Crime and Punishment is the second of Dostoevsky’s full-length novels after his exile in Siberia and the first great novel of his mature period.

Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, an impoverished St. Petersburg (Russia) ex-student who formulates and executes a plan to kill a hated, unscrupulous pawnbroker for her money, thereby solving his financial problems and at the same time, he argues, ridding the world of an evil, worthless parasite. Several times throughout the novel, Raskolnikov justifies his actions by relating himself to Napoleon, believing that even murder is permissible in pursuit of a higher purpose. There is, though, the promise of redemption, which is seen in most of Dostoevsky’s work.

Documentary on Dostoevsky. . . .

Oh, the names! The names!
Arkady Ivanovich Svidrgailov
A mysterious wealthy landowner, Svidrigailov is a shadowy, highly ambiguous character. He does not appear directly until the last third of the novel, although he is mentioned earlier. He is about fifty years old but looks younger. His "strange face" resembles a mask. He has blue eyes, a blond beard and blond hair, and ruby-red lips. Svidrigailov's background is thoroughly distasteful. He and his wife had employed Raskolnikov's sister Dunya as a governess, and he became obsessed with her. (Marfa Petrovna helped to arrange Dunya's engagement to Luzhin in order to get the girl away from Svidrigailov.) He confesses to Raskolnikov that his marriage to an older woman, Marfa Petrovna, was one of convenience. He is a shameless sensualist whose favorite activity was seducing young girls. There are rumors that he is responsible for the deaths of a servant, a girl whom he had raped, and his wife; he is occasionally visited by their ghosts. Svidrigailov has recently arrived in St. Petersburg. While lodging in the apartment next to Sonya's, he overhears Raskolnikov tell Sonya that he (Raskolnikov) is a murderer. Svidrigailov subsequently lets Raskolnikov know that he is aware of the young man's secret, and he attempts to blackmail Raskolnikov emotionally. Yet, for all his lurid interests, Svidrigailov is apparently capable of compassion. He gives much-needed money to both Dunya and Sonya, and he arranges for Katerina Ivanovna's children to be put in a good orphanage after their mother dies. (However, he hints that his motives for this last act may be entirely selfish.) After his last meeting with Raskolnikov, he again attempts to seduce Dunya. When this fails, he spends a night in a run-down hotel and is troubled by dreams about his former victims. In the morning he goes outside, puts a gun to his head, and commits suicide. Svidrigailov is often considered Raskolnikov's "double." His utterly selfish, callous, and destructive nature points to what Raskolnikov might become if Raskolnikov were to abandon all conscience and follow his theories through to their logical conclusion.

Pulkheria Aleksandrovna
Raskolnikov's mother. A widow, she is forty-three years old, but her face "still retains traces of her former beauty." When she arrives in St. Petersburg with her daughter Dunya and meets Raskolnikov, whom she has not seen for three years, she is deeply concerned about him. She finds his behavior puzzling, and she worries about him. Raskolnikov is embarrassed (among other things) by his mother's attention and attempts to rebuff her. In his final encounter with his mother, Raskolnikov reveals his love for her but does not tell her about his crime. However, with a mother's intuition, she is more aware of what is happening to her son than he realizes.

See Dunya Avdotya Romanovna.

Alyona Ivanovna
A pawnbroker whom Raskolnikov murders. The widow of a college registrar, in Raskolnikov's eyes she is a suspicious, miserly old woman who preys on unfortunate people who are forced to pawn their few possessions with her. Raskolnikov reasons that she is a "vile, harmful louse" who is no good to anyone and who only causes pain and suffering to others (including her simple-minded sister, Lizaveta Ivanovna). Therefore, for Raskolnikov, her murder is justified. However, Dostoyevsky suggests that the murder of even such an unsympathetic character is a crime against humanity.

Katerina Ivanovna
The wife of Marmeladov. Marmeladov tells Raskolnikov that she is "full of magnanimous emotions" but "hot-tempered and irritable." The daughter of a military officer, she was a poor widow when she met Marmeladov, and since her marriage to Marmeladov she has been reduced to total poverty. She has three children from her previous marriage. She is "a thin, rather tall woman, with a good figure and beautiful chestnut hair." Raskolnikov guesses that she is about thirty years old. She suffers from consumption (tuberculosis) and has been driven to despair by her husband's drunkenness and extreme poverty. In this piteous state she abuses her children, and on her deathbed she refuses to forgive Marmeladov for his irresponsibility. After her husband's death, she retreats into the fantasy that she has an aristocratic background. She dies shortly thereafter.

Lizaveta Ivanovna
The simple-minded younger half-sister of the pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna. Raskolnikov kills Lizaveta when the woman unexpectedly enters the apartment where Raskolnikov has just murdered Alyona Ivanovna. Ironically, Raskolnikov had earlier expressed some sympathy for Lizaveta, a poor soul who was abused by her sister. Raskolnikov had learned that Alyona would be alone when he overheard Lizaveta talking to someone in the market. Curiously, his unpremeditated killing of the innocent Lizaveta plays little part in his subsequent feelings of guilt. He later learns that Lizaveta was a friend of Sonya Marmeladova.

Andrei Semyonovich Lebezyatnikov
A former student of Luzhin, with whom Luzhin lodges temporarily in St. Petersburg. Lebezyatnikov belongs to a radical Utopian organization. Luzhin attempts to enlist him as a witness when he accuses Sonya of robbery. However, Lebezyatnikov realizes that Luzhin has framed Sonya, and he speaks up on her behalf and tells the truth. Dostoyevsky ridicules Lebezyatnikov's naïve political ideas, but the character is commended for his basic honesty and decency.

Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin
The manipulative fiance of Raskolnikov's sister, Dunya. Luzhin is related to Svidrigailov and Svidrigailov's wife, Marfa Petrovna, for whom Dunya previously had worked as a governess. In his early forties, Luzhin is depicted as a self-important dandy with uncertain government connections. He clearly does not love Dunya, and his motives for marriage are suspect. After a brief acquaintance, he has arranged for Raskolnikov's sister and mother (Dunya and Pulkheria Aleksandrovna) to follow him to St. Petersburg. However, his arrangements are less than satisfactory. Raskolnikov takes an instant dislike to Luzhin and insults him. Raskolnikov vows to stop his sister's marriage to a man whom he regards as a hypocrite and an opportunist. Luzhin later falsely accuses Sonya of having robbed him, but the charges are disproven and Luzhin is humiliated. For Dostoyevsky, Luzhin embodies superficiality and corruption.

Semyon Zaharovitch Marmeladov
A drunken civil servant; the father of Sonya and the husband of Katerina Ivanovna. In the novel's second chapter, Raskolnikov encounters Marmeladov in a tavern, where Marmeladov tells the former student the story of his degeneration. Despite his drunkenness, Marmeladov is intelligent and perceptive, but he has abandoned his job and lost all self-respect. Consequently, his family has fallen into dire poverty, and his daughter Sonya has resorted to prostitution in order to help support them. Marmeladov is fully aware of his irresponsibility and its disastrous consequences for his family. Indeed, he seems to take pleasure in his depravity and suffering. However, he is unwilling or unable to change his ways and reform himself. Marmeladov is later run over by a carriage and is fatally injured. Raskolnikov happens to come along and has the older man carried to Marmeladov's apartment, where he dies. Both comic and pathetic, Marmeladov is regarded as one of Raskolnikov's "doubles." Dostoyevsky may also intend him to be symptomatic of a Russian national tendency toward slothfulness and irrationality and an inability to reform or modernize.

Sonia Marmeladova
See Sonya Marmeladova
A meek young prostitute to whom Raskolnikov first confesses his guilt. The eighteen-year-old daughter of the drunken civil servant Semyon Marmeladov, and the stepdaughter of Katerina Ivanovna, Sonya has become a prostitute in order to help support Katerina's children. She is thin, fair-haired, and has "remarkable blue eyes." Raskolnikov first learns about her from Marmeladov. Although other characters scorn Sonya because of her profession, Raskolnikov is drawn to her because of her innocence. She reads Raskolnikov the biblical passage about Jesus's raising of Lazarus from the dead. She also tells Raskolnikov that she was a friend of the murdered woman Lizaveta. When Raskolnikov confesses that he is the murderer, Sonya is horrified because she realizes that he has murdered his own human spirit. She forgives him and urges him to go to a public place and bow down and confess his sin to God. Sonya follows him to Siberia. Sonya represents Dostoyevsky's religious faith. Her Christianity emphasizes redemption through suffering.

Natasya is the cook and only servant of Raskolnikov's landlady. Dostoyevsky describes her as a "country peasant woman, and a very talkative one." She tells Raskolnikov that the landlady has been talking about calling the police because he has been behind in his rent and will not leave. She is very kind to the poor student, bringing him tea and urging her cabbage soup on him, rather than taking his money to buy sausage.

Nikolay is one of the workmen. He is a house painter who confessed to the murders and who is described by Porfiry as a "child ... responsive to influences." His false evidence serves to distract people from suspecting Raskolnikov and provides Porfiry with a chance to urge Raskolnikov to make a full confession for his own good.

See Alyona Ivanovna.

Porfiry Petrovich
A police inspector whose interviews with Raskolnikov provide much dramatic tension in the book. A relative of Raskolnikov's friend Razumikhin, he is about thirty-five years old and pudgy. At times he seems a somewhat befuddled, comical character, but in fact he is extremely perceptive and intelligent. His investigative methods are highly unorthodox. He is more interested in criminal psychology than in standard police procedure or material evidence. Raskolnikov is uncertain how much Porfiry really knows about the crime, and he attempts to outwit the detective. However, Porfiry's friendly but persistent and all-knowing manner upsets and confuses Raskolnikov. In the end, Raskolnikov breaks down and confesses. Porfiry's emphasis on criminal psychology reflects Dos-toyevsky's own ideas and interests as a novelist.

Dmitry Prolcovich Razumikhin
Raskolnikov's best friend. A former student himself, Razumikhin helps to nurse Raskolnikov back to health after the latter's breakdown (following Raskolnikov's murder of the pawnbroker and her sister). His attitude toward Raskolnikov is complex: he often berates Raskolnikov, but he is also protective toward his wayward friend. Razumikhin falls in love with Raskolnikov's sister, Dunya, and he subsequently acts as her protector. He is a cousin of the police inspector Porfiry Petrovich, to whom he introduces Raskolnikov. On the surface, Razumikhin is himself no paragon of virtue. He is unkempt and ungainly, and when he meets Raskolnikov's mother and sister after a party he is drunk. Razumikhin's name derives from the Russian word for "reason." Some critics have compared Razumikhin and his role in this novel to Shakespeare's character Horatio, the friend of Hamlet.

See Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov
He is a poverty-stricken twenty-three-year-old. Described as an "ex-student," Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov has dropped out of the university presumably because of his inability to pay his fees. Beyond this, he has been suffering from a spiritual crisis. Proud, aloof, and scornful of humanity, at the beginning of the novel Raskolnikov has become obsessed with the idea that he is a "superman" and therefore not subject to the laws that govern ordinary humans. He has published an essay on his superman theory. To prove this theory, he intends to kill an old pawnbroker, whom he regards as worthless. However, the murder goes horribly wrong: he also kills the old woman's simple-minded innocent sister (Lizaveta), who stumbles upon the scene of the crime. Moreover, the crime fails to confirm Raskolnikov's cool superiority. Tormented by feelings of guilt, he acts erratically, and he fears that his guilt will be obvious to others. Much of the novel centers on Raskolnikov's irrational state of mind and the eccentric behavior that follows from this. On several occasions he comes close to boasting that he could have committed the crime, and dares others (notably the detective Porfiry Petrovich) to prove that he did it. He insults his friend Razumihkin and deliberately offends his mother and sister. However, he also acts in ways that show he still has a moral conscience. For example, he defends his sister against her scheming fiance Luzhin. He gives money to Marmeladov's widow Katerina Ivanovna. He recoils in horror from the depraved Svidrigailov. Most significantly of all, he is drawn to the young prostitute Sonya Marmeladova, who is morally pure and innocent despite her terrible life. He ultimately confesses his crime to her and begins his journey to redemption. The Russian word Raskol means "schism." The term was used to describe a split in the Russian Orthodox Church that occurred in the mid-1600s. Dostoyevsky's Russian readers would have been aware of the significance of Raskolnikov's name, which suggests contradictions in his own personality as well as his rebellion against God. In the complex Raskolnikov, Dostoyevsky created one of the most interesting and most human of all fictional characters.

Dunya Avdotya Romanovna
Raskolnikov's sister. She bears a physical resemblance to her brother, but in contrast to his morbid character she is self-confident, strong, and straightforward. She is devoted to Raskolnikov, and initially decides to marry Pyotr Luzhin primarily for her brother's financial benefit. With her mother (Pukhena Aleksandrovna), she unexpectedly arrives in St. Petersburg from the provinces and visits Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov is horrified at the thought of her loveless arranged marriage to Luzhin and attempts to stop it. Indirectly through Dunya, Raskolnikov also encounters Svidrigailov, whom Dunya earlier had served as a governess and whose intentions toward Dunya are not entirely honorable. Raskolnikov's friend Razumikhin falls in love with Dunya and serves as her protector; he eventually marries her.

Sofya Semyonovna
See Sonya Marmeladova.

The police clerk who tells Porfiry of his suspicions that Raskolnikov is the murderer early in the story. When Raskolnikov asks for him at the end of the novel in order to make his confession, he learns that Zametov is no longer there.

Dr. Zossimov
Dr. Zossimov is a young physician and friend of Razumikhin who comes to treat Raskolnikov. Described as "a tall fat man with a puffy, colourless, clean-shaven face and straight flaxen hair," he is fashionably dressed and nonchalant in manner, but he is known to be excellent at his work. Dr. Zossimov continues to look after Raskolnikov, "his first patient," he says, and is one of two friends to attend the wedding of Razumikhin and Raskolnikov's sister.

From the 1979 BBC mini-series.

Some facts the English reader should know:
1) Raskolnikov, Luzhin, Svidrigaïlov, Zametov, Marmeladov and Razhumikin have some symbolic meanings in their last names. For every Russian reader it is the obvious fact; however, in translation the meaning of names becomes lost.
Raskol’nik – schismatic
Luzha – puddle
Razum – reason, intelligence
Zametit’ – to notice
Marmelad – sort of sweet candy
Svidrigaïlov – name from the medieval Russian history, Lithuanian prince
2) The story of Marmeladov’s family came from the other Dostoevsky’s novel The Drunkards, which the writer had never finished. Instead of turning the story into the complete literary work, Dostoevsky put it in the plot of Crime and Punishment.

3) The character of Raskolnikov could be compared to other characters in Russian literature of that time. These heroes of Romantic era often possessed the qualities of revolt, cynicism and moral flaw in intelligent and attractive light. The critics created a name for such type of literary character, superfluous person. The examples of these heroes are Pushkin’s Yevgeniy Onegin and Lermontov’s Pechorin (Hero of Our Time).
4) Russian word for “crime” is “prestuplenie” which in direct translation means “stepping over”. “Stepping over the line” is also one of the phrases used by Raskolnikov in his “Louse or Napoleon” theory.
5) The murder weapon in the novel is an axe, a tool so often associated with Russian peasantry. It also carries the connotations of peasant unrest. However, Porfiry, is not deluded by the traditional weapon of a peasant and dismisses two painters from the list of suspects. Instead the ‘axe’ is used in his conversation with Raskolnikov as a double edged metaphor.

Quotes to consider:
  • "Why am I going there now? Am I capable of that? Is that serious? It is not serious at all. It's simply a fantasy to amuse myself; a plaything! Yes, maybe it is a plaything."

  • "Why am I to be pitied, you say? Yes! There's nothing to pity me for! I ought to be crucified, crucified on a cross, not pitied! Crucify me, oh judge, crucify me but pity me?"

  • "What if man is not really a scoundrel, man in general, I mean, the whole race of mankind-then all the rest is prejudice, simply artificial terrors and there are no barriers and it's all as it should be."

  • "Good God!" he cried, "can it be, can it be, that I shall really take an axe, that I shall strike her on the head, split her skull open... that I shall tread in the sticky warm blood, blood... with the axe... Good God, can it be?"

  • "Where is it I've read that someone condemned to death says or think, an hour before his death, that if he had to live on some high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he'd only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than to die at once! Only to live, to live and live! Life, whatever it may be!"

  • "Life is real! Haven't I lived just now? My life has not yet died with that old woman! The Kingdom of Heaven to her-and now enough, madam, leave me in peace!"

  • "Actions are sometimes performed in a masterly and most cunning way, while the direction of the actions is deranged and dependent on various morbid impressions-it's like a dream."

  • "If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake. That will be punishment-as well as the prison."

  • "I did not bow down to you, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity."

  • "Go at once, this very minute, stand at the cross-roads, bow down, first kiss the earth which you have defiled, and then bow down to all the world and say to all men aloud, 'I am a murderer!' Then God will send you life again. Will you go, will you go?"

  • "It was I killed the old pawnbroker woman and her sister Lizaveta with an axe and robbed them."

  • "They wanted to speak, but could not; tears stood in their eyes. They were both pale and thin; but those sick pale faces were bright with the dawn of a new future, of a full resurrection into a new life. They were renewed by love; the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other."

Question 3 Prompts
1976. The conflict created when the will of an individual opposes the will of the majority is the recurring theme of many novels, plays, and essays. Select the work of an essayist who is in opposition to his or her society; or from a work of recognized literary merit, select a fictional character who is in opposition to his or her society.
In a critical essay, analyze the conflict and discuss the moral and ethical implications for both the individual and the society. Do not summarize the plot or action of the work you choose.

1979. Choose a complex and important character in a novel or a play of recognized literary merit who might on the basis of the character’s actions alone be considered evil or immoral. In a well-organized essay, explain both how and why the full presentation of the character in the work makes us react more sympathetically than we otherwise might. Avoid plot summary.

1980. A recurring theme in literature is the classic war between a passion and responsibility. For instance, a personal cause, a love, a desire for revenge, a determination to redress a wrong, or some other emotion or drive may conflict with moral duty. Choose a literary work in which a character confronts the demands of a private passion that conflicts with his or her responsibilities. In a well-written essay show clearly the nature of the conflict, its effects upon the character, and its significance to the work.

1982. In great literature, no scene of violence exists for its own sake. Choose a work of literary merit that confronts the reader or audience with a scene or scenes of violence. In a well-organized essay, explain how the scene or scenes contribute to the meaning of the complete work. Avoid plot summary.

1988. Choose a distinguished novel or play in which some of the most significant events are mental or psychological; for example, awakenings, discoveries, changes in consciousness. In a well-organized essay, describe how the author manages to give these internal events the sense of excitement, suspense, and climax usually associated with external action. Do not merely summarize the plot.

1996. The British novelist Fay Weldon offers this observation about happy endings. “The writers, I do believe, who get the best and most lasting response from their readers are the writers who offer a happy ending through moral development. By a happy ending, I do not mean mere fortunate events -- a marriage or a last minute rescue from death -- but some kind of spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation, even with the self, even at death.” Choose a novel or play that has the kind of ending Weldon describes. In a well-written essay, identify the “spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation” evident in the ending and explain its significance in the work as a whole.

1999. The eighteenth-century British novelist Laurence Sterne wrote, “No body, but he who has felt it, can conceive what a plaguing thing it is to have a man’s mind torn asunder by two projects of equal strength, both obstinately pulling in a contrary direction at the same time.”
From a novel or play choose a character (not necessarily the protagonist) whose mind is pulled in conflicting directions by two compelling desires, ambitions, obligations, or influences. Then, in a well-organized essay, identify each of the two conflicting forces and explain how this conflict with one character illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole. You may use one of the novels or plays listed below or another novel or work of similar literary quality.

2000. Many works of literature not readily identified with the mystery or detective story genre nonetheless involve the investigation of a mystery. In these works, the solution to the mystery may be less important than the knowledge gained in the process of its investigation. Choose a novel or play in which one or more of the characters confront a mystery. Then write an essay in which you identify the mystery and explain how the investigation illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.

2001. One definition of madness is “mental delusion or the eccentric behavior arising from it.” But Emily Dickinson wrote
Much madness is divinest Sense-
To a discerning Eye-
Novelists and playwrights have often seen madness with a “discerning Eye.” Select a novel or play in which a character’s apparent madness or irrational behavior plays an important role. Then write a well-organized essay in which you explain what this delusion or eccentric behavior consists of and how it might be judged reasonable. Explain the significance of the “madness” to the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.

2002. Morally ambiguous characters -- characters whose behavior discourages readers from identifying them as purely evil or purely good -- are at the heart of many works of literature. Choose a novel or play in which a morally ambiguous character plays a pivotal role. Then write an essay in which you explain how the character can be viewed as morally ambiguous and why his or her moral ambiguity is significant to the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.

2003. According to critic Northrop Frye, “Tragic heroes are so much the highest points in their human landscape that they seem the inevitable conductors of the power about them, great trees more likely to be struck by lightning than a clump of grass. Conductors may of course be instruments as well as victims of the divisive lightning.” Select a novel or play in which a tragic figure functions as an instrument of the suffering of others. Then write an essay in which you explain how the suffering brought upon others by that figure contributes to the tragic vision of the work as a whole.

2004, Form B. The most important themes in literature are sometimes developed in scenes in which a death or deaths take place. Choose a novel or play and write a well-organized essay in which you show how a specific death scene helps to illuminate the meaning of the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.

2005. In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899), protagonist Edna Pontellier is said to possess “That outward existence which conforms, the inward life that questions.” In a novel or play that you have studied, identify a character who outwardly conforms while questioning inwardly. Then write an essay in which you analyze how this tension between outward conformity and inward questioning contributes to the meaning of the work. Avoid mere plot summary.

2009, Form B. Many works of literature deal with political or social issues. Choose a novel or play that focuses on a political oe social issue. Then write an essay in which you analyze how the author uses literary elements to explore this issue and explain how the issue contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.

2010. Palestinian American literary theorist and cultural critic Edward Said has written that “Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” Yet Said has also said that exile can become “a potent, even enriching” experience.
Select a novel, play, or epic in which a character experiences such a rift and becomes cut off from “home,” whether that home is the character’s birthplace, family, homeland, or other special place. Then write an essay in which you analyze how the character’s experience with exile is both alienating and enriching, and how this experience illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.

2011. In a novel by William Styron, a father tells his son that life “is a search for justice.”
Choose a character from a novel or play who responds in some significant way to justice or injustice. Then write a well-developed essay in which you analyze the character’s understanding of justice, the degree to which the character’s search for justice is successful , and the significance of this search for the work as a whole