This work by the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881), though not considered his masterpiece, is certainly a novel that deserves to be read, discussed and admired by all of us and the entire world.
The most important aspect of this work is the psychological study of crime and the offender: every heartbeat, every thought of the protagonist is carefully analyzed by the author.
Plot of “Crime and Punishment”
A very cultured student with a powerful intellect — Rodion Raskolnikov — is in St. Petersburg (Russia), plunged in the darkest poverty. At the start of the novel, he leaves his home and goes to the house of the lender Alena Ivanovna, an ignoble and mean woman, with whom he had dealt previously when he had financial problems.
It is not financial hardship that leads him there, but a preconceived plan. While the old woman goes to get the money, he carefully studies the room’s dimensions, and its entries and exits, the place where the usurer gets the keys and from where she then takes out the sum offered, the sound of footsteps on the ground and even the echo of the bell. Going down the stairs, he wonders how he could come up with such an appalling idea. But he goes to the tavern and, after a few drinks, the temptation returns to torment him. In the tavern he meets Marmeladov, a former official, an unrepentant drunk, who is in the most awful situation imaginable: his wife has consumption and hates him, he has no food to give his young children, and his eldest daughter is now on the streets in order to bring some money home.
Rodion, on returning home, finds a caring letter from his mother. Though the news is good, and it causes him more bitterness than satisfaction. Dunia, his sister, was thrown out of the house where she served as governess, because her employer fell in love with her, and his jealous wife put her out on the street. As compensation for that misery, Dunia met a man: Mr. Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin, a member of the nobility, twice her age and cold, reserved and aloof, but who is willing to marry her. Dunia agrees to marry, which is clearly not a marriage of love.
Rodion understands the tremendous sacrifice his sister is making, and promises to himself that the wedding will not take place if he can help it. That project then returns to his mind, and he rejects it again and again.
The crime he plans is not that of an impulsive, innate criminal; it is an intellectual crime, carried out in virtue of powerful reasoning, apparently, but misleading because evil does not stop being evil, despite all reasoning. Raskolnikov says that Alena Ivanovna is an old, odious woman, that she is not useful to anyone, that dozens of families who suffer for lack of support would be saved from misery by the old woman’s money. With these thoughts, Raskolnikov ends up deciding: he will perform this terrible act of which he has already absolved himself.
The crime is done with complete coldness and prepared without neglecting details. Isolated in his little room, he makes a braid and forms a noose with it, which he adapts to his coat. He wants to execute his plan with an ax that he will put under his coat. He then prepares the object that he will take to pawn, which will gain him entry into the house of the lender. He wraps this object, which is nothing more than a piece of wood that he joins a thin iron plate to, in white paper and he ties it in such a way that it is difficult to unwrap. He then studies the moment when his doorman leaves for a long time in order to get hold of the axe. He gets it and goes out to the street.
Alena Ivanovna is alone and is not suspicious of the student because she has seen him before. While she tries to undo the tiny package, he raises the ax and, mechanically, allows it to fall on the old woman. Raskolnikov takes the keys and runs to the dresser in search of the money. And immediately he is pursued by an insane, crazy desire to leave everything and run away… At that moment, Isabel, the sister of the victim, arrives, and when Raskolnikov sees that she is about to scream, he raises the ax and consummates a second murder.
Afterward, he no longer is thinking of robbing, but of getting to safety. He shuts the door well, carefully washes the ax and removes the blood stains from his boots. His instinct, now greater than his reason, leads him to hide on an empty floor of the same house and then to flee with feigned serenity. Raskolnikov finally reaches his little room, in time to return the axe to the doorman’s attic. And he finally reaches the safety of his bed, where he lies down to rest.
Initially it is not remorse, but a terrible fear of being discovered that is left in his mind by the traces of the crime committed. The workers who were painting the empty floor, where he hid after committing the crime, are arrested and charged with the murder. His friend Razumikin and his maid care for him. Thanks to them, he does not die if he betrays himself in his delirium. However, one thing regarding his fears is true: the intrusion into his life by Porfirio Petrovich, the district magistrate and Razumikin’s distant relative. Amid all this, Razumikin, who does not know that it was his friend Raskolnikov who committed the crime, insists on saving the painter accused of murder from the claws of justice, and this leads him to strengthen his relationship with his relative, the judge.
Two new developments give him a slight lease on life. The drunk Marmeladov, whom he met at the tavern, was hit by a car and he takes him to his dump of a home, where he dies. The other event is the arrival of his mother and sister to St. Petersburg. Razumikin falls madly in love with Dunia, Rodion’s sister. Porfirio Petrovich harbors what is known as moral conviction regarding the crime, since he found an article by Rodion called “On Crime,” published by him upon leaving University, in which he divides men into the ordinary and the extraordinary: the former must live in obedience; the latter are entitled to dispense with all laws and violate them if they stand in the way of the full development of their personality. Does Rodion consider himself to be such an extraordinary man who was legitimate up to the moment of the crime? Porfirio dedicates himself to finding out and Raskolnikov to disorienting him. Raskolnikov comes to behave so strangely that he is taken for a madman.
One day Porfirio Petrovich presents him with a prisoner who confesses to the murder. Is not the bestial joy that appears on Rodion’s face one more piece of evidence for Porfirio? Raskolnikov cannot support the harassment or the weight of his secret any longer, and he tells Sonia everything. She does not believe him at first. Then she is struck by the evidence. She hugs him and swears that she will go to the jail with him… because, naturally, she expects him to give himself up and atone for his crime. He doubts and is afraid, but through a long psychological process, he comes to the conclusion that what Sonia advises is best. And he runs to the police station, where he hands himself in.
Rodion is taken to Siberia. Sonia accompanies him. Dunia and Razumikin marry and hide from the mother the tragedy of her son, and at last the poor woman dies.
Sonia was so happy and that joy was such a surprise to her that it almost frightened her. Seven years, only seven years! In the joy of the first few hours, it was nearly the case that the two of them considered those seven years as seven days. But here another story begins: the story of the slow renewal of a man, his gradual passage from one world to another.