Character Development (protagonist) – “So absorbed in himself had he grown, so isolated from everyone else, that he was actually afraid of meeting anyone at all, not simply his landlady. He had been crushed by poverty, but even his reduced circumstances had of late ceased to be a burden to him. His vital interests no longer concerned him; he did not even wish to think about them. As a matter of fact, no landlady on Earth had the power to make him afraid, whatever she might be plotting against him. But to have to stop on the stairs and listen to all that mediocre rubbish that had nothing whatsoever to do with him, all those pestering demands for payment, those threats and complaints, an be compelled in response to shift his ground, make excuses, tell lies- no, it was better to slink down the stairs like a cat and steal away unseen by anyone. As he emerged onto the street on this occasion, however, his terror of meeting his creditress shocked even him. ‘I plan to attempt a thing like this, yet I allow that kind of rubbish to scare me.'”(1.1.5-6)
This illuminates aspects of Raskolnikov’s character, particularly his qualities of being prideful, contemptuous, and emotionally detached from society. It also is when the audience is first given a glimpse that Raskolnikov is planning to commit murder. Raskolnikov thinks very highly of himself and believes others to be inferior because of the living conditions people subject themselves to. This is due to how the neighbourhood is described as being filthy and full of chaos, further in the novel. Although he also resides in the same neighbourhood as his “inferiors” he justifies his condescension with that fact that he does not choose to live here and that it is simply all he can afford at the time. The isolation he describes is what allows him to dream of committing heinous acts, which eventually, leads him to be so engrossed with his crazed dreams that he loses his touch on reality. His pride enables him to be contemptuous towards others, his lack of human contact leads him to increasingly abstract and inhuman ideas, and these ideas cause him to separate himself from society.
Setting- “Outside the heat was terrible, with humidity to make it worse; and the crowds of people, the slaked lime everywhere, the scaffolding, the bricks, the dust and that distinctive summer aroma, so familiar to every inhabitant of St. Petersburg who has not the means to rent a dacha in the country – all these things had a shattering effect on the young man’s already jangled nerves. The unbearable stench from the drinking dens, of which there are in this quarter of the city inordinately many, and the drunks he kept running into every moment or two, even though it was still working hours, completed the sad and loathsome colouring of the scene. An emotion of the most profound repugnance flickered for a moment in the young man’s features.” (1.1.6)
This tells us about the setting, by using a historic event of a heatwave. The “terrible heat” also alludes back to the first sentence in the novel “At the beginning of July, during a spell of exceptionally hot weather,” which allows the reader to deduce that the novel takes place during a heatwave in Russia, in the summer. There is a footnote that is also used in the novel to help further the understanding of the time period of the novel. The footnote states “The action of Crime and Punishment takes place in the summer of 1865, which in St. Petersburg was an exceptionally hot one.” Through the imagery, Raskolnikov’s character gives it can be inferred that St. Petersburg at the time is filthy, everything is in disarray, and it is crowded.
The actions of the citizens getting drunk instead of working suggests that the neighbourhood Raskolnikov lives in is a very poor area because everyone is drinking their money away. “It is my view that if the discoveries of Kepler and Newton could not on any account, as a result of certain complex factors, have become known to people other than by means of sacrificing the life of one person, the lives of ten, a hundred or even more persons, who were trying to interfere with those discoveries or stand as an obstacle in their path, then Newton would have had the right, and would even have been obliged… to get rid of those ten or a hundred persons, in order to make his discoveries known to all mankind.” (3.5.308-309)
This section tells us about the setting, particularly by describing an article that Raskolnikov wrote that contains a philosophical position that developed in Russia in the eighteen-fifties and eighteen-sixties. The ideas expressed in the article have strong ties to nihilism. Nihilism rejected the traditional bonds of family and society as well as emotional and aesthetic concerns in favour of strict materialism promoting the idea that there is no mind or soul outside of the physical world. A theory of nihilism was utilitarianism which is the idea that actions are moral as long as they work toward the greatest possible happiness for the largest number of people.
Character development (minor character) – “Raskolnikov did not miss a single word and learned everything in one go: Lizaveta was the old woman’s younger half-sister (they had different mothers), and she was thirty-five years old. She worked for her sister day and night, performed the functions of cook and washerwoman in the household, and, in addition, did sewing which she sold, and even hired herself out to scrubs floors, giving all that she earned to her sister. She did not dare take a single order or accept a single job of work without the old woman’s consent. Another thing was that the old woman had already made her will, a fact that was known to Lizaveta, who did not stand to inherit a single copeck, just the old woman’s personal effects, some chairs and so forth; all the money had been earmarked for distribution to a certain monastery in the province of N -, in return for the eternal remembrance of her soul.
Lizaveta had retained her petty-bourgeois origins, unlike her sister, who had married into the civil service; she had not married, and was terribly awkward, of remarkable height, with great long almost bawdy-looking legs, always with down-at-heel goatskin shoes on her feet, and she paid special attention to her cleanliness.” (1.6.79) This passage develops Lizaveta’s Character, particularly by how she is seen by others and the rumours of how she is treated by Alyona. From the passage, it can be inferred that Lizaveta is meek, mild, and compliant which enables Alyona to abuse her. It is said later on that Alyona bit Lizaveta’s finger out of meanness, so the threat of being more than just mentally abused frightens her into being acquiescent to her sister’s demands.
The severity of the line “She did not dare take a single order or accept a single job of work without the old woman’s consent” supports how much she fears being disobedient to her sister. It is these fears that paralyze Lizaveta from standing up for herself and benefiting from her own labours. Through this section, Lizaveta’s life is viewed as a hardship and the only one who benefits from her hard work is her sister. By the way, Lizaveta is described it can be inferred that she has very low self-esteem which is why she puts up with how she is being treated and never got married.
Character Development (Antagonist) – “‘What if it were I who murdered Lizaveta and the old woman?’ he said suddenly and – recovered his grip. Zamyotov stared at him wildly for an instant and turned as pale as a sheet. His face distorted by a smile. ‘Is this really possible?’ he said in a voice that could scarcely be heard. Raskolnikov gave him a look of malicious hostility.” (2.6.199) This passage further develops Raskolnikov’s character, particularly by showing his impulsiveness which almost leads him to confess to the crimes he has committed. He is his own antagonist because he is constantly fighting with his own conscience with his desire to evade suspicion of being the murderer.
The battle of his guilty conscience and his misdeeds is so great that it drives Raskolnikov to the point of delirium. It is in this state of delirium that Raskolnikov is influenced to “fake” a confession to see if he is even suspected of murder. By Raskolnikov’s only interest is to talk about the murders, Zamyotov becomes a little suspicious of him. These impulses later in the chapter lead him to the scene of the crime where he almost confesses again leaving the workmen suspicious of him. Through these dangerous and impulsive actions, police suspicion is aroused, and is the apparatus in his own downfall thus, making him his own worst enemy.
Resolution of the Conflict – “Raskolnikov lowered himself onto the chair, without, however, taking his eyes off the face of the disagreeably astonished Ilya Petrovich. For a moment they both looked at each other, waiting. Water was brought. ‘I’m the person…’ Raskolnikov began. ‘Take a drink of water.’ Raskolnikov brushed the water aside and quietly, in measured tones, but distinctly, said: ‘I’m the person who murdered the old civil servant’s widow and her sister Lizaveta that day, I did it with an axe, and I robbed them.’ Ilya Petrovich opened his mouth. People came running from every quarter. Raskolnikov repeated his deposition.” (6.8.632-633)
This passage brings Raskolnikov’s inner conflicts to an end by having him confess to the murders. By confessing Raskolnikov is freed from the nagging of his guilty conscience but his actions here do not bring him back to humanity. The readers can infer that Raskolnikov has not gained his humanity back, because it is only when he sees Sonya after talking to Ilya Petrovich for a first attempt at confessing that he goes back into the police station to confess. Sonya acts as a guiding light for Raskolnikov by having him confess so that he can begin his journey to redemption. Through these actions, he is beginning to open himself to human interaction by allowing what Sonya thinks of him to matter. Therefore, concluding the central conflict of the novel and the beginning of Raskolnikov’s reintroduction into society as an equal.
Irony – “He rushed at her with the axe; her lips grew contorted in the pitiful manner common to very young children when they begin to be afraid of something, stare fixedly at the thing that is frightening them and prepare to cry out loud. Moreover, this unhappy Lizaveta was so simple, downtrodden and utterly intimidated that she raised her hands to protect herself, even though this would have been a most natural, lifesaving gesture for her to make at that moment, as the axe was raised right above her face. She merely raised her unengaged left arm the tiniest distance, a long way from her face, and slowly extended it toward the axe, as though in an attempt to ward it off. The blow landed right on her skull, blade-first, and instantly spilt open the whole upper part of her forehead, almost to the crown of her head.
She fairly crashed to the floor.” (1.7.97-98) This passage shows situational irony by how Raskolnikov’s murder plan turned out. Raskolnikov did not expect Lizaveta to return home so early and to see her sister’s murdered corpse on the ground. So, in order to protect himself, Raskolnikov murders Lizaveta too. The irony is that Raskolnikov justified his killing of Alyona by saying he was doing Lizaveta a favour by removing a source of pain from her life. By murdering Lizaveta too, Raskolnikov has made his reasoning for killing Alyona futile.
Symbolism – “Without saying anything, Sonya produced two crucifixes from a drawer, a cypress one and a copper one, crossed herself, crossed him, and hung the cypress crucifix around his neck.” (6.8.623) This passage shows the symbolism of the crucifix by how Sonya gives Raskolnikov “redemption”. In this context, she is behaving like Jesus by giving him unconditional love, herself, and concern. She does this so that she can bring him back to humanity and renew his soul. At this point in time, Raskolnikov does not believe in redemption and has no feeling that he sinned. The crucifixes are used to symbolize the start of Raskolnikov’s journey to the recognition of the transgressions he has committed.
Theme – “‘Leave me, leave me alone, all of you!’ Raskolnikov shouted in a frenzy. ‘Will you leave me alone now, you torturers! I’m not afraid of you! I’m not afraid of anyone, anyone now! Go away! I want to be alone, alone, alone!'” This passage shows Raskolnikov’s aversion to being around people, even those whom he is familiar with, particularly by his outburst at his friends after spending the majority of his time with them. It is not only his friends that Raskolnikov does not want to be around; it is his alienation from society that makes him uncomfortable around people. Raskolnikov’s pride is what alienates him from other people in the beginning because he believes himself to be superior to others. His ideology of nihilism also contributes to allowing him to use people for his own advances. In the significant section, it is his intense guilt and half-delirium from the murders that causes his fondness for isolation to grow. With his state of mind, Raskolnikov continuously pushes those who are trying to help him away. In the end, it is through his total alienation that he realizes that he needs to rejoin society because complete isolation is intolerable.
- Is killing anyone ever justifiable? What if it is out of self-defence? Does Raskolnikov really care that he murdered Alyona or is he just afraid of the punishment?
- Are there people who are above the law? Should there be?
- What are some themes in the novel? How do they relate to a character? Some themes in the novel are alienation from society, nihilism, and the idea of the superhuman. All three themes are related to Raskolnikov’s ideology that some humans are better than others. His alienation from society stems from his pride and his inferior view of others. Nihilism is the philosophical view that Raskolnikov adopts; its beliefs are that moral decisions should be made based on what grants the largest amount of people the most happiness. He also uses his belief in nihilism to justify killing Alyona because her death would allow Lizaveta freedom and happiness. The idea of the superhuman is that some people are extraordinary and most are ordinary; where the extraordinary is above all laws and the ordinary are not. In the novel, all three of the themes beliefs are used by Raskolnikov to justify his plans of murder and the actual murder itself. This mindset is what enables Raskolnikov to lose his humanity and consider taking a life for the “greater” good. “‘Crime? What crime? … My killing a loathsome, harmful louse, a filthy old moneylender woman… and you call that a crime?'” From the context of these lines, the reader can infer that Raskolnikov believes he is above the law and did society a service by getting rid of a malicious old lady. These beliefs eventually cause inner turmoil within Raskolnikov and lead him into a half-delirium state of mind.
- What is the primary purpose of the novel? Is the purpose important or meaningful? The primary purpose of the novel is to reinforce the ideas to the readers that regardless of philosophy true guilt is inescapable and truly great people will lift humanity up, not leave it behind. An example of inescapable guilt can be seen in Raskolnikov’s reaction to Nastasya’s telling him that the beatings he thought he heard were blood “‘Blood? What blood?…’ he murmured, turning pale and backing away against the wall.” His reaction to this suggests that he is no longer thinking he is superior to anyone and that he fears everyone suspects him for the murders already. Sonya is a good example of a great person because even though Raskolnikov has committed such a heinous crime she is willing to look past it and be the one who saves him. In life, people are taught their right from their wrongs and are punished to discourage bad behaviour. Generally, when people are punished for anything they will not do it a second time for fear of the punishment that awaits their misdeed. Parents are models for their children to grow up well. They are the ones who will lift humanity up by teaching their kids to live in harmony with others. The purpose of the novel is an important one it is non-discriminatory and it is true that people who believe in humanity and try to see past its flaws will make humans a better race.
- What is the role of family and community in this novel?
- What is important about the title? Is there a reference in the novel that explains the title? Is there a reason we sometimes use that phrase to describe the criminal-justice system?
- What are the conflicts in Crime and Punishment? What types of conflict (physical, moral, intellectual, or emotional) did you notice in the novel?
- How does Fyodor Dostoevsky reveal character in Crime and Punishment?
- Is Raskolnikov consistent in his actions? Is he a fully developed character?
- Compare the major female characters: Sonya, Dunya, and Katerina Ivanovna. Do you think they are well-rounded characters or stereotypes? How does each figure in Raskolnikov’s actions?
- the basis for and the impact of individual choices
- human isolation and its effect on the individual
- how a new perspective influences an individual’s interpretation of the world
- the ways in which individuals pursue or compromise their happiness
- the interplay between fear and foresight when individuals make life-altering choices
Thesis: In Crime and Punishment, isolation is used as a means to evade the inferiority of society, cause insanity, and pursue one’s full potential. Argument 1: Raskolnikov’s alienation from society allows him to become overly prideful. Example: “So absorbed in himself had he grown, so isolated from everyone else, that he was actually afraid of meeting anyone at all” Explanation: By depriving himself of human interaction, Raskolnikov makes rejoining society a hard task to accomplish. Since his thoughts were the only ones he heard he became prideful and believed himself to be a genius. Argument 2: By choosing to be isolated from society Raskolnikov opens himself up to having abstract and inhuman thoughts. Example: “‘I plan to attempt a thing like this, yet I allow that kind of rubbish to scare me.'”
Explanation: Raskolnikov’s thoughts begin to become muddled as a direct result of his alienation from society. When nihilism is introduced to him, he instantly agrees because it is in support of his isolated lifestyle, which leads him to believe his thoughts are going to be what lifts up the human race. Argument 3: In his efforts to distance himself from society, Raskolnikov is destroying his chance at happiness and quality of life. Example: “His vital interests no longer concerned him; he did not even wish to think about them.” Explanation: Through using isolation to create happiness for himself, Raskolnikov, deteriorates the quality of his life and destroys his chance at happiness by constantly fighting his conscience; which causes his mind to enter a half-delirious. Conclusion: Keith Henson once said, “People can undergo a sudden change of thinking and loyalties under threat of death or intense social pressure and isolation from friends and family.”