The most profound theme in Crime and Punishment involves the reasons for performing immoral acts and the resulting effects of both the acts and the reasoning. While Dostoevsky's later novels often employ the murder mystery plot device, there is no mystery here. This is a psychological novel whose chief focus is on a murderer, his family (of whom he is very fond, through all of his tribulations), and his associates. Some of the most interesting scenes in the text are those in which the examining magistrate Porfiry Petrovich and Raskolnikov spar with each other: Raskolnikov becomes more and more uneasy, and one can perceive early on that Porfiry knows that the young man is guilty. And, when Raskolnikov's loyal friend Razumikhin attempts to explain away the crime—"Nothing is admitted . . . I'm not wrong! I can show you their books [those of the socialists who claim that crime is simply the protest against "bad and abnormal social conditions"]: they reduce everything to one common cause—environment."—Porfiry says that he is quite wrong and soon recalls an article written not long before by Raskolnikov.
In the essay, published in a local journal, Raskolnikov (who claims not even to know that it was published) deals with "the psychology of a criminal during the whole course of the crime." Porfiry uses this text in his subtle and indeed annoying penetration of the mind of the murderer. While Raskolnikov at first denies the extreme claim of the...
(The entire section is 1120 words.)
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On the surface, Crime and Punishment belongs to the popular genre known as the crime novel. A young man (Raskolnikov) commits a murder and then tries to conceal his guilt and evade arrest. In the end he confesses, is arrested, and is sent to prison, where he begins a process of spiritual regeneration. The novel's suspense arises not only from the question "what will happen next?", but from Dostoyevsky's close and relentless examination of the murderer's psyche. Dostoyevsky is more interested in important philosophical questions than in the technical police procedures of bringing a criminal to justice. He is also interested in the criminal's motives, which are ambiguous. The title indicates Dostoyevsky's interest in opposites and in the duality of human nature. The nature of guilt and innocence, the role of atonement and forgiveness, and the opposition of good and evil (and God and the Devil) all play an important thematic role in the book. While Dostoyevsky also examines social and political problems in the Russia of his day, his concerns are universal.
Guilt and Innocence
In large part, Crime and Punishment is an examination of the guilty conscience. For Dostoyevsky, punishment is not a physical action or condition. Rather (much as in Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost), punishment inherently results from an awareness of guilt. Guilt is the knowledge that one has done wrong and has become estranged from society and from...
(The entire section is 2947 words.)