A book review on Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, published in 1866. Exploring the main themes in the book and how they dictated the lives of the protagonist and the other characters in the plot.
Crime and Punishment is a widely known novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, a giant in the Russian Literature, published in 1866. The book is not a crime novel; it is a novel in which a crime has happened. The difference in this book is that the focus is not on who did the crime, as the identity of the murderer is known from the start, so there is no figuring out who did it. This book is less about the crime and more about the punishment, as the prior happens in the first few chapters while the latter takes up the rest of the book.
Raskolnikov is the protagonist of the story, he is uniquely complex with his own brand of justice. His poverty makes him live in a small room, which the author keeps reminding us with through different imagery every time. He stopped attending college when he started following a deadly train of thought, which took shape in an article he wrote. He theorized 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…” (p. 225). With that, he committed a murder.
He killed an old pawnbroker with an ax and robbed her. He is not some psychopathic murderer; his conscience is eating him from within. Why did he do it then? Was it hunger, or is he simply insane? The enormity of what he had done sickened him. He fell into delirium right after it. It gets harder and harder for him to keep himself in check, especially that the inspector, Porfiry Petrovich, is on to him.
The story is narrated by a third person who knows the characters’ thoughts and feelings. Though, sometimes the reader hears Raskolnikov’s voice instead, as if this third person is pushed aside for a while. “Raskolnikov was hopelessly in debt to his land lady and was afraid of meeting her. That was not because he was cowardly and browbeaten, quite the contrary; but for sometime past he had been in an overstrained irritable condition.” (P. 1) There, for instance, the narrator sounded like a defensive Raskolnikov clarifying his actions. In the hot, crowded, and grimy streets of the city of St. Petersburg, Raskolnikov’s story crosses path with two other stories. The story of his sister, who got falsely slandered back in her hometown; and in an attempt to save her reputation, she agreed to be engaged to a man with questionable motives. There is also the story of Sonia, the daughter of the town’s drunkard who is pure-hearted and religious, yet she resorted to immoral conduct to support her family.
Poverty and Psychology are the overarching themes in this novel. The first is ever present throughout, all the characters live in poor conditions except for a few. In the early onset of Raskolnikov’s fever, he visited his old friend Razumikhin for the first time since he dropped out of college. Razumikhin sees the rough state his friend is in, assumes that it’s because of his poverty. He immediately offers Raskolnikov money, even though he doesn’t have much to begin with. Poverty allowed the author to show us the goodness of this character and continued to use it to show us different sides of different characters. Poverty drove this character’s isolation, that character’s self-sacrifice; destroyed the other family, and united another. Poverty is not an accessory to the story, it’s an essential part of it. Without it, there simply would not be a story to tell.
I find this book to be a legit reference on the psychology of a guilt-ridden murderer, an in-depth study in a story format. Raskolnikov’s internal struggle with guilt, fear, and uncertainty is the punishment I was referring to at the beginning of this review. Page after page you go chin deep in this killer’s mind, you start feeling sorry for him instead of his victim. Porfiry Petrovich takes up the role of an analyst, who explains to us the thinking of a murderer. He uses his expertise to mess with Raskolnikov all the while insisting that he is not suspecting him. Porfiry is such a brilliant oddball, he keeps Raskolnikov on his toes, exhausting him completely with his “conversations”.
I am on my fourth read of this one of a kind book, it’s a bit over 500 pages long, and I wish it was longer. Crime and Punishment changed my life, I started learning Russian so that one day I can read the book in the language it was originally written in. Ever since I first read it, I was set on a quest to find a better book. Until this day, nothing even came close. Though, I haven’t read all of Dostoevsky’s works yet. I may sound a tad obsessive, but one thing for sure, you will fall for this book from page one.
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