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Literature / Crime and Punishment

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"What can I tell you? I've known Rodion for a year and a half: sullen, gloomy, arrogant, proud; recently (and maybe much earlier) insecure and hypochondriac. Magnanimous and kind. Doesn't like voicing his feelings, and would rather do something cruel than speak his heart out in words. At times, however, he's not hypochondriac at all, but just inhumanly cold and callous, as if there really were two opposite characters in him, changing places with each other."

Probably the most famous novel by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, first published serially in 1866 under the Russian title Prestuplenie i nakazanie (Преступлéние и наказáние).

A moody university student named Rodion Raskolnikov murders an old moneylender who has been exploiting her clients, but accidentally also kills someone else. He struggles with the ramifications of his actions through the novel. While ruminating over his crime, he deals with visiting family, a nosy friend who falls in love with his engaged sister, an implacable police detective named Porfiry who plays mindgames with him, the all-too-obvious faults in his own Übermensch theories, and his budding relationship with a prostitute and her poor family.

Detective Porfiry is a primary inspiration for the title character of the Columbo TV Movie series.


If you came here expecting Crime and Punishment Series, please fix the link.

This book contains examples of:

  • Above Good and Evil: Raskolnikov's theory has it that the "special" people can and even should murder those who hinder their objective. He commits murder partly to prove that he himself is one of the special.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Marmeladov. His drinking destroys the life of his family; he loses his job, squanders their money and his daughter is forced to become a prostitute. He eventually dies when he gets run over by a carriage while drunk.
  • Alliterative Name:
    • Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov.
    • Porfiry Petrovich.
  • Anti-Villain: Raskolnikov having both a sad background, true social concerns and some good intentions along with his pride and arrogance. Also the whole Out, Damned Spot! that he goes through.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Raskolnikov specifically chooses to murder Alyona because she's a greedy, unscrupulous, and universally unloved moneylender and he thinks she won't be missed.
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    • Totally averted with Lizaveta who is a very good-hearted woman, ever abused by her sister Alyona.
  • Badass Pacifist: Dunya, so much. She's known for being able to endure anything, and Svidrigailov says that had she lived in an earlier time she would have been a martyr who would have smiled as she faced death. And then when Svidrigailov corners her and threatens to assault her, she pulls out a gun and notes that it's his wife's, and that she knows he killed her, then misses and decides to drop the gun rather than killing him, telling Svidrigailov that she's never loved him.. Svidrigailov responds by opening the door, and being so shaken by his experience that he kills himself.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The author at one point interjects to say that Pulcheria Alexandrovna looks younger than her age because of being a moral person, and that this is the only way people look beautiful into their forties. Unless you're Luzhin or Svidrigailov, apparently. Raskolnikov is a Zig-Zagged example: he is described as handsome and he is a Sympathetic Murderer.
  • Best Friends-in-Law: Razumikhin ends up married to his friend Raskolnikov's sister Dunya.
  • Big Bad Ensemble:
    • From Raskolnikov's perspective, it's an ensemble between Luzhin, Porfiry and Svidrigailov. Raskolnikov himself isn't exactly a beacon of morality, mind you.
    • Porfiry is truly a Hero Antagonist, while with Luzhin and Svidrigailov it's a case of Evil Versus Evil where both men (especially Svidrigailov) represent for Raskolnikov a darker version of what he could possibly become, if he completely abandoned any morals.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Raskolnikov is protective of Dunya. As soon as he hears about her upcoming marriage, he understands that the whole thing stinks to high heaven and decides to never let it happen.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Lebezyatnikov bursts in just when Luzhin is accusing Sonya of stealing 100 rubles and explains what really happened.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Raskolnikov will have a nice new life with Sonya, but only after he atones for his crimes by serving his time in Siberia.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Razumikhin is very friendly and talkative, and is also known for being able to beat up people if he wants to.
  • Break the Haughty: The entire first act of the novel is one for Raskolnikov.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Raskolnikov and Sonya, who saves his soul with The Power of Love.
  • Brutal Honesty: Razumikhin, as shown in the page quote. Raskolnikov's mother and sister are surprised at how unbiased he is given that he's Raskolnikov's friend.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Porfiry Petrovitch is a quirky, seemingly unassuming, and scarily competent investigator.
  • Butt-Monkey: Subverted; Lebezyatnikov is introduced as one, but then he actually helps Sonya and Raskolnikov against Luzhin's plan.
  • Byronic Hero: Raskolnikov, a handsome law school drop-out who spends his time isolated in his coffin-like room brooding about society's petty morals and decides to kill the moneylender because she's a pest to society. He also tries to establish himself as an Übermensch, a race without conscience, Above Good and Evil, that will rule the new world.
  • The Casanova: Svidrigailov claims to be able to attract any woman to him.
  • Character Filibuster: Everyone, as is the norm fo every novel written by Dostoevsky.
  • Character Tics: Avdotya Romanovna has a habit of pacing up and down the room while thinking.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Dunya pulls a gun on Svidrigailov, then discards it; Svidrigailov takes it after she leaves and, a few chapters later, uses it to kill himself.
  • The Chessmaster: Porfiry. Raskolnikov gets Out-Gambitted in almost every encounter, and Porfiry's one major setback is due to an outside influence neither man could have possibly predicted.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Named directly by Raskolnikov, in regards to his feverish behavior!
  • Color Motif: Yellow is the color of St. Petersburg and supposedly symbolizes filth, decay, and insanity.
  • Cool Old Guy: Porfiry in many movie adaptations is portrayed as such; however, in the book he is just 35, although he looks older.
  • Crush Blush: Razumikhin a number of times after meeting Dunya
  • Deadpan Snarker: Raskolnikov frequently makes cutting remarks.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Svidrigailov likes talking about going to America. By which he actually means suicide.
  • A Death in the Limelight: After being set up for almost the whole book, Svidrigailov finally gets quite a few chapters about him and then commits suicide.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Katerina Ivanovna crosses it when she is driven out of her house after her memorial dinner.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Marmeladov dies in Sonya's arms.
  • Dirty Old Man: Svidrigaïlov despite looking younger really is 50 years old. He is engaged to a 15-year-old mute girl and is in love with/lusts after Dunya.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Raskolnikov smiles in several unfitting circumstances, even though it's usually a smug smile to show his disgust.
  • Distant Finale: About a year and a half after the main events of the book.
  • Doorstopper: About 600 pages.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Early in the novel, Raskolnikov sees a drunk woman who tries to drown herself.
    • Could be the case with Marmeladov. It's never made clear if he got in the way of the carriage simply because he was drunk or on purpose.
    • Svidrigajlov, after being rejected by Dunya for the final time, spends the evening getting all his affairs in order, calmly goes on a walk in the morning, and shoots himself in the street.
    • Subverted with Raskolnikov. Everyone thinks that he'll kill himself rather than go to prison and Raskolnikov even goes to the river in an attempt to drown himself, but he doesn't have the courage to do it and eventually realizes that he'll have to take responsibility for his actions.
  • The Dutiful Son: Dutiful daughter, rather. With an alcoholic father on the one-hand and a consumptive stepmother on the other, Sonya takes it upon herself to be the breadwinner of the family the only way she can.
  • Entitled to Have You: Luzhin feels he's entitled to have Dunya because he "graciously" proposed to her despite all the awful rumors about her.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Initially played straight and then averted; Villain Protagonist Raskolnikov genuinely adores his mother and sister, but, after the murders, he feels alienated from them and is actually irked by their very presence.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Dunya not only has three men who have a romantic interest in her (if one-sided for some of them), but Svidrigailov suggests that Marta Petrovna kept Dunya because she had fallen in love with her.
  • Everyone Can See It: In regards to Razumikhin's feelings for Dunya.
  • Evil Counterpart: Raskolnikov meets two Evil Counterparts: actual Übermensch Svidrigajlov and another Straw Nihilist, Smug Snake Luzhin.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Svidrigailov just happens to rent the apartment next to Sonya's, with a comfortable spot to eavesdrop on Raskolnikov's confession.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Svidrigajlov, who makes his Scarpia Ultimatum polite and mixes it with an offer of help, but it's still a Scarpia Ultimatum.
  • Friendship Moment: Radically subverted; Razumikhin constantly tries to help Raskolnikov, who at first treats him like crap and then decides to use him as a tool against his own antagonist, Porfiry.
  • The Gadfly: Porfiry. Once he pretended to prepare to become a monk, then convinced everyone that he's getting married just to mess with them. Then, of course, there is his style of investigation.
  • Genius Bruiser: Razumikhin is noted to be a large and strong person who can easily beat someone in a fight, but he's also a student and despite appearing simple-minded is actually quite reasonable and intelligent.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Sonya is blond-haired and has Incorruptible Pure Pureness.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: Raskolnikov's redemption under the care of Sonya has more than a little to do with her unflinching religious faith.
  • Heel Realization: The ultimate point of Raskolnikov's Character Development is him realizing that he's nothing more than a criminal, and his good intentions are meaningless.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Razumikhin calls himself an idiot a lot. When he falls in love with Dunya, he is absolutely certain that he doesn't deserve her because he is so scruffy and uncultured.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Sonya is a prostitute out of necessity, but she's very kind and pious.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Raskolnikov sees Razumikhin as this for always finding another explanation for the evidence that he's a murderer. It does turn out that even he suspected Raskolinkov for some time, though.
  • Hot-Blooded: Razumikhin, a bear of a man who drinks an awful lot, but never gets drunk, and will have a philosophical argument with you while shouting at the top of his lungs.
  • Humiliation Conga: Luzhin not only gets chased out of the house and prevented from marrying Dunya but gets pretty humiliated when Lebezyatnikov and Raskolnikov reveal his scheme to frame Sonya.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: A deconstruction. For Raskolnikov, being special includes "the right" to murder for your cause, get away with it, and feel no remorse. When he tries to be special, he finds out just how unspecial he is, and spends the entire novel tormented by the psychological repercussions of committing murder.
  • I Kiss Your Foot: Raskolnikov does this to Sonya at one point.
    Raskolnikov: I did not bow down to you, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity.
  • I Will Wait for You: Sonya follows Raskolnikov to Siberia for an eight-year wait while he serves time.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness:
    • Sonya, in spite of her profession, is by all means a saint. She sacrifices her innocence and honor to provide for her family, never blames her father or stepmother, has only sympathy for Rodion when he confesses his crime to her, and, of course, she is a devoted Christian.
    • Dunya as well. Even when trapped with a Dirty Old Man who threatens to betray her brother to the police and also rape her, she can't bring herself to actually kill him.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Katerina Ivanovna has tuberculosis, which eventually claims her life.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Sonya has blue eyes.
  • Innocently Insensitive:
    • Trying to justify her idea of marrying Luzhin, Dunya tells Raskolnikov: "I am not committing a murder. Why do you look at me like that? Why are you so pale?"
    • Raskolnikov asks Svidrigailov: "Are you starting soon on your travels, may I ask?" not knowing that it's Svidrigailov's euphemism for suicide. Svidrigailov even answers him: "If only you knew what you are asking."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Luzhin. Did you wonder why he'd do something so out of character as to give Sonya money with no strings attached? It doesn't take long to find out.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Five minutes into his career of purging society of its "lice," Raskolnikov murders a woman whose only crime was that she could expose him.
  • Karma Houdini: A minor version of this trope is found in Smug Snake Luzhin; he doesn't succeed at marrying Dunya, but being the despicable asshole he is, he still gets away lightly.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: Lisaveta is a timid, kind simpleton.
  • Kick the Dog: Luzhin has a mean kick. He doesn't have a bone to pick with Sonya; he attempts to frame her for theft just to spite Raskolnikov who's fond of her.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Razumikhin's verbal recreation of the events of the murder is spot on, but Zossimov dismisses it as "melodrama."
  • Loners Are Freaks: Raskolnikov is a loner who hates talking to other people, and he ends up being a murderous Anti-Hero.
  • Love at First Sight: Razumikhin falls head over heels as soon as he lays his eyes on Dunya and since he's bit drunk at the moment, he gives her a rather wacky declaration of love.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Porfiry, who always has Raskolnikov under his thumb psychologically.
  • Martyr Without a Cause: Porfiry muses that this is probably why Nikolai confessed, and Raskolnikov and Dunya are both noted to have this trait by other characters.
  • Meaningful Name: Plenty of them:
    • Raskolnikov is derived from the archaic Russian word "raskolnik", which means "heretic" (usually used when referring to the old believers)-fitting well enough with the character's Well-Intentioned Extremist mindset-but it also literally means "shatterer", and indeed Raskolnikov shatters both the world around him and his own soul.
    • Sonya, or Sofia, means "wisdom", and she is practically The Paragon in this novel.
    • Marmeladov, the last name of Sonya, her father and Katerina Ivanovna, is more of an Ironic Name. Marmelad is Russian for fruit jelly, and their life is anything but sweet.
    • Razumikhin sounds very close (and is related) to the Russian word "razumny", which can mean "intelligent" or "sensible". Lampshaded when Svidrigailov notes that Razumikhin must be a reasonable person since even his name implies it.
    • Lebezyatnikov comes from "lebezit", which means "to fawn, to suck up".
    • Svidrigailov refers to a XV-century Grand Duke of Lithunia Švitrigaila who was reasonably cruel but not untypically for his time.
    • The family of Kapernaumovs is named after the biblical town of Capernaum mentioned in all four Gospels of the New Testament. However they never appear, Sonya merely rents a room at their house, and later so does Svidrigailov.
  • Moral Myopia: While Raskolnikov is sick in his apartment, and Luzhin is visiting, Luzhin is laying out his progressive, egoistic philosophy. Raskolnikov gets sickened by Luzhin's "ends justify means" doctrine, and even calls him out angrily "you could even justify murder with that logic!", not realizing his hypocrisy.
  • Murderer P.O.V.: Villain Protagonist plans his perfect crime, commits it, tries to evade the police, succeeds, but then confesses. The novel focuses on the inner turmoil the murder causes.
  • Murder Makes You Crazy: Raskolnikov grows increasingly deranged after committing murder. It is only when he has his Heel Realization and decides to confess that he calms down, and even then it takes until the Distant Finale for him to finally find peace.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: Raskolnikov, shortly after he is accused of being a murderer.
  • Narcissist: Luzhin certainly has a few traits; he's obsessed with his public image, admires himself in a mirror, wants a wife whose existence will revolve around praising him, has a very high opinion of himself, and gets very insulted over the most minor of things (such as Dunya disobeying his order to not invite her brother to dinner).
  • Near-Rape Experience: When Dunya rejects his Scarpia Ultimatum, Svidrigajlov tells her that resisting him is futile because he can just rape her anyway, since she's trapped in a locked room with him and no one else around. While she does pull a gun on him, she can't make herself shoot to kill, and he ultimately lets her go.
  • Nice Guy: Razumikhin is one. He is a loyal friend, has nothing but good intentions and can't be angry at his friends when they get drunk and disrespectful or at Raskolnikov when the latter jokes him about his love for Dunya. Despite the way Raskolnikov treats him, he is always happy to help him.
  • No Indoor Voice: Razumikhin shouts most of his speeches at the top of his lungs.
  • Noodle Incident: While reading the newspapers trying to find an article on the pawnbroker's murder, Raskolnikov relays the headlines of several terrible happenings recorded within, one of which involving the Spontaneous Human Combustion of a shopkeeper from alcohol. Nothing more is said on the matter.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Raskolnikov thinks that, just like Sonya became a hooker, Dunya is going to marry a despicable man to help her loved ones.
  • The Noun and the Noun: Crime and Punishment.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Porfiry pretends to be a buffoon, but he is actually so sharp he occasionally seems to have ESP.
    • A more minor example earlier in the book: Razumikhin says he's having trouble translating German, but he turns out he doesn't and was just saying this to give Raskolnikov a job.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Raskolnikov has this reaction when Porfiry reveals that he wasn't "clearing up a misunderstanding" but instead he knows that Raskolnikov is the murderer.
    • Luzhin also reacts this way when he realizes that he is actually going to lose his chance at marriage.
  • Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Razumikhin says the page quote, adds that Raskolnikov might be incapable of love, and then tells Dunya that she is a lot like her brother. Embarrassment ensues.
  • Parasol of Prettiness: Sonya carries one, even when she's not in her work uniform.
  • Platonic Prostitution: Between Raskolnikov and Sonya. He conducts "business" with her and visits her apartment alone, but it's solely to unload his emotional weight.
  • The Power of Love: Nihilism and pride fuel most of the actions of the book. This is the only thing that stands in their way. It's enough to save Raskolnikov.
  • Princess in Rags: Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova came from a very respectable family and ended up the wife of drunkard Marmeladov. It gets worse after that. Despite this, she still carries herself like she's in her old position.
  • The Punishment Is the Crime: This is one of the book's major themes, as hinted at by the title. Though Raskolnikov is eventually shipped off to Siberia in payment for the murders he commits, the narrative makes it clear that the worse punishment is the overwhelming mixture of paranoia and guilt he suffers as a result of his crimes.
  • Real-Place Background: Even though the actual names of the streets are usually not mentioned, most if not all of the streets and the houses where the novel takes place actually exist (or existed, in Dostoevsky's time) in St. Petersburg. Nowadays, there are walking tours around the locations.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Svidrigailov commits suicide after rediscovering his inner moral compass and understanding that there is a higher purpose in life.
  • Sarcastic Confession: When surprised by a policeman in a café, Raskolnikov makes a point to lead him on as much as possible that Raskolnikov would make a great criminal, going so far as telling them nearly exactly how he managed to escape from blame so far. Once he had the policeman in such a creeped-out state, Raskolnikov admits that he did murder the pawnbroker only to laugh in the policeman's face shortly after, causing the confession to sound like a mean spirited joke. For extra measure, Raskolnikov then rubs more evidence that he did actually do it in the policeman's face as he hastily leaves the café.
  • Senior Creep: Alyona Ivanovna, whom Raskolnikov murders because of her greed and unpleasant demeanor toward other people.
  • Sequel Hook: At the end of the epilogue, the narration warns that for all Raskolnikov may share Sonya's optimism about his remaining time in Siberia, he is unaware that his redemption will not be given to him for free, that his renewal will be paid for with suffering... but that's another story for another time.note 
  • Shrinking Violet: Sonya is shy, timid and uncertain around strangers. She seems to have grown out of it in the epilogue, as she's on friendly enough terms with Raskolnikov's fellow inmates and the townsfolk to ferry letters between them.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Alyona Ivanovna and Lisaveta. The former is greedy and mean, the latter is a Kindhearted Simpleton.
  • Single Mom Stripper: Sonya becomes a prostitute to feed her step-siblings.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Dunya and Razumihkin get married in the epilogue.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Due to multiple translations from Russian to English.
  • Starving Student: Raskolnikov was like this and his need of money is an important element of the plot. Razumikhin counts as well, but somehow he copes with it better.
  • Strawman Political: Subverted with Lebezyatnikov, who does have rather simplified arguments for "modern thought", but the narrative notes that he's just a person who's not very smart and tends to make any philosophical position sound unreasonable regardless of its actual merit.
  • Straw Nihilist: A celebrated Ur-Example and Unbuilt Trope. Raskolnikov's musings on the "beyond good and evil" superhuman are at least 20 years older than Nietzsche's philosophy, and in fact partly inspired him.
    Raskolnikov (referring to the prostitution of Sonya): Hurrah for Sonya! What a mine they’ve dug there! And they’re making the most of it! Yes, they are making the most of it! They’ve wept over it and grown used to it. Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel! And what if I am wrong, he cried suddenly after a moment’s thought. What if man is not really a scoundrel, man in general, I mean, the whole race of mankind—then all the rest is prejudice, simply artificial terrors and there are no barriers and it’s all as it should be.
  • The Stoic: Raskolnikov, most of the time. By Razumikhin's account, he "doesn't like voicing his feelings, and would rather do something cruel than speak his heart out in words".
  • Surprise Witness: A man approaches Raskolnikov on the street, calls him a murderer and leaves. Later, Porfiry subjects Raskolnikov to a vicious Mind Rape and is about to call someone who hides in an adjusting room to draw the final nail in the coffin... Then, Nikolai bursts in, confesses to the murder of the moneylender, and ruins Porfiry's game. Later, we found out that the same man was indeed hiding in the room, but he only had seen Raskolnikov visiting the moneylender's apartment after the murder and acting weird, so really he had nothing concrete.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Raskolnikov commits a premeditated murder. He specifically chose to kill "a pest to society" to do something good with her money and wrestles with guilt over doing it. Also, he loves his family and seems to instinctively jump to help whenever he sees someone in need.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Raskolnikov is "exceptionally handsome, above the average in height, slim, well-built, with beautiful dark eyes and dark brown hair." Artist P.Boklevsky imagined him like this.
  • Troubled Abuser: Katerina Ivanovna beats her children when they cry, insults Sonya, and drags her husband by the hair. She is not necessarily a bad person, but she is sick, desperate, and has a temper.
  • Übermensch: An Unbuilt Trope at the time it was written. Raskolnikov's main purpose is to become a superior man beyond good and evil; the whole book could be considered a Take That! ante litteram to Nietzsche's theories (but ironically, Nietzsche took him as an inspiration). Raskolnikov himself describes his inspiration, Napoleon Bonaparte, in Ubermenschian terms.
  • The Unfettered: Raskolnikov, initially. Subverted quite quickly, though, as his inability to truly become this after the murder makes him his own worst enemy.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Svidrigailov uses the phrase "I'm going to America" to refer to committing suicide several times, particularly in his death scene.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Ruthlessly deconstructed. Even though Raskolnikov intends to help the people whom the moneylender has exploited, the unplanned murder of her innocent sister leads him to question his beliefs.
  • Villain Protagonist: Raskolnikov is the main character and the murderer, albeit a sympathetic one.
  • Wham Line: "Did I murder the old woman? '''I murdered myself, not her! I crushed myself once for all, for ever....''' But it was the devil that killed that old woman, not I. Enough, enough, Sonya, enough! Let me be!"
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It is mentioned that Lizaveta is constantly pregnant. No mention is ever given of her children again.
  • What You Are in the Dark: As Porfiry tells Raskolnikov, he doesn't really have evidence to pin the crime on him even if he knows that Rodion is the killer, and the possibility that Svidrigailov could potentially blackmail and exploit his sister and his family disappears when Raskolnikov finds out he had committed suicide. He is scot-free and yet it is at this moment that Rodion finally confesses to the crime.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Raskolnikov. Though it's debatable whether he murdered the pawnbroker to use the money altruistically or to help himself or whether he simply wanted to prove that he was an Übermensch and could get away with it. Considering Raskolnikov and his situation, probably a combination.
  • Wretched Hive: In Russian literature, Dostoevsky's St. Petersburg could be its own trope akin to The Big Rotten Apple. You can't walk a step without seeing a tragedy of some kind.

Adaptations of Crime and Punishment include: