Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment Book Review

Considered as one of the best works of Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment evokes major issues that pertain to crime, murder, suicide, redemption, poverty, redemption, religion, and insanity, among other themes. With the murder of Alyona Ivanovna, and her sister Lizaveta, by Rodion Raskolnikov –Royda –, speculations run all over to whom has killed the old pawn broker and her sister.download

There are different activities that unfold in the novel like: the proposal and decline of marriage to Avdotya Romanovna – Dounia – by Pyotr Petrovitch –Luzhin –; the death of Marmeladov (the alcoholic), Marfa Petrovna, Pulcheria Alexandrovna, and Katerina Ivanovna (as well as their insanity); the confrontation of Royda by the detective lawyer Porfiry Petrovitch about his crime; the conviction of Nikolay to committing murder; the suicide of Svidrigailov; the marriage between Dounia and Razumihin; the confession of Rodion to murder and his arrest, and the deep love between Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov –Sonia – and Royda.

imagesOverview of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky Book Review

Royda is a young man, who has dropped out of the university. He spends all his time in his small room thinking, and starving himself almost to death. He considers himself as an extra-ordinary man of great genius as Napoleon, as a result, he murders the old pawn broker, Alyona Ivanovna, and her sister Lizaveta with an axe and steals a pulse and trinkets, which he hides under a stone in Voznesensky Prospect.

After the crime, he suffers greatly both physically and emotionally, like one who has monomania: he undergoes through a hypochondriacal condition. This makes him to act strange, as well as to become physically weak, until he is bed ridden with his friend Razumihin taking care of him. He learns, from a letter sent to him, that his mother Pulcheria Alexandrovna, and his sister Dounia, are coming to Petersburg, and that Dounia is to be married to an old rich man Luzhin. This upsets him greatly.

When Luzhin calls upon him, he chases him out of his diminutive room, and lets him know that he does not consent to his sister being married by him because of his wealth, and that since she is poor, will abide to everything he says, so as to act as a rescuer for her impecunious family. When Dounia comes to see her brother in company of her mother, she is greatly perturbed at how Royda behaves and looks. He is mentally deranged! He bluntly tells her that he does not agree to her being married to the egoistic Luzhin.

Pulcheria Alexandrovna leaves her son’s room with her daughter and Royda’s friend, Razumihin, vexed, and sets off to their apartment that Luzhin has taken for them. She is worried about her son’s delirium condition, and she does not rest until Razumihin brings doctor Zossimov to assure her that he is going to be okay for the night.

Meanwhile Svidrigailov comes into Petersburg, though it is rumoured that he has poisoned his wife Marfa Petrovna, and he seeks out Royda to let him know that he is no longer interested in his sister Dounia, who had been a governess in his house when his wife was alive, and that he wishes to leave her a significant amount of money (a 10,000 roubles) before he leaves for abroad, and that to show he is no longer interested in her, he is marrying a young girl in a few days to come, though he needs to speak to Dounia for the very last time.images (1)

With the fainting of Royda in the police station, plus his article on crime being published in the Periodical Review, Porfiry Petrovitch suspicion is raised, and he confronts him in his house. He is an exceptionally intelligent man, and sees through Royda’s illness into his ideas on crime. Both of them talk, with Royda keeping his guard up, as Porfiry tries his best to get him into a loop to confess to the murder.

Finally Dounia’s marriage proposal to Luzhin is broken, and Razumihin is excited for he has eyes for Dounia. On the other side, things are not so good for Sonia, her stepmother, Katerina Ivanovna, and her siblings, as their father Marmeladov has died. The impoverished family, which is supported by Sonia through prostitution, gets some help from Royda, who gives all his money, after bringing the injured alcoholic Marmeladov after he was hit by a cart. Sonia is touched by Royda’s kindness, and goes in search of him to invite him for the burial of Marmeladov. This marks the strong bond between the two.

Nikolay, convinced that he killed the old pawn broker and her sister, goes to confess the crime. This sets Royda free of suspicion, and the detective lawyer, Porfiry, is baffled, as he holds that the young man is guilty of the crime. In the end, however Royda confess his crime after talking to Sonia heartily and lengthy, and he is taken to Siberia, where Sonia follows him.

Dounia and Razumihin get married, while Katerina Ivanovna becomes mad, and dies. Her children are taken to an orphanage with the money that Svidrigailov gives to Sonia before he shoots himself. Pulcheria Alexandrovna dies after her insanity, which is caused by not knowing where her son went to, while Royda and Sonia finally share their love feelings with one another in Siberia, where Royda serves 8 years in prison for his crime.download (1)

The Idea of Crime according to Rodion Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment

Royda fancies himself as a genius, an extra-ordinary man, like other great men in history like: Lycurgus, Solon, Mahomet, Napoleon, Alexander the Great, and Caesar: Men who had to commit massacres, murder, and mutiny to lead the greater population to liberty. He sees the old pawn broker, Alyona Ivanovna, as a leech that feeds on the society, and must be eliminated for the common good of humanity. His thought is very utilitarian.

When the detective lawyer Porfiry cites his article in the Periodical Review on The Psychology of a Criminal before and after the Crime, that “The perpetration of a crime is always accompanied by illness,” and that “There are certain persons who can… that is, not precisely are able to, but have a perfect right to commit breaches of morality and crimes, and that the law is not for them.” And that, “All men are divided into ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary.’ Ordinary men have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because, don’t you see, they are ordinary. But extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary.” Royda offers to explain his theory better.

According to him “extraordinary’ man has the right… that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep… certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfilment of his idea (sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity). “ This clearly gives us the idea of crime as fancies it. He gives examples of Newton and Kepler, who had to sacrifice many things, including death of men, so as to accomplish their goals. He further notes that all great men must be criminals, so that they can break free from common laws that tire the general population in a rut, then form new ones that will see men liberated, therefore allowing the numerical population the right to free thought, and to a better life.images (2)

For one to accomplish greatness in life, one must be willing to indulge into crime, it not being the end, but rather the means to a greater cause. One must cease to be common, for “men are _in general_ divided by a law of nature into two categories, inferior (ordinary), that is, so to say, material that serves only to reproduce its kind, and men who have the gift or the talent to utter _a new word_.” This alludes that for one to attain success in life, one must possess a gift or a talent that will allow one to rise above common laws, ideologies, and dogmas that normally lock men in their self made prisons that perpetuate more harm than common good.

Ordinary men are “conservative in temperament and law-abiding; they live under control and love to be controlled” for them it is “Their duty to be controlled, because that’s their vocation, and there is nothing humiliating in it for them.” On the other hand, extra-ordinary men tend to “Transgress the law; they are destroyers or disposed to destruction according to their capacities. The crimes of these men are of course relative and varied; for the most part they seek in very varied ways the destruction of the present for the sake of the better.” They do not follow common laws that are sometimes set by the State to benefit those in power, rather than the common citizens. They commit crime consciously, fully aware of the ramifications, so as to attain a desirable outcome. They are not controlled by fear: they have only one goal in mind, to fulfil their desire. This is the major difference between those who are geniuses and achieve greatness in life, and those who never achieve anything significant, but live a life of a mediocrity.images (3)

Yet the extra-ordinary man must know that his actions have consequences that may lead him to the gutter, or worse to the guillotine. His cause, in the end will see him suffer, as in the case of Rodion, as other great men in the past like Lycurgus, who starved himself to death after the laws he made for Sparta were deemed excellent by the oracle in Delphi, or Solon who left Athens after carrying out successful reforms all over the country, but he will attain success and achieve his goal.

What leads to Crime in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment?

One of the major causes that Dostoevsky explores, and is a major contributor to crime, is poverty. The impoverished state of Royda’s family makes him to contemplate on the murder of the old pawn broker, Alyona Ivanovna, hoping to steal her money and trinkets to help his mother Pulcheria Alexandrovna, and his sister Dounia. Due to lack of money, he drops out of the university, and lives like a recluse doing nothing to change his present state, unlike his friend Razumihin, who does translations and gets paid.

Yet poverty cannot be said to be the main contributor to crime, as knowledge can at times lead the individual to commit crime. The ideas that Royda hold about the extra-ordinary man, who surpasses common laws so as to achieve greatness in life, lead him to commit crime. His utilitarian ideas on the common good for society impel him into perpetuating murder. Sometimes the ideas that the individual holds can drive one into committing crime.

Out of crime comes the need for one to redeem oneself. And consequently the punishment follows. It is through the bad that the individual achieves goodness. Royda goes out and gives out all the money his mother had sent out for him to Marfa Petrovna. He helps Sonia through her misfortunes, and in the end both of them share their tender feelings of love. The individual, who commit crimes, may not necessarily be a bad person, and may have other positive attributes like: kindness, love, pity, meekness, and righteousness, traits that made Royda sentencing in Siberia to be reduced to 8 years instead of twenty, more, or life imprisonment.images (4)

Other times however, crime may lead to the demise of the individual, a good example is Svidrigailov, who shoots himself after committing major atrocities in his past including the cause of a young girl’s suicide, and the poisoning of his older, wealthy wife, Marfa Petrovna. He kills himself as he is constantly haunted by the ghost of his wife, and the young girl, who he led to her suicide through sexual assault. And after Dounia refuses to have him, he feels his life has no meaning, as he had murdered his wife with the intent of marrying her. This can show us that the individual, who does not seek redemption for his crimes, finds it in suicide.


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