‘Crime and Punishment’ Analysis: Key Themes, Lessons and Summary
Crime and punishment analysis in one quote would start with this:
“To go wrong in your own way is better than to go right in someone else’s.”
– Fyodor Dostoevsky
Why I read Crime and Punishment
Being a polymath has its own perks. But what I did not realize internally until my late adolescence was that it came with a flaw. The Flaw? I started to question, critically analyze, and challenge every aspect of my day to day life.
For those reading this, you might be thinking it’s good to analyze the happenings of your life. That’s a totally cogent statement. But there’s a certain limit to which one should question and challenge everything, and you should not cross it.
One of the biggest Cognitive Dissonance of my life was this: was taking someone’s life for your own self-defense is legally justified and apt? If yes, then why is killing someone for revenge or for a better purpose of the world or the society illegal? (I am not at all in support of THANOS).
It would not be right to say that I had murder on my mind. But what’s the drawback in getting answers to a somewhat disturbing and rather absurd dilemmatic problem.
Hence in pursuit of my dilemma, I read a lot of research papers, articles, blogs and books on International Law, Humanitarian Law and what not. But none of it could satisfy my confused mind.
The Fyodor Dostoevsky
And that’s when one day while researching, I happened to read about Fyodor Dostoevsky. A highly impressive Russian author who is held in high positions amongst Leo Tolstoy and George B. Shaw (to name a few).
When I first glimpsed upon Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, I knew deep down inside that this was the solution to all my questions.
Through a beautifully written manuscript about a tormented (not mentally ill) Russian student, Dostoevsky explores the mental wars that waged every moment inside Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov.
My Crime and Punishment analysis is that through this, he tries to explain the psychological makeup of what he believes to be ‘Extraordinary Men’.
Rodion Romanovitvh Raskolnikov, a brilliant yet conflicted student lives in a rented room of a run-down apartment in St. Petersburg. Extremely handsome, proud, and intelligent, Raskolnikov devises a particular theory about ‘intelligent’ men being above law.
To execute this theory, he contemplates committing a crime.
He murders a cynical and unscrupulous pawnbroker named Alyona Ivanovna and her sister Lizaveta. The act compels Raskolnikov to negotiate and reconcile with his own moral dilemmas.
An incisive psychological analysis of his protagonist goes beyond Raskolnikov’s criminal act and covers his journey from suffering to redemption. My Crime and Punishment analysis focuses on psychological realms.
The main struggle that Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov—the protagonist of the story—faces, is his inability to relate to people. He appears to loathe human nature and sees human struggles as pitiful and repugnant.
Though he displays rare generosity and pity towards certain individuals throughout the story, he does so from an alienated and derisive stance.
Rodion’s constant alienation from society caused him pain, and at the same time makes the readers think about their own form of alienation, by denouncing their own feelings on a regular basis.
Tired of feeling dejected, lonely, unlucky, and tormented by fate, Rodion makes an important decision to kill his pawnbroker. He does this not for monetary benefits but only to silence the mental tornadoes in his mind. And that was to confirm whether or not, committing a crime for a higher purpose is justified or not.
The night of the murder
One deserted night, Raskolnikov succeeds in committing his crime when he kills a pawnbroker and her sister simultaneously with an axe.
He runs away from the crime scene with all the valuables of the pawnbroker but remains in cognitive dissonance whether or not to keep the stolen goods with him.
It is at this point where Fyodor through his inexplicable writing style makes his readers realize that Rodion never killed for money or other valuable possessions. He committed a heinous crime just to testify the fact that committing a crime for a higher purpose is justified in the eyes of (his own created) ‘Extraordinary Men’.
At some point in the novel, Raskolnikov actually expresses the idea that humans are separated into two categories: the “ordinary” and the “extraordinary”.
According to that theory, when an individual such as Napoleon (a prime example of “extraordinary” person) is working towards a higher cause, laws that apply to other people, do not apply to him/her.
A league of ‘extraordinary’ men?
As the story progresses it becomes clear that the real reason behind Raskolnikov’s violent crime is to verify that he belongs to the “extraordinary” category. If he manages to stay composed and avoid punishment for his crime, it will suggest that the standard laws do not apply to him, and thus, he is of the “extraordinary” kind.
But one has to suffer the repercussions of his actions. And this is when Rodion’s instincts begin to betray him. Raskolnikov however, does not manage to stay composed following his crime.
Intense anguish and an overwhelming feeling of guilt slowly catch up with him, to the point where he is forced to confess. He confesses in order to relieve himself from the torment that is afflicted on him by his own conscience.
Therefore, he falls a victim of what he has been struggling to distance himself from; his own emotions. Initially, his failure to establish himself in the same category as Napoleon shatters his confidence, and he seems completely resigned from his life.
Crime and Punishment Analysis: Our desire to be understood
Raskolnikov’s suffering was quite simple: he merely wanted to be noticed and to be understood. But the opposition that stood against him (invisibility, poverty, ridicule, etc.) projected this simple, human need into something that posed as a question to every reader.
Was Raskolnikov mad? Perhaps to a certain degree, but also because everyone around him was simply blind.
Were they so unwilling to break with the laws of society and God that they either committed themselves to a life of futile servitude or ended it all together?
Raskolnikov, unlike nearly everyone else in the book who suffered (besides maybe Svidrigailov), was willing to shatter the chains of society and religion that restrain the individual impulse to rebel.
The irony in this is that despite his rebellious nature in a Christian society, it was he who assumed a Christ-like role. He expected others to see him as the murderer and sickened at the thought of their naivety, their lack of understanding.
Most people did see him like that. But some, particularly his mother and Sonya (his lover), acknowledged his suffering and met it with pity. This was the ultimate force that subdued his torment and redefined his identity, his self.
In the end Raskolnikov goes through a crucial transformation. He embraces his human nature and allows himself to accept and experience his own feelings.
Despite the dark nature of the novel, Dostoevsky leaves us at last with an optimistic outlook. The tormented Raskolnikov finally reaches some sort of internal serenity.
Dostoevsky does an excellent job of manipulating the reader into caring for the main character and even identifying with him. This is despite of his mental instability and the dreadful nature of his crime.
What Crime and Punishment means to me
I have been a person who has always strived to distance myself from emotional displays. I thus related a lot with the protagonist’s internal struggle, and I felt especially relieved during his transformation.
My Crime and Punishment analysis tells me that this novel highlights the importance of accepting and understanding our feelings and underlines the danger of trying to walk away from them.
Reading this book is a raw experience, but one that digs its word deep into your mind.
Raskolnikov projected his anguish onto the society around him, spreading fear, concern, rage, and confusion among those he encountered. But through this anguish, we can glimpse the spark of individuality within.
You can buy the book from Amazon here.
Read Jasmeet’s take on Tuesdays with Morrie here.
Read Goodreads’ page on Crime and Punishment here.
About the Author
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