Crime and Punishment: Study Guide | Literaturexpres

Crime and Punishment: Study Guide | Literaturexpres

1. Question: Consider Crime and Punishment as a story of sin, suffering, and redemption.


Fyodor Dostoevsky (821-1881) was a prominent Russian novelist, philosopher, short story writer, essayist, and journalist. Sin, suffering, and redemption are manifested in several ways in his classical novel ‘Crime and Punishment’. Raskolnikov’s criminalistic tendency is exacerbated by his isolationist attitude. We are here going to discuss it in detail.

Horrible crimes

At the heart of the novel, there are two themes of crime and punishment. The novel focuses on Raskolnikov’s double murder. Although this crime not only occurs in this novel, other actions are bound around this.

A scandalous murder

Poverty is the norm in St. Petersburg, Russia in the 1860s. Everywhere, people are fighting for survival. In response, many people have turned to crime just to survive. Our hero Raskolnikov is one of those people. Although he is a good person, he is considering committing a very bad crime. He is planning to kill the pawnbroker Alyona. Alyona is a mean personality, who has the belongings of many poor people and has what many others do not have: money.

Though Raskolnikov vacillates constantly in the time leading up to murdering Alyona, it turns out that he is able to kill her. He murders her with an ax. Unfortunately, her sister, Lizaveta, reaches the crime spot and Raskolnikov is forced to kill her, also. This is even more distressing, because Lizaveta is both mentally slow and a good person, and Raskolnikov feels terrible about her murder.

Other crimes

Crime in St. Petersburg, especially sexual crimes against women, is also on the rise. Sonia, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Marmeladov, becomes a prostitute to support the family. Although Raskolnikov continues to pay the family, he neglects what he sees as golden sex slavery.

In a similar situation to Sonia, Raskolnikov’s sister Dounia is working as a nanny for a man named Svidrigaïlov, who repeatedly harasses and tortures her sexually. Though she leaves her job and returns to St. Petersburg, Svidrigaïlov follows her. Svidrigaïlov repeatedly asks her to be with him but she refuses. Raskolnikov warns his sister against Svidrigaïlov, who he knows is a child molester. One of his victims even committed suicide. Svidrigaïlov also tries to make a move on Sonia.

Matters come to a head when Svidrigaïlov manages to get Dounia alone in his room. He is about to rape her when she manages to shoot at him. He is not hurt but he lets her go. From the perspective of sexual crime, Russia is a wasteland.

Suffering and redemption

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, tells the stories of many characters whose suffering and redemption lie in unexpected places. Raskolnikov who suffers from extreme isolation, restlessness, and moral dilemma for the killing of two innocent victims, finds rescue in Sonia’s encouragement of confession and repentance.

The sexually discreet and rapist Svidrigailov is suffering from his own perversion. Since he has brought his own sin upon himself, he also finds his way to salvation and redemption through suicide.

Katrina Marmeladov, whose destitution and physical illness are too much for her to bear, finds release from her misery in death but, unlike Svidrigailov, Katrina’s death is not of her own choosing.

Sonia, who prostitutes herself for money to feed her family, bears her grief and shame internally. Her compassion for others and faith in God is her redemption. She is also rescued, ironically, through Raskolnikov’s confession and punishment for murder. Following him to prison to await his release, she is free from degradation and public shunning.

Each individual case of adversity in Crime and Punishment leads to salvation in ways that may seem unconventional, but they are effective nonetheless. For the most part, closure is reached and crime is punished.


At the end of the discussion, it is lucid that The kind of crime shown in the novel is based on utilitarianism. But no crime ends without punishment and its horror is mental suffering. Through the method of redemption, the reincarnated person gets new opportunities in life. But, overall, we must keep ourselves away from crime.

2. Question: Describe Raskolnikov as a dual character. Or, discuss Raskolnikov’s split personality.


Fyodor Dostoevsky (1818-1881) portrays Rodian Raskolnikov as a man torn in two worlds. One is his ability to cool and count. The other half shows kindness and humility. This dualism creates unrest and conflict in the novel “Crime and Punishment”.

The dichotomy

Dostoevsky has purposefully named the main character in his novel Crime and Punishment. The origin of Raskolnikov’s family name comes from the Russian word ‘schism’ which means hatred or differentiation. This is a clue to Raskolnikov’s character. He is torn between two philosophies. A philosophical thought allows him to set foot outside the plan of ordinary men. He recognizes the boundaries created by the law of man and God. The other supports the belief that he is better than ordinary people. Therefore, he believes that he is like a god.

The egoistic and arrogant man

Raskolnikov is a poor, unemployed student who fights for survival. He owes money to his landlady. He does not have money for food or clothes. He rents a very small, confined space that has room for his couch and a little more. Despite all this, Raskolnikov sees himself as a significant thinker. He believes that he can contribute to the benefit of society. Part of this belief is strengthened by the people around him. Mostly, it comes from his education. He does believe that people are somehow divided into the ordinary and the extraordinary category. He makes his idea about ‘the extraordinary’ clear by stating that they have ”their own right, to…step over certain obstacles.”

To Raskolnikov, this impediment is illustrated by the pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna. He has visited her sundry times and knows that she has money. He believes that killing her will result in, ”thousands of lives saved from decay and corruption.” Even after killing her, he remarks that ”The old hag is nothing…I killed not a human being.” Alyona ”was merely a sickness…I was in a hurry to step over.” Raskolnikov places himself among the extraordinary, giving him the right to step over moral boundaries in the best interest of humanity.

Benevolent for others

Raskolnikov’s true self struggles against the immorality of being ‘extraordinary’. He is a loving son and a good friend. From this, his acts of kindness and great love for others are influenced. Twice, he helps out the family of Semyon Marmeladov. On his first visit to Marmeladov’s house, he sees the poverty in which they live. He provides the family twenty roubles secretly. The narrator explains:

‘whatever coppers he happened to find…and puts them unobserved on the windowsill.”

Later, when Marmeladov is dying, he tells Marmeladov’s wife not to ”worry (about the costs), I’ll pay.” Raskolnikov gives money that he desperately needs to others who have a greater need. He thinks of others before himself.

Suffering and resolution

From the very beginning of the novel, Raskolnikov has already accumulated so much spiteful contempt in his soul. Even so, he crossed a moral line when he killed Alyona Ivanovna.” In his view, “committing a crime is always accompanied by illness.” Rasklinkov has repeatedly admitted that he is “very ill.” He is under torment as he attempts to reconcile these two sides of his character. So, a mental battle always exists in his heart for control. As he crosses the line, he feels that it is impossible to go back. It begins with suffering. The torment of keeping his crime secret from everyone eats Raskolniko continuously. Raskolnikov feels that he is not extraordinary because he is not able to endure his sufferings which is why he goes for confession. Thus his excessive feelings of guilt make it plain to him that he is not above other men.


Finally, Rodion Raskolnikov is certainly a man torn between two worlds. There is the academic side, which relies on logic to understand the world. This puts him in a position to consider himself an extraordinary man, one who can transgress the laws of man and God when it becomes necessary. This comes into conflict with the kind and compassionate spirit of Raskolnikov.

3. Question: Discuss imagery and symbols of the novel Crime and Punishment.


“Crime and Punishment” is a novel about the murder of a pawnbroker and the path towards redemption that the murderer takes. In this novel, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1818-1881) uses symbols to represent deep concepts and a variety of images to tell the story of murder and redemption. The function of symbols and imagery in this novel is to depict the character’s emotions and events.

The key concept of imagery

Authors use imagery to describe people, events, and emotions that are beyond words. Imagery is the use of descriptive language that appeals to the senses and symbolizes something deeper than the literal meaning of words. Let’s examine a few examples of religious, blood, and water imagery from this novel.

Religious Imagery

The protagonist of the novel Raskolnikov meets Marmeladov, the unemployed alcoholic, in a tavern. Marmeladov presents himself as a despicable character from the moment they meet. As a result of the drinking, he is on the fifth day of binge drinking while his wife and children are starving at home. His eldest daughter Sonia has been forced into prostitution to support them. Marmeladov says:

‘I ought to be crucified, crucified on a cross, not pitied! Crucify me, oh judge, crucify me but pity me! And then I will go of myself to be crucified, for it’s not merry-making I seek but tears and tribulation!’

This is an example of religious imagery because Marmeladov makes a visual representation of the outcome of life which he deserves.

Blood Imagery

For some reason, however, Raskolnikov has a soft spot for Marmeladov. This soft spot does not extend to Alyona, a pawnbroker that cheats the poor. In Raskolnikov’s opinion, Alyona deserves to die as he determines that the world will be a better place without her. He chooses an ax as his murder weapon, which adds to the bloodiness and horror of the scene. After hitting Alyona on the head with the ax, the narrator describes, ‘The blood gushed as, from an overturned glass, the body fell back.’ This vivid description of blood gives the reader not only visual but also some religious symbolism because the blood from an overturned glass is reminiscent of Jesus’ blood.

Water Imagery

After brutally killing Alyona, Raskolnikov wishes to be clean both literally and spiritually. The narrator writes:

“Glancing, however, into the kitchen and seeing a bucket half full of water on a bench, he bethought him of washing his hands and the axe.”

Symbolically, Raskolnikov will have to face even more tests in order to be truly pure.

The symbols in Crime and Punishment

Fyodor Dostoevsky discovers the psychology of a murderer from the moment when the protagonist Rasklanikov decides to kill a greedy pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna. As the story unfolds, the author uses symbols to convey a deeper meaning of the novel. Let’s examine some of the symbols of Crime and Punishment.

The city

St. Petersburg is one of the symbols. It has been described as noisy, dirty, and crime-ridden. The chaos in the city mirrors the chaos that Raskolnikov feels throughout the novel. Interestingly, the balance doesn’t come until Raskolnikov is sent to Siberia.

The ax

The choice of weapon for the murders also reflects the unbearable internal chaos of Raskolnikov. He considers using a knife but decides that he does not want to rely on strength or precision to complete the act. The narrator notes that with each of Raskolnikov’s decisions,

“The more final they were, the more hideous and the more absurd they at once became in his eyes.”

Even Raskolnikov believes that being an ax murderer is ridiculous. It is bulky, messy, and incredibly risky, yet there is a part of Raskolnikov that believes this is the only option.

The dreams

Several characters have meaningful dreams that symbolize different things. Typically, they represent the surfacing of subconscious feelings that are too terrible for the characters to face consciously. However, they are also used as foreshadowing or to teach the character about some things.

The Cross

The cross is a symbol of redemption for sins in the Christian faith. After killing Alyona, Raskolnikov retrieves the ax. When he sees the string around her neck, he tugs at it. He releases it and sees that it is attached to a filled purse.  At this point in the story, Raskolnikov is denying religion and his need for redemption as he believes he is above such things and making the right decision for society. Later, as guilt creeps in, Raskolnikov realizes that he does need redemption and accepts a cross from Sonia before making his confession.


In fact, without applying imagery and symbols no author can express his ideas deeply, emotionally, and perfectly.

4. Question: Discuss the coincidences of the novel “Crime and Punishment”.


Coincidence means an occasion when two or more similar things happen at the same time, especially in a way that is impossible and surprising. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s (1821-1881) Crime and Punishment, many of the events that drive this plot seem to be without design. But the coincidences play a vital role to probe into the deep of human psychology.

The motive of the coincidences

One possible motive for the author to create the coincidence series is that the protagonist Raskolnikov refuses to take responsibility for his own decision, such as the decision to kill two women. Another reason may be Raskolnikov’s final paranoia, which leads him to see coincidences among the things that happen to him. As a result, the plot is further enhanced while creating suspense. Let’s look at some coincidental examples of this novel.

The Conversation at the Tavern

The first and foremost coincidence of the novel occurs in the sixth chapter of the first part. Up to the sixth chapter of the first part the novel depicts the extreme penury of the protagonist and his thoughts on how to get rid of this situation. Rosklinkov wants to kill the old woman of Pawnbroker to loot his property and this is his mental dilemma. But when he goes to the tavern to drink coffee, he overhears that an officer and a student are talking about the brutality and uselessness of a lady’s property. The student more emphatically claims that if someone kills him and uses his property for mankind, it will be a great deed. This discourse and the protagonist’s pre-decision to Alyona have been applied as a coincidence to encourage Raskolnikov to commit the crime. The narrator comments:

”This coincidence always seemed strange to him. This trivial talk in a tavern had an immense influence on him in his later action; as though there had really been in it something preordained, some guiding hint….”

Whether it is a real coincidence or whether Raskolnikov is just trying to justify his desire to kill Alyona is in the hands of the reader. A lot of people can hear such conversations but they don’t think it can be a cause to commit murder.

The crime scene

The crime scene of the novel has a fantastic coincidence of the novel to enhance the psychological anguish and suffering of the protagonist and to present him as the worst sufferer. After committing two murders, Raskolnikov was almost escaping freely but at the time of his fleeing a young man came to the door and he had to hide inside. The young man shouted and left the place for further investigation. Raskolnikov opened the door of the apartment and the novelist opened the door of the second floor of the building so that he could escape. So, there are no coincidences in the crime and there is no mental anguish and suffering in the actions of the plot.

Marmeladov’s Accident

The plot of the novel could have ended in the seventh chapter of the second part unless the accident had not happened. After a long struggle, Raskolnikov decides to confess his guilt to the police and he is on the way to the police bureau but at that very moment, he notices the carriage accident on the street and rushes there and identifies that it is Marmeladov.

”Meanwhile, Raskolnikov had squeezed in and stooped closer over him. The lantern suddenly lighted up the unfortunate man’s face. He recognized him.”

Raskolnikov meets him at the very outset of the novel. He provides him medical facility and Marmeladov goes to his daughter Sonya with help of the protagonist and dies on the lap of his daughter. Here the relationship between the hero and heroine is important for the remainder of the novel.

Some other coincidences

Besides, the above-mentioned coincidences, there are a number of coincidences in the novel “Crime and Punishment” which are inevitable too for the plot construction of the novel. One of such coincidences is Raskolnikov’s confession of his crime before Sonya and at the same time, Svidrigailov overhears the confession which builds a scene of exploitation and regeneration.


In termination, we can say that the novel is rife with coincidences and the handling of the coincidences has provided the utmost suspense in the action of the novel. So, Dostoevsky is the master of applying coincidences undoubtedly.

5. Question: Discuss the use of irony in the novel “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.


“Crime and Punishment” is an illustrious novel by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881). The plot of the novel is indeed based on irony and coincidences. This very novel is replete with ironies such as dramatic irony, the irony of the situation, and fate.

Planning of the protagonist

It is universally known that no crime goes without two types of punishments- mental and law-abiding. Raskolnikov who is the protagonist of the novel makes up his mind to commit murder to get rid of his extreme penury. Such an abominable plan is really ironic since he is a former student of law. It also bears the prophecy that nothing can be gained by the dint of crime and it happens at last by the confession.

Crime Scene

The crime scene of the novel is the best example of all kinds of irony, particularly dramatic irony. Raskolnikov goes to the house of the unscrupulous pawnbroker, Alyona, with a pretension. He plans to kill her only and wants to loot her property but irony happens here when Lizaveta comes to the spot and he has to kill both of them with an ax. These ironic double-murders bear the universal truth that to cover up a crime a series of crimes is to be committed.

Dramatic irony also occurs immediately when a young man comes to the door after the murders. He tries to enter in and also shouts with the name of two dead ladies without any knowledge that the murderer is still inside.

‘What’s up? Are they asleep or murdered?…Hey, Alyona Ivanovna, old witch! Lizaveta Ivanovna, hey, my beauty! open the door! Oh, damn them! Are they asleep or what?

This is the perfect example of dramatic irony because has no idea about reality. The novelist has made this to enhance the suspense of the plot from two angles. Whether the hero will be caught red-handed or the man will be killed for surprisingly appearing on the crime scene. Another angle of this irony is that no crime is perfect without leaving any clue.

Mental disorder

Raskolnikov never imagines his mental condition before committing murder. He realizes that he is in unbearable mental pain after the murders and he has got a mental breakdown in which he loses his consciousness and hallucinates for four days. After getting back his sense, he asks as to his senselessness to his loyal friend Razumikhin who assumes that he is mentioning a girl or something similar. Then he asks:

“Are you afraid of having left out some secret?”

By this, it is vivid that Razumikhin is unaware of the secret of crime but the readers are well conscious that the hero is trying to hide his crime. Thus, the novelist informs that crime has far-reaching mental effects.

Profession and relationship

The irony of situation and fate has been applied by limning of profession and relationship. The heroine of the novel, Sonya, has been forced to adopt the profession of a prostitute to look after her family but she is declared innocent by her drunkard father Marmeladov who has a bitter relationship with his wife, and so on. Thus, the irony of fate makes human beings inferior and superior.

The epilogue of the Novel

The epilogue of the novel is really ironic. The punishment that is only eight years of penal servitude is very tiny for a couple of murders. The marriage between Dunya and Razumakhin is one of the best examples of the irony of fate too. Raskolnikov’s loathsome attitude to Sonya and her love for him is a better mix of irony and coincidence since the hero starts to get mentally regenerated by the influence of the love of the heroine.


In a few words, the irony is the soul of the novel to represent the psychological anguish and dilemmas of the protagonist as well as the rest of the characters of the nihilistic Russian society.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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