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Crime and Punishment

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Crime and Punishment Characters

The main characters in Crime and Punishment are Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov, Pulcheria Alexandrovna, Duonia, Dmitri Razumihin, Piotr Petrovitch Luzhin, Sonia, and Profiry Petrovitch.

  • Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov is an impoverished former law student who murders a pawnbroker.
  • Pulcheria Alexandrovna is Raskolnikov's mother, who is tormented by knowledge of Raskolnikov's crime.
  • Duonia is Raskolnikov's sister, who tries to save him from himself.
  • Dmitri Razumihin is Raskolnikov's friend, who pines for Duonia.
  • Piotr Petrovitch Luzhin is a government official engaged to Duonia.
  • Sonia is the daughter of Raskolnikov's friend. Raskolnikov confides to her.
  • Porfiry Petrovich is a detective who elicits Raskolnikov's confession. 

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Characters Discussed

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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

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 under the strain of his deed and guilt. A handsome, middle-aged woman of distinction, a widow who has supported her family and urged her son to make his way in life, Pulcheria is a study of motherhood thwarted, a woman tortured by her inability to fathom her favorite’s depravity.

Avdotya Romanovna

Avdotya Romanovna (ahv-DOT-yah roh-MAH-nov-nah), called Dounia (DEW-nyah), her daughter and the younger sister who has aided in her mother’s effort to make something of her brother through working and skimping. A mirror of her mother’s fortitude and faith, Dounia is the beautiful, impoverished, clear-sighted savior of her family.

Dmitri Prokofitch Razumihin

Dmitri Prokofitch Razumihin (DMIH-tree proh-KOH-fihch rah-zew-MEE-hihn), Raskolnikov’s devoted friend. Enamored of Dounia, he is the savior of the family honor. Like Dounia, he has all the normal responses of a generous nature and works unceasingly to discover and repair the tragic situation of his friend. Affianced to the beautiful Dounia, he founds a publishing company to aid the hapless girl, mother, and brother. He is one of the few characters with a sense of humor; his good deeds lighten a psychologically gloomy and depth-insighted plot.

Piotr Petrovitch Luzhin

Piotr Petrovitch Luzhin (pyohtr peh-TROH-vihch LEW-zhihn), a minor government official betrothed to Dounia, a man filled with a sense of his own importance. Raskolnikov objects to his suit. Dounia herself loses interest in him after she meets Razumihin, whom she later marries.

Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov

Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov (soh-FYAH seh-MYOH-nov-nah mahr-meh-LAH-dov), called Sonia, the daughter of a drunken clerk and stepdaughter of the high-strung Katerina Ivanovna. It is her father who brings the luckless prostitute to Rodya’s attention and whose funeral the unstable student finances. From gratitude, the benevolent though soiled child of the streets comforts the murderer and supports him in his transgressions so that he finally will confess. Forced to support her father, her stepmother, and their three children, she remains unsullied, and her spirit transcends these morbid conditions. With great depth of character and faith, Sonia follows the criminal to Siberia, where she inspires the entire prison colony with her devotion and goodness.

Marmeladov

Marmeladov, an impoverished ex-clerk and drunkard, Sonia’s father. He is killed when struck by a carriage. Raskolnikov, who witnesses the accident, gives Marmeladov’s wife some...

(This entire section contains 762 words.)

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money to help pay for his friend’s funeral expenses.

Katerina Ivanovna

Katerina Ivanovna (kah-teh-RIH-nah ee-VAH-nov-nah), Marmeladov’s wife, slowly dying of tuberculosis. She collapses in the street and dies a short time later.

Arkady Ivanovitch Svidrigailov

Arkady Ivanovitch Svidrigailov (ahr-KAH-dee ee-VAH-noh-vihch svih-drih-GAY-lov), the sensualist in whose house Dounia had been a governess. He is both the would-be seducer and savior of Dounia, and through her of Sonia’s orphaned half sisters and brother, when he gives her money as atonement for his conduct. A complicated character, sometimes considered, with Raskolnikov, one of the alter egos of the writer, he is obsessed by guilt and driven by libido.

Porfiry Petrovitch

Porfiry Petrovitch (pohr-FIH-ree peh-TROH-vihch), a brilliant detective more interested in the rehabilitation than the prosecution of the murderer. Somewhat disturbed and neurotic himself, Porfiry seconds Sonia’s influence and causes Raskolnikov to confess his crime and thus begin his redemption.

Alonya Ivanovna

Alonya Ivanovna (ah-LOH-nyah ee-VAH-nov-nah), a miserly old pawnbroker and usurer murdered by Raskolnikov.

Lizaveta Ivanovna

Lizaveta Ivanovna (lee-zah-VYEH-tah), a seller of old clothes and Alonya Ivanovna’s sister, also killed by Raskolnikov.

Characters

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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 and wept." This is an entirely different character from the arrogant and prideful man who commits murder, spars verbally with the police, and believes himself above the law. All during the throes of his emotional and psychological storms (marked, for instance, by his dream of the brutal beating to death of a draft horse—often thought to be an autobiographical detail of the author's), Raskolnikov wrestles with the problems of his illnesses, his difficulties in dealing with other people (e.g., Luzhin and Svidrigaylov), his "distance" from the rest of society because of his crime, and many other challenges. Although the young man does change, he remains consistent; that is, all of his alterations seem believable, given the circumstances and what is provided about his past in the passages of antecedent information.

Svidrigaylov, while not "on stage" nearly so much as Raskolnikov, provides the main focus of the subplot dealing with Dunya's problems with the two men who want her. Luzhin she almost marries but resists; Svidrigaylov she manages to turn away, though not without violence and pain. At first, this proud young man, whose wife has died (Dunya had served in his house as a governess), pursues Dunya from the provinces to St. Petersburg. Only when he finds that she cannot love him but can stand up to him does he change into a more sensitive and depressed, but in a way more admirable, person. On the night before his suicide, he visits Sonia, claims to be "going to America" (which is a symbol that he uses several times to represent his departure from this life), and gives her a considerable amount of money (something that would never have entered his thoughts before, except as a way to gain sexual favors). During his stay at a cheap hotel, he recalls the violent scene with Dunya and notes how much he felt sorry for her—but, now it is too late, and so he says to himself, "Oh to hell with it! Again the same thoughts. I must chuck it all. Chuck it!" After several grim nightmares and some wandering in the city fog, he does just that, with a pistol to his head.

Dunya appears in the plot only occasionally, but Raskolnikov and her mother think about her a great deal. Her previous unhappy experience at Svidrigaylov's house is reviewed in the antecedent information, and the scenes in which she does take part are striking. The essential change in her behavior and attitude is that, at first, she seems passive and merely an adjunct to her brother and her mother. Later, as the pressure of Luzhin's attentions irritate her (intensified by Raskolnikov's urging to dismiss this suitor), and as she finds the renewed insistences of Svidrigaylov painful, Dunya gains strength—so much so that, in the key renunciation scene where she rejects Svidrigaylov outright, she manages to fire a shot at him, an action that would have been impossible for this beautiful and cultivated young lady at the opening of the novel.

Of the "flat" characters, Sonia Marmeladov is the most important. Her benevolent influence on Raskolnikov is pivotal, and it commences near the beginning of the story. She remains throughout the course of the novel the same humble, loving (she comes to be very fond of Raskolnikov early on), and reverent person that she is at the start. She has sacrificed her "virtue" for the welfare of her family: her ineffective mother and her dissolute father. She is prepared to sacrifice her comfort and safety again when she follows Raskolnikov to Siberia, in order to be near him and, as the conclusion reveals, convert him to a more reasonable and "healthy" attitude toward life. That she does this partly by the innocent fondness that she inspires in the other prisoners (which impresses Raskolnikov enormously) is consistent with her quiet, tender behavior throughout the text.

As a sort of parallel to Sonia, Razumikhin is the male counterpart of the positive associations of Raskolnikov's. He is a true friend, and he never changes. His marriage to Dunya late in the story is not only appropriate but predictable. He has no real intellectual accomplishments (reminding some readers of Horatio's relationship to Hamlet), but he is sensible and steadfast. In his less than adept attempt to explain crime by the socialist theory of "environment," he reveals his fairly superficial thinking but also his loyalty to his friend. One slight problem that might appear to some readers is the question of motivation for this comradely affection. No substantial reason is offered for Razumikhin's attachment to Raskolnikov, except that they have known each other for a while. The very fact of his devotion to the young murderer, though, helps to urge upon the reader a greater sympathy for Raskolnikov.

Porfiry Petrovich is a striking character, although he remains essentially the same, flat, personage all through the book. His two key scenes—one in which he baits Raskolnikov, giving a clear indication that he knows that the young man is guilty; the other in which he finally accuses Raskolnikov outright—are done very well. Porfiry's irritating laugh and pretense of being a friend—"my dear fellow"— strain Raskolnikov's nerves, which of course is what the examining magistrate wishes. He is, though, the same person in all of his appearances: a calculating, insightful, somewhat annoying policeman.

Marmeladov is largely a plot convenience. He provides a reason for Sonia's fall from virtue, and he underlines the curse of poverty that becomes a motif in the novel. His irrational behavior is uneven, but it is consistent—he is the same on the day he is killed as he was when he first came on the scene.