Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment

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Criminality, Morality, and Guilt Theme Analysis

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Criminality, Morality, and Guilt Theme Icon

Criminality, morality, and guilt are central preoccupations of Dostoevsky’s. Raskolnikov commits the great crime of the novel: he robs and murders the pawnbroker and her sister Lizaveta, an innocent bystander. Raskolnikov must come to terms with his feeling, or lack of feeling, of remorse for the act, and his motive is never fully resolved. He argues that the pawnbroker did no good for society and therefore her death is of no consequence; he also admits, later, to not understanding why he has killed. The remainder of the novel charts Raskolnikov’s interactions with friends, family, and police representatives. His friend Razumikhin, sister Dunya, and mother Pulcheria suspect Raskolnikov’s guilt only after many days; others, like Porfiry Petrovich, the investigator, and Zamyotov, a law clerk, take early note of Raskolnikov’s strange behavior and obsession with the murders.

It is revealed that, as a law student, Raskolnikov has written a magazine article claiming that “extraordinary” individuals might “overstep” the law—commit crimes—in order to create new laws and a new social order. He cites Napoleon and Muhammad as great “oversteppers.” Raskolnikov comes to recognize that, although he has acted believing himself to be an extraordinary individual, his remorse and subsequent mental instability prove he is ordinary after all. This, more than anything, convinces him to confess his guilt to the authorities. He is sentenced to eight years’ hard labor in Siberia, where Sonya joins him.

Other characters, too, have brushes with criminality and immorality. Sonya lives as a prostitute, and her father Marmeladov is a terrible drunk who cannot maintain a job. His wife Katerina beats her children, and Svidrigailov, who attempted to seduce Dunya in the provinces, continues with his womanizing in Petersburg, and is rumored to have poisoned his wife Marfa after an argument. Svidrigailov later commits suicide. Thus, even as Raskolnikov attempts his moral rehabilitation in Siberia, Petersburg remains a city of crime and temptation.

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Criminality, Morality, and Guilt Quotes in Crime and Punishment

Below you will find the important quotes in Crime and Punishment related to the theme of Criminality, Morality, and Guilt.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

Details, details above all! . . . It’s these details that ruin everything always . . .

Related Characters: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel begins, Raskolnikov, a student who no longer goes to school or attends classes, is having what would now be described as a "mental breakdown." He has trouble accounting for the "details" of his life: the state of his clothing, his personal hygiene, or the cleanliness of his tiny apartment, which is no bigger than a closet. Raksolnikov does not even seem interested in addressing what he understands, dimly, to be the problems in his life. Instead, he can think only of a vague plan to "do something," to make a break with his current life. But this plan necessarily involves other kinds of details and plans.

Thus Crime and Punishment begins "in medias res," with a character who is beginning his mental collapse but who has already been "collapsed," or nearly so, for some time. This means that the novel mostly tracks the bottom of Raskolnikov's slide, and the people he encounters during this period of total dismay and madness. 

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Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

It is necessary that every man have at least somewhere to go.

Related Characters: Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov (speaker)
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

Marmeladov is a foil for Raskolnikov, in that Marmeladov's life is also falling apart, but he reacts differently. Marmeladov is drunk, and has been sleeping on the banks of the Neva River for nearly the past week - and yet all he wishes to do is to narrate his life with his wife and family to someone, anyone, in the nearby tavern. Raskolnikov, though he does not have a family, is similarly dissolute. But the difference between the two men, older and younger, is that Raskolnikov is not interested in sharing his experiences or narrating them to a friend. Raskonikov's dissolution is instead a thoroughly private matter.

This will have consequences later in the novel, when Raskolnikov attempts to keep his murderous acts a secret. He finds this nearly impossible to do - he has nightmares about his deeds - and realizes, only too late, that Marmeladov's impulse to atone in public for his bad behavior is, in fact, a method by which people can relieve themselves of the burden of their guilt. 

Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

God . . . but can it be, can it be that I will really take an axe and hit her on the head and smash her skull . . . ?

Related Characters: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (speaker), Alyona Ivanovna (the pawnbroker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an important moment of reconsideration in the novel. Raskolnikov initially vows that he will murder and rob his neighbor because he fears for his own financial circumstances, and those of his family. But he also wishes to kill his neighbor because of a desire that is far more difficult to characterize - one that will be, in effect, the deepest mystery and motivating power of the novel. For Raskolnikov kills his neighbors mostly out of a desire to "do something," to "act" in the world, to impose his will upon it and make himself feel that the world is not merely something to which he must bend himself. 

Thus the murders are committed as much for Raskolnikov's sense of self as they are for his material circumstances. After all, material circumstances barely matter to the protagonist - he certainly does not want to become rich by stealing. Instead, he wants a change, he wants to feel empowered and "real" - to feel that he is not just sleepwalking through life. The murders, as horrific as they are, provide this opportunity for him.

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

If he had ever once managed to analyze and finally decide everything down to the last detail . . . at that point he would most likely have renounced it all as absurd, monstrous, and impossible.

Related Characters: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is another instance of the relationship between "planning" and "doing," or dreaming of committing an act and actually committing it. The narrator goes to great lengths to describe what's going on in Raskolnikov's mind as he plans his attack. For planning is not exactly the word - he works out some of the details in advance, but others he does not figure on until the act is committed. This, in part, because murder is, for Raskolnikov, itself something more or less inconceivable. 

Thus the narrator argues that Rasknolnikov proceeds in something like a "cloud," knowing only what he'll do next as he's doing it, or about to do it. This has the added benefit of keeping Raskolnikov from worrying too much about the consequences of his intended act, since that act is planned and then more or less immediately followed up by doing. This is an intermediate ground between free will and chance, between premeditated criminality and madness, for Raskolnikov decides to act but leaves a certain amount of the planning and detail constantly "up in the air." 

Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

But a sort of absentmindedness, even something like reverie, began gradually to take possession of him: as if he forgot himself at moments . . . and clung to trifles.

Related Characters: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator now goes through the difficulties of actually "committing a crime" according to the plan one sets for oneself. For a crime, like any human event, has ripples far beyond the ability of the human mind to track them. This, despite the suppleness of that mind, or the single-minded drive of the person doing the act.

Thus Raskolnikov finds himself unable to keep track of what he has done, or where he is going. His ability to know where evidence might crop up is, in an instant, demolished - he has trouble focusing for long periods of time on anything at all. And he finds himself utterly paranoid - caught up in desperate anxieties about being caught, anxieties for which he did not plan - indeed for which he could not have planned. Intending to go into this crime as a criminal unlike any other criminal, he finds himself in all the traps a criminal might expect - all the proliferation of evidence, and all the fog of disorientation that goes hand in hand with a life in crime. 

Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

If indeed this whole thing was done consciously and not foolheadedly . . . then how is it that so far you have not even looked into the purse and do not know what you’ve actually gained?

Related Characters: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (speaker)
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is perhaps the first and most serious indication that Raskolnikov has no idea, really, why he committed the crime he committed—for he has not even inventoried the contents of the purse he took from his neighbor! Of course, Rasknolnikov had his doubts, even before commission of the crime, as to his motivations—he knew there was something beyond money that interested him, perhaps a desire to live life fully, or to "make his mark" on the world. But his total ignorance of the items contained in the purse makes clear to him just how profound this lack of interest is.

Additionally, Raskolnikov's attitude indicates that, for him, the crime itself was a way both of courting fate and of altering it, of making sure that his will was dominant over whatever life had "planned" for him. In this way, then, the contents of the purse do not matter at all—they are incidental to the deeper motivation of the crime, which is an assertion of his will against a world that seems largely indifferent to him. 

Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

And if we look straight, in all ways—will there be many good people left? No, in that case I’m sure that I, with all my innards, would be worth about as much as one baked onion!

Related Characters: Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin (speaker)
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

Razumikhin is a counterweight to Raskolnikov in the plot. He, like his friend, believes himself to be "fallen," to be a "sinner," a person capable of bad things. But Razumikhin does not place undue emphasis on this feeling of fallenness. Instead, he takes it as a given, as a condition of humanity - and he attempts to live a good life having accepted it. Thus, Razumikhin is good to Pulcheria and Dunya - he becomes more loving toward them as time passes. And though Raskolnikov believes his only way to make a mark in the world is to commit a horrific crime, Razumikhin, despite his belief that he is far from perfect, attempts to live a balanced and more rational life. He works for his money, continues with his studies, and manages to maintain his sanity. All this while attempted to help Raskolnikov, despite realizing that his friend is perhaps, as the novel goes on, beyond all help entirely. 

Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

"And what if it was I who killed the old woman and Lizaveta?"

"But can it be?"

"Admit that you believed it! Right? Am I right?"

Related Characters: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (speaker), Alexander Grigorievich Zamyotov (speaker), Alyona Ivanovna (the pawnbroker), Lizaveta Ivanovna
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

In the Crystal Palace tavern Raskolnikov finds Zamyotov, whom he first encountered as a clerk in the police station. Zamyotov finds himself discussing the nature of the murders in Raksolnikov's building with the young man, and he is clearly suspicious of Raskolnikov's story and alibi, which isn't very strong. Zamyotov also cannot help noticing, as many others in the novel notice, that the young man's "illness" seems to increase whenever the crime is brought up. And clearly, as this quotation evidences, Raskolnikov is not well - he has a morbid preoccupation with the crime, despite claiming that he has no connection to it. He barely eats or sleeps, and seems to wander listlessly around the city, waiting to run into someone and talk to them. At this point in the novel, Raskolnikov thus resembles his old friend Marmeladov, but with a twist - for while Marmeladov's "crimes" have to do with his alcoholism and instability, Raskolnikov is now a hardened and guilt-ridden criminal. 

Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

He finally got it!

Related Characters: Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladov (speaker), Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

Marmeladov's wife Katerina is of course saddened to see what has happened to her husband - but she is not necessarily surprised by it. She understands that for some time Marmeladov has been sick, and borderline insane - and drawn ever more to drink, which causes him only to ramble through the streets more, and to speak to whomever is close by about his misfortunes.

But Katerina also believes that Marmeladov should take more responsibility for his actions. She believes that he has failed to provide for their family; thus, his death underneath the wheels of a carriage is, for her, an example of her husband "getting" the fate that was headed his way. This fate, of course, could have been avoided had Marmeladov behaved differently. But this is another example of the interplay of choice and "fatedness" in the text - of the manner by which men and women do what they choose, or refuse to choose, and therefore suffer the consequences of both their action and inaction. 

Part 3, Chapter 3 Quotes

What I’m driving at . . . is that your complete recovery now depends chiefly on you yourself. . . . I should like to impress upon you that it is necessary to eliminate the original, so to speak, radical causes that influenced the onset of your ill condition.

Related Characters: Dr. Zossimov (speaker), Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov
Related Symbols: Lazarus
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

Dr. Zossimov appears genuinely to want to help Raskolnikov, perhaps for Raskolnikov's sake, and certainly for Pulcheria's, who fears desperately for the fate of her son, as does Dunya. Zossimov's encouragement that the young man find the "root cause" of his struggles is, of course, an ironic one. For that root cause could be, on the one hand, whatever drove Raskolnikov to commit the two murders in the first place - that untraceable desire for action and intervention into an unfeeling and hopeless world - but the root cause could also be the guilt that Raskolnikov feels over having committed the murders themselves. Zossimov naturally does not know that Raskolnikov is guilty of these crimes, but perhaps he does sense, at this point in the novel, that the young man has done something, or things, that he regrets. And in order to feel better, Raskolnikov must purge himself of some of the guilt he feels, for the guilt underlies his madness. 

Part 3, Chapter 4 Quotes

Despite her eighteen years, she looked almost like a little girl, much younger than her age . . . and this sometimes even appeared comically in some of her movements.

Related Characters: Sonya Semyonovna Marmeladov
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

Sonya is to be Raskolnikov's love interest in the novel, although their romance is far, far from a "standard" one. Raskolnikov's mind is echoed here in the words of the narrator, who states what Raskolnikov perceives: that Sonya is young and largely helpless, that she has been tasked with supporting her family during her father's illness and now after his death, and that, in doing so, she has been made to "grow up" very quickly, more quickly than should be reasonable for someone of her age and temperament.

Raskolnikov feels very fond of Sonya and demonstrates to her what little kindness he is capable of showing anyone - indeed, he is alternately firm, cold, and distant with his sister and mother, and does what he can to create distance between himself and his friend Razumikhin. By the end of the novel, Sonya is the only person with whom Raskolnikov is anywhere near close at all - the only "family" he has left, as they live together during Raskolnikov's banishment in Siberia. 

Part 3, Chapter 6 Quotes

. . . only peasants or the most inexperienced novices deny everything outright and all down the line. A man with even a bit of development . . . will certainly try to admit as far as possible all the external and unavoidable facts.

Related Characters: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (speaker)
Page Number: 269
Explanation and Analysis:

By this point in the novel, Raskolnikov is engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse with Porfiry, the investigator who is charged with determining who exactly killed the two women in the young man's apartment complex. Porfiry asks questions leading enough to cause Raskolnikov to sense that the man is "on his tail." Thus Raskolnikov begins a kind of "reverse psychology," arguing that, had he committed the murders, he would have behaved in one way or another, would have answered in a differently evasive way - would have, in other words, demonstrated through attempted misdirection that he has something to hide.

This is a bluff on Raskolnikov's part, and though it is clever enough - and demonstrative of Raskolnikov's intellect and ability to make an effort even under great emotional pressure - it is not as though Porfiry has not expected that the young man would be an intelligent and deft conversationalist. Porfiry is perhaps more suspicious of Raskolnikov now than ever before. 

Part 4, Chapter 6 Quotes

One little word, Rodion Romanovich, sir; concerning everything else, it’s as God wills, but all the same we’ll have to ask you a thing or two formally, sir . . . so we’ll be seeing each other right enough, sir.

Related Characters: Porfiry Petrovich (speaker), Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov
Page Number: 353
Explanation and Analysis:

Porfiry calls Raskolnikov "sir" not to honor him but to mock him, for Porfiry knows that, at this point, Raskolnikov is in some way involved with the events of the night of the crime, although he cannot necessarily prove this. What he does see, quite clearly, is how upset the thought of the crime makes Raskolnikov, how the young man is destabilized, and how he raves about his life and about the lives of those around him.

Thus Porfiry believes that it is "fated" he will encounter Raskolnikov again - and cause him either to admit to his crimes, or to be forced into admitting them - or else to demonstrate through some other piece of evidence that he is the man who, in fact, has done these horrible deeds. Porfiry's notion of fate, then, is one of "fait accompli" (results that have already occurred or been decided), of the knowledge that, before long, Raskolnikov will be in prison for the murders Porfiry believes (correctly) he has committed. 

Part 5, Chapter 4 Quotes

Nonsense! I simply killed—killed for myself, for myself alone . . . and it was not money above all that I wanted when I killed . . . .

Related Characters: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (speaker)
Page Number: 419
Explanation and Analysis:

This is avastly important passage in the novel. For Sonya, loving Raskolnikov as she does, wishes to argue on his behalf that there were mitigating circumstances causing him to kill - that Raskolnikov was hungry, that he was not in right mind and that he therefore did not know what he was doing, that he murdered out of a desperation for money and a deep desire simply to stay alive. But to this, Raskolnikov argues point blank that the truth was nothing of the sort. The young man instead claims that he killed "for himself," out of a sense of fulfilling a destiny that was different from that of the university men around him - that Raskolnikov wanted to live beyond the confines of the life that unfurled before him. Sonya, then, attempts to humanize her love interest, whereas the young man desires only to clear his mind and not to make excuses for the murder, not to point to any mitigating circumstances - but to argue exactly why he killed, even if those reasons make no sense to his companion, and instead stem solely from a personal existential crisis.

Part 6, Chapter 1 Quotes

He’s a political conspirator, he is, for sure, for sure!

Related Characters: Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin (speaker), Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov
Page Number: 446
Explanation and Analysis:

Razumikhin seeks whatever justification he can find for his friend's behavior. For indeed it would make a great deal more sense if Raskolnikov were to have committed the murders out of a sense of a political cause, as motivates the people in other Dostoevsky novels. If Raskolnikov desired to overthrow the government, or to make some kind of public political point, then the crimes would still appear horrible and deeply upsetting, but at least would somehow be "rational" or comprehensible. 

Of course, Raskolnikov has not done this - he has not killed for any outward reason, he has sought to make the point that he serves no master, and he has no political end. It would be so much easier if that were the case, if Razumikhin could point to a kind of philosophy or set of beliefs that brought on the crime. And this inability to find a reason is perhaps the most upsetting of the outcomes of Raskolnikov's acts. 

Part 6, Chapter 2 Quotes

You’d run away, and come back on your own. It’s impossible for you to do without us.

Related Characters: Porfiry Petrovich (speaker), Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov
Page Number: 461
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the climactic scenes in the novel. At this point Porfiry is convinced that Raskolnikov is guilty. He seems to know this intuitively, elementally, but he also notes that there are a great deal of corroborating, circumstantial effects that lead him to the same conclusion. And one of them is Raskolnikov's interactions with those who seek him out, with the investigators who have tasked themselves with finding the murderer. They keep finding Raskolnikov wherever they go - thus Raskolnikov "comes back on his own" out of some need to return to those who intuit he is the one to blame. (In a way fulfilling the trope that murderers always "return to the scene of the crime.")

This sheds further light on the nature of Raskolnikov's guilt. For at this point, he is more interested in expiating that guilt, in turning to a moment when he can serve his punishment, than he is in concealing his crime. For other than his relationship with Sonya, he has very little of his life left to protect. 

Part 6, Chapter 6 Quotes

"Well, never mind, brother. It’s a good place. If they start asking you, just tell them he went to America."

"Oi, dat’s not allowed, it’s de wrong place!"

Related Characters: Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov (speaker)
Page Number: 511
Explanation and Analysis:

The final exhortation here is from the guard outside a building, who sees Svidrigailov about to kill himself. The guard, tellingly, does not advise the man not to commit suicide - he simply says that outside the building by the guard station is the "wrong place" to commit such an act. Indeed, throughout the novel, Dostoevsky is interested in what constitutes the right and the wrong place - which actions belong in which place, which actions cause one to be guilty or innocent, and whether the circumstances might justify those actions.

Just like Raskolnikov's murders, Svidrigailov's suicide is never adequately explained, because there is no adequate explanation for it. There is only his belief, like Raskolnikov's, that life presents a series of horrid tasks, and that the way out of that life is to engage in a violent act, directed either against oneself, ending that life, or against other people, putting one's freedom in jeopardy. 

Part 6, Chapter 7 Quotes

I’m wicked, I see that . . . but why do they love me so, when I’m unworthy of it!

Related Characters: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (speaker), Pulcheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikov, Avdotya (Dunya) Romanovna Raskolnikov
Related Symbols: Lazarus
Page Number: 520
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Raskolnikov references a belief relating to a fundamentally Christian idea, as it is developed throughout the novel - that of the golden rule, in which others are to be treated the way they would wish to be treated. Dunya and Pulcheria love the young man unconditionally, and they do their best to demonstrate to him this love, despite whatever he might have done or might do in the future. They do this because they wish to be loved by him, because they treat him the way they want to be treated, because they are religious people, and, ultimately, to believe that the world works in this way, with people caring for those who care for them.

Raskolnikov finally seems to understand the unconditional nature of this life, even as he has a hard time understanding what it might mean for him - how they can love him after what he has done. This love, for Raskolnikov, is now only a source of pain for him, and though he understands it better in this scene, he still has a difficult time accepting it. 

Epilogue, Chapter 2 Quotes

At the beginning of their happiness there were moments when they were both ready to look at those seven years as if they were seven days. He did not even know that a new life would not be given him for nothing, that it still had to be dearly bought, to be paid for with a great future deed . . . .

Related Characters: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, Sonya Semyonovna Marmeladov
Related Symbols: Lazarus
Page Number: 551
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Dostoevsky discusses another fundamentally Christian idea, that of redemption. The time in the camp is nothing compared to cosmic time - the chain of human existence moving forward and backward from Raskolnikov's and Sonya's time on earth. Thus Raskolnikov, who has found religion during his time away in the penal colony, and who has dedicated his life to living well and to helping Sonya, knows that he must somehow do something "great" in the future to make up for the harm he has caused others. 

He does not know exactly what this deed might be, and in this way the author leaves open the end of the novel for a possible sequel (never written). But Raskolnikov is also ennobled at this thought. For though a great future deed might be a difficult one to achieve, it is also a deed that remains possible - it is an indication of hope. Before, Raskolnikov had no hope, and he committed the murders in part because he felt his life to be without future and without direction. Even though a good deal of hard work lies in front of him, he nevertheless has found that future and that hope, as the author takes pains to make clear.