Book Review: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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Crime and Punishment is a special story because it focuses on the inner struggles of a young law student named Raskolnikov, who commits a cold-blooded murder. Unlike other crime stories, where detectives solve the mystery, this one shows us the murderer’s perspective.

We witness Raskolnikov’s psychological turmoil as he experiences intense mood swings, ranging from guilt to delirium. He is constantly on edge, fearing discovery, which makes for a gripping read.

You may still be wondering if you should read the book. This book summary will tell you everything about this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.

Without further ado, let’s get started. 

Plot Summary

In murdering an old pawnbroker, a young man commits the “perfect crime,“ but is punished for his deed through torment and suffering,

Part 1 

Raskolnikov, a handsome young student in St. Petersburg, thinks of himself as an extraordinary human being, but is poor, lonely, and has had to give up his studies temporarily for lack of funds. He has been depressed of late, and is not happy that his sister and mother have had to support him. 

His mind is preoccupied with a crime that he intends to commit, but he has not yet decided how he will do it. One evening, he walks through the ugly, smelly streets near the Hay Market, and enters a pawnshop, where he pawns his watch. The pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna, is a mean old woman, and Raskolnikov leaves her shop with a feeling of disgust and confusion. His “hideous dream” of murdering someone is quickly becoming a reality.

He meets a drunkard, Semyon Marmeladov, in a tavern and learns that the man’s daughter, Sonia, has turned to prostitution in order to support their family.

Raskolnikov helps Marmeladov to his filthy home, where his wife, Katerina Ivanovna, berates him for having wasted their last money on whiskey. Raskolnikov, feeling compassion, leaves them the money he received for his watch.

The next day, he reads in a letter from his mother, Pulcheria Alexandrovna, that his sister, Dounia, has had problems with her employer, Arkady Ivanovitch Svidrigailov, who wants to seduce her. She is now engaged to a wealthy civil servant, Pyotr Petrovitch Luzhin, and this “tortures” Raskolnikov, who decides that he will not allow Dounia to get married just so that she can support her family. 

He falls asleep and has the “accursed dream” from his childhood in which a drunken peasant, Mikolka, mercilessly beats his horse to death. Later, he walks out to the Hay Market, where he hears that the old pawnbroker will be alone the next evening. 

This forces Raskolnikov to conclude that fate has taken away his “freedom of thought” by creating such favorable circumstances. He is certain that killing the pawnbroker and using her money for the service of humanity will be a good deed.

The next evening, he takes his caretaker’s hatchet with him to the pawnshop. When Alyona Ivanovna lets him in, he axes her to death, and with bloody hands, picks up some gold articles and a purse. Her sister, the kind and friendly Lizaveta, enters unexpectedly, and he kills her, too, then rushes back to his room, his mind in a confused and feverish state.

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Part 2 

Raskolnikov checks his clothing for blood, hides the stolen objects, answers a police report about his overdue rent, then falls into an almost unconscious state of illness. For several days, he lies in bed while his friend, Dmitri Prokofitch Razumihin, takes care of him. 

Later, when Raskolnikov is in better health, Doctor Zossimov allows him to go to a party given by Razumihin. Razumihin’s uncle, Porfiry Petrovitch, who is head of the Police Department’s Investigation Bureau, has been invited. Raskolnikov finds out that a house painter has been arrested for the murder. 

Pyotr Petrovitch Luzhin, pompous, ignorant, and selfish, arrives to introduce himself to Raskolnikov, who is not at all impressed with this future brother-in-law. After the two have an argument, Raskolnikov chases him away. 

Later, Raskolnikov returns to the pawnbroker’s house, but when he reaches it, he feels agonizing sensations and leaves. He is shocked to see that a man whom he recognizes as Marmeladov has been killed by a carriage, and he leads the policeman to Marmeladov’s house.

Moved by the poverty he sees there, Raskolnikov gives his last rubles to Katerina, then goes to find Razumihin. Together they walk to Raskolnikov’s room, where they find his mother and sister waiting for him.

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Part 3 

Raskolnikov tells Dounia he will not let her sacrifice herself for him and forbids her to marry Luzhin. Razumihin falls instantly in love with Dounia, and the following morning, the women show him a letter from Luzhin in which he requests that Raskolnikov be absent during his visit. 

Again, Raskolnikov demands that Dounia abandon plans for the marriage with Luzhin, but she replies that she would like for him and Razumihin to go with her to see Luzhin.

Raskolnikov asks Razumihin to take him to Porfiry Petrovitch to repurchase the objects he has pawned with the murdered woman. He plans to present himself as innocently as possible. At Porfiry’s, he senses that the investigator “knows” Raskolnikov committed the crime, and during their talk he fears he will “betray” himself. 

When the conversation turns to the crime, Raskolnikov discloses his theory about dividing people into two groups: the extraordinary people who have all the rights, and the others who do not count, who can be “eliminated” at will.

Back in his room, Raskolnikov falls asleep and dreams of murdering the old pawnbroker, who laughs at him. He awakes terrified to see a man watching him intently. It is the evil Svidrigailov, his sister’s former employer.

Part 4 

Svidrigailov is now a widower and wants Raskolnikov to persuade Dounia to see him. He offers to give her 10,000 rubles to “assist the rupture with M. Luzhin.”

Razumihin and Raskolnikov go to a prearranged location for their scheduled meeting with Luzhin, who gossips maliciously and shows himself to be mean and spiteful. Dounia, distressed by his arrogance, orders him out. He leaves, centering his “vindictive hatred” solely on Raskolnikov.

Rodya, which Raskolnikov’s family calls him, reveals Svidrigailov’s proposition, but his mother is horrified; under no circumstances does she want Dounia to marry the wretched man. He is crazed and unpredictable. Marfa Petrovna, a relative of Luzhin, has left 3,000 rubles to Dounia, perhaps from guilt over spreading untrue rumors of a love affair between Dounia and Svidrigailov. Razumihin thinks they ought to invest it in a publishing company.

Raskolnikov reaches the point where he must be alone, so he suddenly announces that he is leaving and asks Razumihin to take care of his sister and mother. Razumihin, who has suspected that Raskolnikov was involved in the crime, looks at him and suddenly “understands” that his friend is the murderer.

From then on, he takes his place with the women “as a son and a brother.” Raskolnikov goes straight to see Sonia, whom he admires for all the suffering she has been through. He tells her that they “are both accursed” and that he needs her love, adding that if he comes to see her the next day, he will tell her who killed Lizaveta. Neither of them realizes that Svidrigailov is listening from the next apartment.

The following morning, Raskolnikov visits Porfiry Petrovitch, who had called him for “some inquiries.” Suddenly, an imprisoned painter barges into Porfiry’s office and loudly confesses to the crime. It is obviously a mock performance set up so that they can observe Raskolnikov’s reaction.

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Part 5 

Katerina Marmeladov is giving a funeral dinner when her obnoxious German landlady interrupts and starts an argument. Highly irritated, the landlady orders Katerina to move out immediately. Sonia flees in despair, and Raskolnikov follows her home, where he tells her that he is the murderer.

Though he does not explain his reasons for the crime, she wants him to confess, to “suffer and expiate” his sin.

Katerina has gone insane and is brought to Sonia’s room, where she dies. Svidrigailov comes in and offers to arrange the funeral. He wants to “pull her out of the mud” by giving Sonia a large sum of money.

Part 6 

The following day, Raskolnikov asks Razumihin to take care of his mother and sister, who, he thinks, is in love with Razumihin. Porfiry, in a show of deep psychological understanding, tells Raskolnikov why he believes him guilty of the murder. 

He admits to not having any evidence and to a feeling of sympathy for Raskolnikov, then asks him to confess, promising to help lessen the sentence. Raskolnikov refuses and Porfiry leaves. Raskolnikov goes to a tavern, where by chance he meets Svidrigailov, whose words indicate that he still loves Dounia despite the fact that he is planning to marry a 16-year-old girl.

Svidrigailov, who has arranged to see Dounia, leaves to meet her. By trickery he gets her to his room, where he tells her that he heard her brother confessing to the murder. He offers to help Raskolnikov escape from the country, but it all depends on Dounia. Horrified, she tries to leave, but the door is locked. 

When he refuses to unlock it, she takes a revolver from her pocket and shoots, grazing his hair. He finally understands that she will never love him, so he lets her out, but keeps her revolver.

Then Svidrigailov visits Sonia, by now his betrothed, and gives her money. From there, he goes to a hotel, where he sleeps and dreams of a dead girl whom he recognizes: she is the 14 year old who committed suicide after he had molested her. After having a second nightmare, an angry and desperate Svidrigailov fatally shoots himself.

Raskolnikov admits to his sister that he has decided to give himself up. He walks to Sonia’s and asks for her cross as a symbol of his “taking up the cross.” He then goes to the police station and confesses.

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Eighteen months later, Raskolnikov is in Siberia, serving a “merciful” sentence of eight years. His mother has died and Dounia has married Razumihin. Raskolnikov becomes ill, but by Easter he feels better. 

When Sonia comes to see him, they weep with happiness and clutch each other eagerly. Now that the past is behind them and they love each other, they look forward to “the dawn of a new future, of a full resurrection into a new life.”

Key Characters

Rodya (Rodion Romanovitch) Raskolnikov: Young student, age 23; handsome, nihilist (rejects the establishment), lower-middle-class, from the province, son of a poor widow. His nickname is Rodya or Roddy. Intelligent; wants to help his family and people in need. Haunted by conflicting emotions. His symbolic name Raskol means “split” in Russian; symbolizes his dual personality and the opposing factors of good and evil. Dostoyevsky depicts him as being contaminated by the Western idea that the end justifies the means. Raskolnikov believes people fall into one of two groups: (1) ordinary, submissive ones who are expendable; (2) extraordinary people like Napoleon (and Raskolnikov) who are above all laws.

Sonia Marmeladov: Daughter of Marmeladov and of his first wife; age 18. Uneducated. Believes in God. Meek, submissive; becomes a prostitute to support family; remains “pure,” despite her miserable life. Loving, highly moral. Represents goodness and denial. Her symbolic name, from the Russian word Marmelada, means jam; she is a symbol of sweetness.

Porfiry Petrovitch: Head of Investigation Department; age 65. Represents Dostoyevsky’s slavophilism; symbolizes the law and traditional ethics. He is intelligent, cunning, and intuitive.

Dmitri Prokofitch Razumihin: Raskolnikov’s friend, age 28. Poor; makes a living by teaching and translating. Admires and loves his friend, even after realizing Raskolnikov’s guilt. He loves and is loved by Dounia. Symbolic name based on the Russian word Razum, meaning “reason.”

Arkady Ivanovitch Svidrigailov: Dounia’s former employer; age 50. Loves her, but she does not love him. Guided solely by his passions. He is decadent, cynical, and criminal. He tries to blackmail Dounia emotionally but kills himself when he realizes she will never love him. For readers who understand the Russian language, his name, phonetically, gives the impression of a sneak.

Dounia Raskolnikov: Raskolnikov’s sister. She loves her brother immensely. Threatened by Svidrigailov, she defends herself by trying to shoot him. She loves and finally marries Razumihin.

Pyotr Petrovitch Luzhin: Dounia’s betrothed. A lying, arrogant, egotistic, self-satisfied bureaucrat. Symbolic name based on the Russian word Luzha, meaning “puddle, shallow dirty water.”

Alyona Ivanovna: Pawnbroker; mean, “withered up old woman of sixty.”

Semyon Marmeladov: Perpetual drunkard; age over 50. Sonia’s father; can never support family, causes them misery. Dies in an accident.

Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladov: Marmeladov’s second wife; age 30. Mother of three; attractive, slim; has tuberculosis. The misery and injustice of life drives her insane; she dies.

Pulcheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikov: Mother of Rodya and Dounia; age 43 (but treated as old). Pure, loving, poor widow; tries to help Raskolnikov financially. Dies from fever.

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Themes and Ideas

1. Raskolnikov’s Dual Personality

Raskolnikov is a complex character who is both a criminal and a good person. He helps the needy Marmeladov family, but also plans to murder an old pawnbroker. He justifies the murder as a necessary act, but it leads to a constant struggle within himself. Even after confessing, he continues to struggle with his guilt until the Epilogue, where he finally understands it.

2. Does the End Justify the Means?

Raskolnikov’s theory that the end justifies the means doesn’t work for him. He realizes that society isn’t divided into superior humans and ordinary people who can be destroyed at will. In the end, he understands that he isn’t extraordinary and finds redemption.

3. Suffering as a Route to Happiness

Sonia and Dostoyevsky believe that suffering makes people better. At first, Raskolnikov disagrees, but later, he accepts that suffering leads to salvation. Other characters, like Sonia and Marmeladov, also suffer and find redemption.

4. Dreams

Dostoyevsky uses dreams to reveal his characters’ desires, fears, and thoughts. Raskolnikov’s dream of a beaten horse shows his horror at the thought of committing murder. It reveals his subconscious desire to be stopped and portrays him as someone who can be redeemed.

5. Alienation

Raskolnikov isolates himself from society and places himself above the law. His crime adds to his isolation, but ironically, he finds freedom when he is jailed.

6. Self-Sacrifice

The women in the novel sacrifice themselves for love. Pulcheria sends Raskolnikov money even though she can’t afford it. Dounia contemplates marrying a man she hates to help her brother. Sonia becomes a prostitute to support her family. They all sacrifice themselves for those they love.

7. Love

Love plays a powerful role in the novel. Raskolnikov’s love for Sonia leads to his salvation. Svidrigailov’s death is brought on by his understanding that Dounia will never love him. Love gives women the strength to forfeit their own happiness for the people they love. It has the power to save and damn.

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1. Engaging and Memorable Characters

One of the key strengths of Crime and Punishment lies in the unforgettable characters that Dostoevsky creates. The protagonist, Raskolnikov, is a complex and deeply philosophical character who challenges the reader’s understanding of morality and the human condition.

The supporting cast of characters, such as the kind-hearted prostitute Sonya and the cunning detective Porfiry Petrovich, further enrich the novel’s narrative, drawing the reader into their lives and struggles.

These multidimensional characters not only drive the plot forward but also serve as a powerful representation of 19th-century Russian society, exploring themes of poverty, existentialism, and the human spirit.

2. Philosophical Depth

Crime and Punishment is more than just a thrilling tale of murder and redemption; it is a deeply philosophical novel that delves into the nature of good and evil, the consequences of one’s actions, and the struggle for redemption.

Dostoevsky’s exploration of Raskolnikov’s intellectual arrogance and his belief in his own superiority provides a thought-provoking examination of morality and the limits of human rationality. This philosophical depth is what sets Crime and Punishment apart from other novels, making it a work of literature that truly transcends time and continues to captivate readers across generations.

3. Rich and Immersive World-Building

Dostoevsky’s vivid descriptions of St. Petersburg and its inhabitants bring the novel’s setting to life, creating an immersive reading experience that transports the reader to 19th-century Russia.

The intricate details of the city, from its crowded streets to its dingy apartments, serve as a backdrop for the characters’ internal struggles and provide a sense of realism that grounds the novel in its historical context.

By creating a rich and fully-realized world, Dostoevsky is able to convey the complexity of the human experience, making Crime and Punishment a literary masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers today.


1. Unlikable Protagonist

Rodion Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment, is an anti-hero who many readers find difficult to sympathize with or root for throughout the novel. His actions and beliefs are often morally repugnant, which can make it challenging for readers to engage with his character and care about his journey.

This can be a significant drawback for readers who prefer stories with more relatable or likable protagonists, as Raskolnikov’s dark nature might leave them feeling disconnected from the story and uninterested in his redemption arc.

2. Graphic and Disturbing Content

Crime and Punishment contains a graphic depiction of an ax murder, which some readers might find unnecessary and overly gruesome. The novel’s exploration of a sociopathic mind and the consequences of Raskolnikov’s crime can also be quite distressing, as it delves into the darker aspects of human nature.

While this level of detail may be appealing to readers who appreciate psychological depth, others might find it disturbing and hard to digest. For those who prefer lighter, more uplifting stories, the intense and unsettling nature of Crime and Punishment may not be the most enjoyable reading experience.

3. Heavy and Depressing Tone

The overall tone of Crime and Punishment can be quite heavy and depressing, as it deals with themes such as guilt, suffering, and the struggle for redemption.

Although the novel does have some redeeming qualities, such as the engaging cat-and-mouse game between Raskolnikov and the police inspector, the emotional weight of the story can leave readers feeling drained and disheartened.

For those who prefer literature that offers a sense of comfort, hope, or relaxation, Crime and Punishment might not be the best choice, as its darker themes and challenging subject matter may not provide the escape or solace they are looking for.


Crime and Punishment is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that delves deep into the complexities of human nature, the confrontation between good and evil, and the importance of morality and compassion. Dostoevsky masterfully paints a portrait of mid-19th-century Russian life, exploring the inner workings of his characters’ minds and the often morbid aspects of their personalities.

Raskolnikov, the novel’s protagonist, embodies modern Western ideas that Dostoevsky vehemently opposed. Through Raskolnikov’s journey, the novel examines the dangers of arrogance and the belief in one’s own superiority, ultimately demonstrating that happiness cannot be achieved through reason alone, but rather through suffering and atonement.

Despite the novel’s heavy and sometimes disturbing content, Crime and Punishment remains a timeless exploration of the human condition and the struggle for redemption. Through its vivid portrayal of 19th-century Russian society and the intricate psychological analysis of its characters, Dostoevsky’s masterpiece offers readers a profound and unforgettable literary experience that challenges our understanding of morality and the limits of human rationality.

About The Author

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, born in Moscow in 1821, was a renowned novelist who gained critical acclaim at the young age of 25 with his first published work, Poor Folk. This introspective novel marked the beginning of his successful literary career.

Dostoyevsky was involved in liberal politics, which led to his arrest in 1849 and subsequent death sentence. Fortunately, his sentence was commuted to hard labor in Siberia at the last moment, an experience he later recounted in The House of the Dead (1862).

Freed in 1859, Dostoyevsky returned to society sick and impoverished. His novels, such as Notes from the Underground (1864), The Idiot (1869), The Possessed (1871), and The Brothers Karamazov (1880), often focused on human suffering, delving into it through a unique combination of realistic and mystical elements. He became known for his exceptional psychological analysis of his characters.

Unlike other Russian novelists of his time, such as Turgenev and Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky was a fervent slavophile, passionately believing in the superiority of Russia over the Western world. This belief influenced much of his work and set him apart from his contemporaries, cementing his place as a prominent figure in Russian literature.

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