Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Great Russian writer

"To love someone means to see them as God intended them"

What is “Crime and Punishment” about?

Like other great novels, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment has become so ingrained in culture, so quotable and so integral to history that even people who have never read the book have a rough idea of what it is about. At any rate, they know that the plot centres on the student Raskolnikov, who killed the old centenarian woman with an axe.

A synopsis of “Crime and Punishment” may look like this: a penniless student, Rodion Raskolnikov, is trying to make ends meet, and is forced to pawn a silver watch to the old woman Alyona Ivanovna, a cruel and greedy person. Raskolnikov, who has hardly eaten for several days and also owes the landlady a flat, thinks that killing the worthless old woman could help many people. Later, Raskolnikov learns that his sister Dunya is to be married off because the family is also short of money.

For some time, Raskolnikov ponders and plans his murder, at times trying to find a plausible excuse, then realising that he has no moral right to do so. In the end, hearing by chance from the interest-earner’s sister Lizaveta that she will be home tomorrow at seven, Raskolnikov makes up his mind. He kills both Alyona Ivanovna and Lizaveta, who accidentally shows up at the flat with an axe, and flees the scene. From this moment on, Raskolnikov’s conscience begins to take a heavy toll, undermining his health, making him suspicious of every random passer-by, keeping him awake and unable to live. Raskolnikov often faints and can no longer exist as an ordinary man.

At the same time, his relationship with the Marmeladov family develops; he meets Sofia, the daughter of an alcoholic drunkard who leads an almost miserable existence; “A girl of small stature, about eighteen, thin, but rather pretty blonde, with remarkable blue eyes”.

Raskolnikov learns from his acquaintance Razumikhin that he is suspected of murder. On Sonya’s advice he voluntarily surrenders to the police, after which he is sent to hard labour. Sonya goes after him, and in the end her love and gentleness help to bring Raskolnikov back to a peaceful existence with the hope of future happiness.

Here are some more important facts to complete the summary of Crime and Punishment:

  • It is a novel about the fact that no crime can be committed without being punished, including the punishment of the anguish of conscience. Dostoyevsky emphasises that no deed, not even the nicest one, is worth a human life.
  • One of the important characters in the novel is Semyon Marmeladov, Sonya’s father, a hard drinker. “A man in his fifties, of medium height and stout build, with a gray hair and a large bald spot. He dies after being run over by a horse. He is credited with the famous aphorism “Poverty is not a vice… But poverty is a vice”.

Another important character for the narrative is Arkady Svidrigailov, a character with a dual, contradictory character. “A man in his fifties, taller than average, burly. His family slandered Duna Raskolnikova. Svidrigailov himself is in love with her and literally pursues her. At the end of the novel Dunya almost shoots Svidrigailov with a pistol. Later he commits suicide.