Crime and Punishment Summary
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky is an 1866 novel about Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a young man whose life is irrevocably changed when he commits a murder.
- Raskolnikov kills a pawnbroker for no apparent reason. He receives a summons from the police but is relieved to learn that he is not a suspect
- Wracked with guilt, Raskolnikov confesses his crimes to Sonia, a friend's daughter. He returns to the police station, where a detective named Porfiry plays mind games with him, heightening his paranoia.
- Raskolnikov turns himself in. After entering a plea of insanity, he's sentenced to eight years in a Siberian labor camp.
Last Updated August 21, 2023.
Crime and Punishment is a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian author, and was first published in 1866. The novel is situated in St. Petersburg, a city that mirrors the socio-political and intellectual tensions of 19th-century Russia. During this time, Russia was undergoing significant societal changes, and literary works were often used to explore the complexities of human psychology, morality, and societal norms.
The novel follows the story of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished former student living in St. Petersburg. Raskolnikov is plagued by poverty and his philosophical theories about the "extraordinary" individuals who are above the moral laws that govern ordinary people. He becomes consumed by the idea that he could prove his theories by committing a crime, specifically the murder of Alyona Ivanovna, a greedy old pawnbroker.
Raskolnikov carries out the murder but is tormented by guilt and paranoia soon after. As he attempts to cover his tracks, he meets Sonia Marmeladov, a young woman forced into prostitution to support her family. Sonia's moral compass and religious beliefs gradually influence Raskolnikov's perspective on his crime.
A cat-and-mouse game ensues between Raskolnikov and the clever investigator, Porfiry Petrovich. Raskolnikov becomes increasingly unhinged as he struggles with his inner demons, leading to a climactic confession driven by a mix of guilt, desperation, and Sonia's loving compassion.
Why it Matters:
Crime and Punishment is a cornerstone of Russian literature and a crucial work within the psychological and philosophical novel tradition. Dostoevsky's exploration of human consciousness, morality, and the inner workings of the human mind has left an indelible mark on both literature and psychology. The novel looks into themes such as guilt, redemption, and the consequences of radical ideology. It also is a meditation on the complex relationship between the individual and society.
Set against the backdrop of 19th-century Russia, a time of political unrest and intellectual ferment, the novel provides insights into the intellectual climate of the era. It examines the tension between traditional religious and moral values and the rise of rationalism and materialism. Dostoevsky's portrayal of Raskolnikov's inner turmoil has made the character a worldwide symbol of individuals' internal struggles with their own private morality and the consequences of their actions.
Crime and Punishment also pioneered the psychological novel genre, where exploring characters' inner thoughts and emotions takes precedence over external events. At the same time, it is a story of a local murder and its aftermath. Dostoevsky's innovative narrative techniques, such as the use of stream of consciousness and interior monologues, paved the way for modern literature's focus on the complexities of human psychology.
The novel's enduring significance lies in its ability to transcend its historical context and resonate with readers across cultures and time periods. It continues to provoke discussions about the nature of guilt, the consequences of ideology-driven actions, and the potential for redemption. Crime and Punishment remains a powerful exploration of the human condition, inviting readers to confront their own moral dilemmas and question the boundaries of societal norms.