relationships are loaded with cruelty, power plays, confusion, and miscommunications. It can seem as if love and kindness are winking shyly at us between the lines, terrified to venture into the harsh world of vice and victimization Crime and Punishment shows us. But love is worth looking for in Dostoevsky's masterpiece, where even incredibly perverse characters are capable of loving acts and moments of kindness, and redemption is never completely out of the question.
Porfiry Petrovitch loves Raskolnikov, and that's why he doesn't arrest him.
Sonia's love for Katerina and Marmeladov is actually destructive for her.
You could say that Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is a book about an ex-student turned murderer who wanders around St. Petersburg, Russia, trying to save children and young women from bad men and poverty and who eventually finds love. There are lots of beatings going on in the novel, plus sexual violence, plenty of psychological violence, and a couple of gunshot wounds. Blood, guts, and aggression abound in this tale of bad ideas turned, well, bad. So, prepare yourself because Dostoevsky doesn't shy away from graphic violence. This, in turn, intensifies our appreciation of the novel's kind and loving moments.
The worst violence we see in Crime and Punishment is against children.
Through its comparison of Napoleon to an axe murderer, the novel presents an anti-war message.
Svidrigaïlov commits an act of violence against himself (suicide) to save others from his sexual and physical violence.
Dreams and hallucinations, as well as questions of madness, sanity, and existence, are huge parts of Crime and Punishment. The novel is deeply psychological and most of us can relate to at least something in the book. In this age of talk shows and self-help books, everybody's a pop psychologist. Crime and Punishment is chock full of characters waiting for you to try out your skills on them.
The beauty of the Siberian countryside allows Raskolnikov to focus on the beauty of life instead of the ugliness, thereby allowing him to "see" Sonia for the first time.
We dare you to find a chapter in Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment without some form of the word "suffer" in it or without some person (or animal) suffering terrible physical and/or psychological pain. Suffering, often closely associated with poverty in this novel, is definitely a condition from which to escape. However, it's also possible proof of a person's goodness, and even a way to become "good." In Crime and Punishment, if a character isn't suffering, they're probably making somebody else suffer. Sound depressing? It is. Luckily, this classic isn't all gloom and doomoccasional patches of brightness and hope are there to be found, though you might have to look hard to see them.
Most of the suffering in Crime and Punishment is directly related to poverty.
Svidrigaïlov's suicide shows that he, too, was suffering terribly in the novel.
We get some grim visions of "home" in Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Often, the home is a site of violence, abuse, and extreme poverty, a trap that seems impossible to escape. Eviction and homelessness seem an ever-present threat for many of the characters. Landlords and landladies are often corrupt. Positive definitions of home are found in the novel, though these usually exist outside, or in spite of, the living spaces of the characters. Fyodor Dostoevsky shows us extremes of negative home life and challenges us to look for a positive idea of home.
Representations of home in Crime and Punishment are all negative.
There's plenty of alcohol in Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and it isn't romanticized or celebrated in any way. In this novel, alcohol is nearly always a symbol or symptom of weakness, affliction, addiction, vice, abuse, or even vulnerability. Possible positive aspects of alcohol and drinking are not to be found. Though scenes featuring alcohol might have slight comic effects, they ultimately result in regret at the very least and terror at worst.
Alcoholism is the root cause of most of the suffering in the novel.
We never see the outside of a school, much less the inside of one, in Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Yet, we would argue that this is a "college book" because two of its main characters are very bright young men, intellectuals who have dropped out of college for a variety of reasons. Some other main characters are bright young women whoDostoevsky puts education up on a pedestal.in large part because they aren't allowed to go to college in their home country (not unusual in Russia in the 1860s) and are candidates for less than a handful of jobs have very limited options. By showing us its absence,
Crime and Punishment helps us realize that education is a precious resource that we shouldn't take for granted.
Crime and Punishment argues that formal education isn't necessarily the best way to learn about life.
As novelist and critic A. N. Wilson says, "[Fyodor Dostoevsky's] views on religion are notoriously hard to pin down with confidence." (Source) Hearing this is a bit of a relief, isn't it? Some version of Russian Orthodoxy is practiced by many of the characters we meet in Crime and Punishment, and like many novels and films in the Gothic tradition (think The Exorcist), Christian imagery, ideas, and symbols are deployed for a variety of purposes, some of them scary. All in all, religion and religious ideas are often contradictory and paradoxical in Crime and Punishment. We think that's part of the point Dostoevsky is trying to make—religion is an elusive force, which means something different to every person.
By not pressuring Raskolnikov to share her religious beliefs when he's in prison, Sonia acknowledges that religion is a personal choice.