What was Dostoevsky's purpose in writing Crime and Punishment?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a letter to his brother in December of 1849, Fyodor Dostovesky wrote,

To be a human being among human beings, and remain one forever, no matter what misfortunes befall, not to become depressed, and not to falter--this is what life is, herein lies its task.

This letter came in the wake of Dostovesky's own personal stay of execution, after a staged one created a terrifying experience that caused insanity in a few of the would-be condemned. This terrifying situation convinced Dostovesky to communicate to others that man possessed the power to "...turn each moment into an eternity of happiness." With this newly-found attitude towards life, Dostoevsky prepared himself to face his sentence in Siberia with a spiritual strength and a positive vision of the future.

In his magnum opus, Crime and Punishment, the great Dostovesky explores the theme of redemption through suffering. His main character Raskolnikov, a brilliant student, believes that intellectually superior men can be above the law. In order to prove this theory, he decides to commit the perfect crime: a murder of the old pawnbroker and her sister, who have a shop which many frequent. Without any connection to them, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov believes that he will never be suspected. But, he fails to recognize the role that conscience plays in his battle with cold rationalism. After congratulating himself on successfully proving his theory, Raskolnikov finds his conscience emerging in his Russian soul that demands repentance and spiritual resurrection. He is unable to sustain his initial Nietszchean-like philosophy; instead, his is the soul of the Russian Orthodox, one that must confess both to himself and to a priest. In the absence of a priest, he confesses to Sonia, whose name means wisdom; she imbues him with spiritual strength. In the final chapter, Raskolnikov asks Sonia for her crosses. After he departs,

He suddenly recalled Sonia's words, "Go to the cross roads, bow down to the people, kiss the earth, for you have sinned against it, too, and say aloud to the world world, 'I am a murderer.'"...And the hopeless misery and anxiety of all that time, especially of the last hours, had weighed so heavily upon him that he positively clutched at the chance of this new unmixed, complete sensation....it was like a single spark kindled in his soul and spreading fire through him. Everything in him softened at once and the tears started into his eyes....

Raskolnikov turns this moment into what Dostovesky called "an eternity of happiness."

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Crime and Punishment

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