“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart.”
‘Crime and Punishment’ was first published in 1866 in a Russian magazine. It follows Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a Russian law student in St Petersburg who lives in destitution and utmost poverty. It is an outstanding piece of literature that profoundly moves and consumes the reader. He has just run out of money to continue his studies, all the same letters from his home by his sister and mother, the sacrifices they have made, the hopes they have tied to Raskolnikov push him off the edge.
Out of his desperation, Raskolnikov decides to murder an elderly pawnbroker woman and rob her. He has removed himself from his morality and humanity. However, slowly the burden of his sin weighs down on his conscience as the admittance of his deed registers.
Dostoevsky’s poignant and profound understanding of human vulnerabilities and nature leaves the reader fascinated and amazed.
Throughout the story, we can see Raskolnikov’s slow descent into madness by his crime. The agony of what he has done leaves him spiralling, all the way questioning his reality.
Apart from Raskolnikov’s inner turmoil, the novel paints a vivid portrait of 19th century St Petersburg life through the lens of poverty.
Dostoevsky details dilapidated closet-like apartments for students, squalid and dingy taverns to suffocating police stations and engraving the reader’s memory with imagery of days past.
“your worst sin is that you have destroyed and betrayed yourself for nothing.”
The novel puts up and answers some questions like:
- What leads someone to kill another person?
- What thoughts plague the mind after a murder?
- What sort of a world, what situations breed such people?
All of this is present in the book, with great attention to detail.
Unlike novels that carry a relatable protagonist and make the readers feel sympathetic, Dostoevsky’s hero is an arrogant, egoistic, self-centred, condescending and highly unlikeable smug boy. Who thinks of his crime as not a murder but as riddance of a lower lifeform. He thinks of it as a favour to everyone and thinks of himself as the saviour. Raskolnikov’s inner monologue and his theories of life set him apart as one of the least liked and most unforgettable characters in literature.
Other than his story, the novel deals with the ruination of a family by an alcoholic. Marmeladov is an ex-police officer with serious drinking addiction.
The novel deals with the effects of a guilty conscience on the heart of a young boy, and it talks about insanity, the wild endeavours that one might take on in youth. It also talks about the social and political disparity that prevents the poor from rising and changing the class they were born into.
“I did not bow down to you, I bowed down to all of suffering of humanity.”
Even after all this, Crime and punishment is a polarising read, known as some people’s favourite novel while others have a hard time even finishing it. No matter what, the book is a memorable classic and will shake you to the core.