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CRIME AND PUNISHMENT Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881 ). Nineteenth-Century Russia. major upheaval, political uncertainty and war Napoleonic Wars 1803-1815 Fyodor Dostoevsky born 1821 Czars Nicholas I and Alexander II Nihilists. Biographical Information.

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nineteenth century russia
Nineteenth-Century Russia

major upheaval, political uncertainty and war

Napoleonic Wars 1803-1815

Fyodor Dostoevsky born 1821

Czars Nicholas I and Alexander II


biographical information
Biographical Information

family background- middle class (had once achieved nobility but then fallen into decline)

poverty, gambling addiction (Marmeladov?)

strained relationship with father

temperamental: "He was almost pathologically high strung, morose, suspicious... either sullen and silent or else outspoken and polemical.”

epileptic- man as "the sick animal”

joined a group of Christian socialist intellectuals, arrested, sentenced to 8 years of hard labor in Siberia, then death by firing squad, reprieved by the czar, then 4 years of Siberia and 4 years in Russian army

the mystery of man
The Mystery of Man

Romantic vision of man as a unique creature composed of conflicting elements

"Our world is the purgatory of heavenly spirits darkened by sinful thoughts."

sanctification through suffering

the concept of the double

Romantic hero: presented qualities of revolt, cynicism, and moral flaw in intelligent and attractive light

crime and punishment
Crime and Punishment

published in 1866 as a monthly serial in a Russian literary journal

Can evil means justify honorable ends?

Who is the real criminal?

Character as mystery


Expose of social conditions in 19th cent. Russia

Satirical analysis of liberal and radical politics

Religious call for redemption through suffering

Study of the nature of good and evil, intellect and emotion

Psychological account for crime, search for motive


Robert Louis Jackson – Dialogues with Dostoevsky.

"Dostoevsky," he continues, "has become an icon--in some respects a cliche--for twentieth-century self-consciousness: to know him has been to know ourselves and our century."

author profile
Author Profile
  • Inherent in Dostoevsky’s literary canon is the primacy of thefreedom of the individual.
  • He argued in The Double and other works that the problems of society were caused by the absence of freedom; humankind had been “overcome” by the impact of human institutions—the church, the state, and economic structures—and by the assumed beliefs in God and in economic and social values.
author profile cont
Author Profile cont.
  • SO - Dostoevsky advanced a radical philosophy in which he condemned encumbrances to freedom.
  • He maintained that the so-called “laws of nature” did not exist; sustaining a belief in these laws would inevitably result in the restriction of freedom.
    • It was only through unbridled and anarchical freedom that the individual would be totally free and thus recognize his or her own identity.
author profile cont1
Author Profile cont.
  • This condition would preclude all forms of ethics except for a hedonistic ethics based on the interests of the self.
  • Dostoevsky recognized the anarchical ramifications of his argument and attempted unsuccessfully to address them in Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.
  • If truth does not exist, there is no basis for ethical principles.
crime and punishment1
Crime and Punishment
  • In this novel Dostoevsky brings to a high pitch the intellectual and emotional conflicts of human beings.
    • Raskolnikov’s way of thinking, his sense of superiority over other human beings, is brilliantly dramatized at the same time that Dostoevsky reveals his isolation, his moral vacuity, and his inability, despite possessing great intellect, to attain a sense of humanity.
  • In this novel Dostoevsky profoundly questions the value of human intellect apart from emotional, indeed religious, feelings.
intellect raskolnikov and luzhin
Intellect- Raskolnikov and Luzhin
  • Both men have projects that fail – and both blame the failure on a “blunder” – a mere mistake – and see nothing else blameworthy in what they have done.
  • In both men, pure intellect dominates without the softer human emotion.
after crime and punishment
After Crime and Punishment
  • In much of his subsequent work Dostoevsky probes deeply into human compulsiveness and into the sins that human beings commit against one another.
  • Distrustful of purely rationalistic and political panaceas (an attitude that was, in part, a reaction against his early radicalism), he stresses compassion for human beings and the inevitability of suffering.
nietzsche s superman
Nietzsche’s Superman

See notes for explanation.



1. An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.

2. A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.

A diffuse, revolutionary movement of mid 19th-century Russia that scorned authority and tradition and believed in reason, materialism, and radical change in society and government through terrorism and assassination.

  • It is a philosophical position developed in Russia in the 1850s and 1860s, known for “negating more,” in the words of Lebezyatnikov.
  • It rejected family and societal bonds and emotional and aesthetic concerns in favor of a strict materialism, or the idea that there is no “mind” or “soul” outside of the physical world.
  • Linked to nihilism is utilitarianism, or the idea that moral decisions should be based on the rule of the greatest happiness for the largest number of people. (56)
    • Raskolnikov originally justifies the murder of Alyona on utilitarian grounds, claiming that a “louse” has been removed from society.
  • Whether or not the murder is actually a utilitarian act, Raskolnikov is certainly a nihilist; completely unsentimental for most of the novel, he cares nothing about the emotions of others.
  • Similarly, he utterly disregards social conventions that run counter to the austere interactions that he desires with the world. However, at the end of the novel, as Raskolnikov discovers love, he throws off his nihilism. Through this action, the novel condemns nihilism as empty.
setting a social narrative
Setting-a social narrative
  • St. Petersburg misery – (think back to Hamlet)
  • Raskolnikov is a child of that misery, patently belonging to the world of the insulted and injured, though in him the humility and submissiveness of that world’s human mixture are turned inside out.
  • He is the first of its inhabitants to attempt its redemption by making a bid, in however futile and hideous a fashion, for freedom and power.
more than just one crime
More than just one crime…
  • The novel contains many examples of crime – or transgression translated from the Russian “prestuplenie”
  • Raskolnikov, Sonya, Luzhin, Svidrigailov
    • All of these characters engage in transgressions as a means to an end
plot structure
Plot structure
  • Parts I-III: present the predominantly rational and proud Raskolnikov
    • the progressive death of the first ruling principle of his character
  • *point of change in the middle of the novel
  • Parts IV-VI: the emerging "irrational" and humble Raskolnikov
    • progressive birth of the new ruling principle
monomania and malaise and ennui
Monomania and malaise and ennui
  • Monomania = pathological obsession with one idea or subject; intent concentration on or exaggerated enthusiasm for a single subject or idea (re: murder of pawnbroker and Lizaveta) (23)
  • Malaise = a vague feeling of bodily discomfort, as at the beginning of an illness; a general sense of depression or unease (R’s pathological condition or soul-sickness?)
  • Ennui (Fr. boredom) = listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from lack of interest; boredom (sensuality as a flight from it – Svidrigaylov)
three thematic elements
Three thematic elements
  • Primary theme of Raskolnikov’s crime and its consequences
  • Minor theme of the lowly and good Marmeladovs
  • Minor theme of the wealthy immoralist Svidrigaylov (see Marquis de Sade)

*Latent theme = right to violent rebellion

  • Many examples of sacrifice / self sacrifice
  • In general, Dostoevsky emphasizes the ironic ineffectuality of the sacrifices being made.
  • Sonya – for the Marmeladovs, Lizaveta – for her sister, Dunya – for her mother and brother, Raskolnikov – for the sake of a theory
  • Suffering is a major component of the novel.
    • The characters are citizens of St. Petersburg – poor and miserable – and almost without exception, they suffer
  • Some of the characters seem to need to suffer: Marmeladov (18-19), Katerina (martyr?), Mikolka
  • There is a connection between piety and the acceptance of suffering – Sonya, Lizaveta, Mikolka
  • What does suffering have to with Raskolnikov in the Epilogue?
  • Porfiry says to Raskolnikov, “Do you, Rodion Romanovich, know what some of these people mean by ‘suffering’?. . . It is not suffering for somebody’s sake, but simply ‘suffering is necessary’ – the acceptance of suffering, that means, and if it is at the hands of the authorities, so much the better” (VI, 2).
moral standards
Moral Standards
  • The moral standards in the novel are Christian.
  • They are represented by Sonya, Razumikhin, and Porfiry – although never stated directly by any of them.
  • Christian morality / these characters recognize crime and find no excuse for wrongdoing. No class of man is exempt; all men must accept responsibility.
  • After learning that Alyona will be home alone at 7 o’clock, he goes “like a man condemned to death” (I,5).
  • On his way to murder Alyona, he compares himself to a man going to execution
  • Before his encounter in the tavern with Zamyotov, he thinks of a condemned man given the choice to die or live on “a hand’s breadth of ground” (II,6).
  • The story of Lazarus brought back from the dead becomes an important part of the story.
  • Porfiry first mentions Lazarus: “A-a-and, do you believe in the raising of Lazarus?” (III,5)
  • Raskolnikov asks Sonya to read the story of Lazarus
  • Raskolnikov’s resurrection / return to life / renewal occurs in the Epilogue or at least ends there. Like Lazarus, it may be connected to the fourth day.
a modern case
“A modern case”
  • Porfiry: “a modern [contemporary] case” (385) = a spiritual and mental self-division and self-contradiction
  • Problematical nature of modern personality and of its tortuous efforts to stem the disintegration threatening it
  • The search for the “true cause” = (1) ideas bearing on the nature of crime and its relation to psychic illness; (2) ideas about two kinds of human beings (ordinary and extraordinary); (3) ideas concerning the supernal value of suffering and the promise of deliverance in Christ
text criminality
  • PART ONE – CHAPTER SIX (p. 54-7 in my book)
    • Superstitious events
  • PART ONE – CHAPTER SIX (p. 60-1 in my book)
    • Nature of crime/criminal
  • PART THREE – CHAPTER FIVE (p. 216-225 in my book)
    • Is there such a thing as crime?
  • PART FOUR – CHAPTER FIVE (p. 286-290 in my book)
    • Porfiry on crime
  • Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov (ROH-dyon roh-MAH-noh-vihch ras- KOL-nih-kov), called Rodya, a psychologically complex young law student who murders not for wealth but as an experiment, to see if he is one of those who can circumvent society’s restrictions.
  • Impoverished and weakened by illness and hunger, he decides to rid society of a worthless person in order to preserve his genius for posterity, to relieve his devoted mother and sister from compromising themselves, and to prove that he is above conscience.
  • Pulcheria Alexandrovna (pewl- CHEH-ryah ah-lehk-SAHN-drov-nah), his long- suffering mother, whose faith in her son sustains her but whose mind gives way under the strain of his deed and guilt.
  • A handsome, middle-aged woman of distinction, a widow who has supported her family and urged her son to make his way in life, Pulcheria is a study of motherhood thwarted, a woman tortured by her inability to fathom her favorite’s depravity.
  • Avdotya Romanovna (ahv-DOT-yah roh-MAH-nov-nah), called Dounia (DEW-nyah), her daughter and the younger sister who has aided in her mother’s effort to make something of her brother through working and skimping.
  • A mirror of her mother’s fortitude and faith, Dounia is the beautiful, impoverished, clear- sighted savior of her family.
  • Dmitri Prokofitch Razumihin (DMIH-tree proh-KOH-fihch rah-zew- MEE-hihn), Raskolnikov’s devoted friend.
  • Enamored of Dounia, he is the savior of the family honor. Like Dounia, he has all the normal responses of a generous nature and works unceasingly to discover and repair the tragic situation of his friend. Affianced to the beautiful Dounia, he founds a publishing company to aid the hapless girl, mother, and brother.
  • He is one of the few characters with a sense of humor; his good deeds lighten a psychologically gloomy and depth-insighted plot.
  • Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov (soh- FYAH seh-MYOH-nov-nah mahr-meh- LAH-dov), called Sonia, the daughter of a drunken clerk and stepdaughter of the high-strung Katerina Ivanovna.
  • From gratitude, the benevolent though soiled child of the streets comforts the murderer and supports him in his transgressions so that he finally will confess. Forced to support her father, her stepmother, and their three children, she remains unsullied, and her spirit transcends these morbid conditions.
  • Arkady Ivanovitch Svidrigailov (ahr- KAH-dee ee-VAH-noh-vihch svih-drih- GAY-lov), the sensualist in whose house Dounia had been a governess. He is both the would-be seducer and savior of Dounia, and through her of Sonia’s orphaned half sisters and brother, when he gives her money as atonement for his conduct.
  • A complicated character, sometimes considered, with Raskolnikov, one of the alter egos of the writer, he is obsessed by guilt and driven by libido.
  • Porfiry Petrovitch (pohr-FIH- ree peh-TROH-vihch), a brilliant detective more interested in the rehabilitation than the prosecution of the murderer.
  • Somewhat disturbed and neurotic himself, Porfiry seconds Sonia’s influence and causes Raskolnikov to confess his crime and thus begin his redemption.