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Crime and Punishment

Term Definition
Crime and Punishment

In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky develops the character of Raskolnikov: a man who has convinced himself that he is a "superior" creature (akin to Napoleon) and can thus break the rules of conventional morality in order to pursue his own self-interest. He commits murder toward this end; but this takes a devastating toll on his mind. The novel is somewhat distinctive for Dostoevsky in that it focuses on one character rather than several of them.  

Crime And Punishment Summary

Crime and Punishment is a psychological thriller/suspense novel by Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881). Originally appearing across 12 issues of The Russian Messenger during 1866, the page-turning work was soon collected into a single volume.

The story centers on the twisted psyche of Rodion Raskolnikov: a poor, young St. Petersburg man whose delusions of grandeur take a homicidal turn. Believing that murder can be noble under certain circumstances, he contemplates killing a wealthy, older pawnbroker and dispensing her fortune to those less fortunate. He ruminates on this idea until utterly convinced that his motivations come from a power outside of himself. His plan goes awry when a third party walks in on his crime, and he ends up committing double murder. Making off with merely a fraction of his victim's fortune, his delusions crumble into guilt and self-betrayal. Confronting various pressures in his life—his sister's ill-fitted suitors; his feelings for a woman driven into prostitution; the mounting suspicions of a detective—the protagonist inches slowly towards his all-consuming need to cleanse his guilty conscience. 

Crime And Punishment Plot

Dostoyevsky has been credited as one of the first authors to use descriptions of city ambience as metaphors for a central character's state of mind. In the author's vision, St. Petersburg is portrayed as swarmed and suffocating with its dirty watering holes, sordid activities, and widespread poverty. These conditions are all reflected in Raskolnikov's mental state, which leads to his delusional concept of justifiable homicide.

While writing the book, one of Dostoyevsky's aims was to expose what he viewed as the nihilistic underpinnings of contemporary radicalism. The author believed that in a society governed by utilitarianism—a then-popular ideal where acts are valued morally by the degree to which they maximize utility—the rationale behind Raskolnikov's murderous scheme would become a common train of thought. Radicals at the time dismissed this notion as a case of extreme analogy, but DCostoyevsky's fears could be viewed in hindsight as eerily prescient of the mass genocide committed throughout his nation during the following century under Stalin.

Works Of Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Dostoyevsky was at a low ebb financially when he conceived Crime and Punishment. Gambling had eaten away at his prior earnings, and he found himself further strapped by the monetary needs of his recently deceased brother's family. In some regards, the author's current situation was mirrored in the predicaments of Sonya, the reluctant prostitute, and Dounia, the ill-courted sister. The character of Raskolnikov was inspired by the true story of Pierre François Lacenaire (1803-1836), a French poet and murderer who declared his crime to be an act of higher calling against social justice. 

Along with The Gambler—Dostoyevsky's concurrently written novel—Crime and Punishment is seen as one of the celebrated author's finest works. As soon as the first of its 12 installments hit the street in January 1866, the novel was an instant sensation among the public. The story has been subject to more than 25 big screen adaptations over the past century, starting with the 1923 German silent feature Raskolnikow and continuing on up through 2002's Crime and Punishment starring Crispin Glover and Vanessa Redgrave. 

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Synonyms: crime-and-punishment

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