Crime and Punishment Analysis

  • Raskolnikov might best be described as a nihilist. Nihilism is a philosophy that rejects all of society's moral principles, believing that they're meaningless. Raskolnikov commits murder to test if he can break society's rules with impunity. In the end, the novel rejects nihilism, and Raskolnikov is sent to a labor camp in Siberia.
  • Crime and Punishment is a study of the psychological effects of crime on the human psyche. Raskolnikov quickly discovers that being brought to justice is not the same thing as being punished, which can happen independently of the law. Raskolnikov's greatest punishment is guilt, which torments him after the murder.
  • Crime and Punishment employs Christian symbolism in its discussion of morality. Perhaps the best example of this is the cross, which is interpreted variously as a symbol of suffering (being crucified) and of redemption (being cleansed of one's sins).


Crime and Punishment is a fairly traditional nineteenth-century novel is some ways. The plot starts with the main character whose intentions are made clear. Then, antecedent information is supplied, so that the reader may understand how things came to be as they are. The main difference between this approach and that of dozens of Victorian novels is that the latter usually place the antecedent information first. But, the effect is the same, and the plot strands are laid out clearly, with the Dunya/Luzhin/Svidrigaylov subplot worked in smoothly and credibly. Also, the use of the "Epilogue" to bring the plot to a clear and satisfying (at least morally) conclusion is not an uncommon device—one may be reminded of the final chapters of many Dickens novels.

The setting is also presented clearly and traditionally, although there is a heavy emphasis on darkness and fog and nocturnal activities. Dostoevsky tends to employ urban settings; and, his use of St. Petersburg is accurate and realistic: there are the relevant streets; there are the Neva River and the bridges. The indoor scenes are usually marked by disorder and gloom (and even, as in the case of Svidrigaylov's hotel room, horror; the mouse running over him in the ugly chamber is revolting), creating an appropriately negative tone for the book.

The real innovation is in point of view. As a number of commentators have noted, both Joyce and Proust (and others like them) owe much to Dostoevsky for his...

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