Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov
Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov (ROH-dyon roh-MAH-noh-vihch ras-KOL-nih-kov), called Rodya, a psychologically complex young law student who murders not for wealth but as an experiment, to see if he is one of those who can circumvent society’s restrictions. Impoverished and weakened by illness and hunger, he decides to rid society of a worthless person in order to preserve his genius for posterity, to relieve his devoted mother and sister from compromising themselves, and to prove that he is above conscience. He kills Alonya Ivanovna, a miserly old crone, and her sister. Later, in his loss of illusions, of peace of mind, and of the wealth he sought, he learns through suffering. Important changes result from acceptance of his inward punishment. His humanitarian instincts are brought out; his deep love of family and friends is revealed, and his belief that life must be lived is renewed. The study of his psychoses from the time he conceives his mad theory to his attempt at expiation in Siberia provides a masterly characterization of a tormented mind and shattered body.
Pulcheria Alexandrovna (pewl-CHEH-ryah ah-lehk-SAHN-drov-nah), his long-suffering mother, whose faith in her son sustains her but whose mind gives way...
(The entire section is 762 words.)
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In his discussion of "flat" characters (those with only one dimension, who are always seen from one angle) and "round" characters (those who are true to real life, who have several dimensions and behavior patterns), E. M. Forster offers as one key criterion of difference the ability of a character to undergo genuine change. On these terms, the main characters in Crime and Punishment may be categorized on the basis of their altered or unaltered mode of behavior.
Raskolnikov, Svidrigaylov, and Dunya Raskolnikov are the truly round characters, while Razumikhin, Sonia, Porfiry Petrovich, and Marmeladov remain relatively unchanged and flat. The profoundest change that Raskolnikov undergoes is his acceptance of what might be viewed as Divine Grace at the end of the book. However, he has suffered a violent series of tumultuous emotions throughout the plot, from the painful uncertainty that attacks him near the beginning—"He had to make up his mind at all costs, do something, anything or—'Or renounce life altogether,' he suddenly cried, beside himself. 'Humbly accept my fate, such as it is, and for ever give up every right to act, to live, and to love!'"—through the difficult problems of dealing with his guilt (often rationalized "away")—to his final coming to terms with his action and his punishment and his love: "How it happened he did not know, but suddenly something seemed to seize him and throw him at her [Sonia's] feet. He embraced her knees...
(The entire section is 1193 words.)
Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov
The central character of Crime and Punishment. He is a poverty-stricken twenty-three-year-old. Described as an "ex-student," Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov has dropped out of the university presumably because of his inability to pay his fees. Beyond this, he has been suffering from a spiritual crisis. Proud, aloof, and scornful of humanity, at the beginning of the novel Raskolnikov has become obsessed with the idea that he is a "superman" and therefore not subject to the laws that govern ordinary humans. He has published an essay on his superman theory. To prove this theory, he intends to kill an old pawnbroker, whom he regards as worthless. However, the murder goes horribly wrong: he also kills the old woman's simple-minded innocent sister (Lizaveta), who stumbles upon the scene of the crime. Moreover, the crime fails to confirm Raskolnikov's cool superiority. Tormented by feelings of guilt, he acts erratically, and he fears that his guilt will be obvious to others. Much of the novel centers on Raskolnikov's irrational state of mind and the eccentric behavior that follows from this. On several occasions he comes close to boasting that he could have committed the crime, and dares others (notably the detective Porfiry Petrovich) to prove that he did it. He insults his friend Razumihkin and deliberately offends his mother and sister. However, he also acts in ways that show he still has a moral conscience. For example, he defends his sister against her scheming...
(The entire section is 363 words.)
Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov
A mysterious wealthy landowner, Svidrigailov is a shadowy, highly ambiguous character. He does not appear directly until the last third of the novel, although he is mentioned earlier. He is about fifty years old but looks younger. His "strange face" resembles a mask. He has blue eyes, a blond beard and blond hair, and ruby-red lips. Svidrigailov's background is thoroughly distasteful. He and his wife had employed Raskolnikov's sister Dunya as a governess, and he became obsessed with her. (Marfa Petrovna helped to arrange Dunya's engagement to Luzhin in order to get the girl away from Svidrigailov.) He confesses to Raskolnikov that his marriage to an older woman, Marfa Petrovna, was one of convenience. He is a shameless sensualist whose favorite activity was seducing young girls. There are rumors that he is responsible for the deaths of a servant, a girl whom he had raped, and his wife; he is occasionally visited by their ghosts. Svidrigailov has recently arrived in St. Petersburg. While lodging in the apartment next to Sonya's, he overhears Raskolnikov tell Sonya that he (Raskolnikov) is a murderer. Svidrigailov subsequently lets Raskolnikov know that he is aware of the young man's secret, and he attempts to blackmail Raskolnikov emotionally. Yet, for all his lurid interests, Svidrigailov is apparently capable of compassion. He gives much-needed money to both Dunya and Sonya, and he arranges for Katerina Ivanovna's children to be put in a good orphanage after their...
(The entire section is 337 words.)
Raskolnikov's mother. A widow, she is forty-three years old, but her face "still retains traces of her former beauty." When she arrives in St. Petersburg with her daughter Dunya and meets Raskolnikov, whom she has not seen for three years, she is deeply concerned about him. She finds his behavior puzzling, and she worries about him. Raskolnikov is embarrassed (among other things) by his mother's attention and attempts to rebuff her. In his final encounter with his mother, Raskolnikov reveals his love for her but does not tell her about his crime. However, with a mother's intuition, she is more aware of what is happening to her son than he realizes.
See Dunya Avdotya Romanovna.
A pawnbroker whom Raskolnikov murders. The widow of a college registrar, in Raskolnikov's eyes she is a suspicious, miserly old woman who preys on unfortunate people who are forced to pawn their few possessions with her. Raskolnikov reasons that she is a "vile, harmful louse" who is no good to anyone and who only causes pain and suffering to others (including her simple-minded sister, Lizaveta Ivanovna). Therefore, for Raskolnikov, her murder is justified. However, Dostoyevsky suggests that the murder of even such an unsympathetic character is a crime against humanity.
The wife of Marmeladov. Marmeladov tells Raskolnikov that she is "full of magnanimous emotions"...
(The entire section is 1643 words.)