February 16, 2012

Crime and Punishment

A Russian student, Raskolinikov (we’ll just call him Rask), in late 1800s Petersburg gets a little too depressed. He had to leave university for want of funds and locks himself in his room for a good month. In his depression and slight madness, he gets it in his head to test a grand theory he’d come up with that if a man is truly extraordinary, like Napoleon, then he can overstep the bounds of regular men (i.e., the law) and do whatever he wants.

Rask tests this theory by murdering an old pawnbroker woman and robbing her. He plans to get at least 3000 rubles so that he can set himself up in school and go on to the greatness that is surely in his future. (Thereby making the murder ok.) Problem is that once he kills her he panics, steals just a few things, realizes that he didn’t lock the door to the apartment, and ends up also killing the woman’s sister, who came in and caught him. By sheer luck, he escapes unnoticed.

If he had kept his calm, he would have gotten away with the murders. But he can’t handle it. He’s remorseful, though he’d scarce admit it, and extremely paranoid. On a routine trip to the police station the mere mention of the murder causes him to faint. He’s laid up in bed for several days after that, delirious with fever. That combination causes members of the police to become suspicious of him.

Rask’s friend Razumikhin comes to help him out. He probably saves Rask’s life.  Rask is largely ungrateful for his help. A bunch of random stuff happens, which I will summarize very quickly. Rask insults and gets rid of his sister, Dunia’s, horrible fiancé. Rask befriends the widowed family of a drunk he met in a bar and consequently meets Sonia, a prostitute, who went into prostitution to support her family (her dad was the drunk). Dunia’s former employer shows up with strange and dubious plans for the Rask family. The lawyer investigating the murder finally meets with Rask and tells him point blank that even though he has no evidence, he knows that Rask committed the murders; then he details the whole thing.

The fiancé is driven off in a disgraced huff. The kids of the drunk are helped out, randomly, by Dunia’s former boss and thus saved from living in the streets. Dunia inherits some money, so Rask’s family is taken care of. Razumikhin and Dunia fall in love. Sonia gets money from the former boss, who, after playing Robin Hood, shoots himself in the head. And finally Rask decides to confess.

The epilogue tells us how Rask goes off to Siberia to serve eight years for the two murders. Sonia, the prostitute, follows him out there because she’s in love with him. After a year Rask finally gets over his morbid depression and self-delusions and decides he’s in love with Sonia. The happy couple is thrilled that there are only seven years left before he’s released and they can marry and be happy. And at the very, very end Rask picks up the Bible and decides maybe he’ll become a Christian.

Other Thoughts:
  • My edition was 521 pages long. I’m pretty sure it could have been 300 pages and the gist still would have been quite clear. On the other hand, it was fairly entertaining most of the time. There were only a few times where he went off into lengthy, pointless rants. Also, I actually followed the plot. The only other book by Dostoevsky I’ve read is The Devils. I couldn’t tell you what that book was about if my life depended on it.
  • I do not understand Russian names. Everyone has three names; they are called random things by different people. Raskolinikov had a different surname than his mom and sister. It was a big mess. Thank goodness this copy had a list of characters at the front in case I got confused.
  • I found it a bit odd that after subtly mocking religion the entire book at the very end Dostoevsky leaves us with Raskolinikov contemplating his Bible. Was the whole thing really a plug that proper Christians don’t commit random crimes? Or that religion will save us from ourselves when it comes to lofty ideas?
  • How is it that Raskolinikov ended up with only eight years in prison for murdering two people in cold blood? Granted, that’s eight years in Siberia, but still. Oh, and apparently temporary insanity was already a defense in 1866 because Dostoevsky mentions that Raskolinikov didn’t use it.
  • This book was so blah that I actually finished it weeks ago. I just couldn’t be interested enough to finish my blog post on it until now.

I have been too lazy to take myself to the library in search of Gone with the Wind. Consequently, I’m ready War and Peace on my iPhone. It’s 6455 iPhone pages long.


  1. Haha! I read C&P in high school and remember really liking it, but the thought of doing it again kind of makes me cringe. I would probably like it for different reasons now. Think of it this way--it's one of those books you can say you've read to sound super smart at dinner parties. :) W&P, on the other hand, is one I'd probably read again because I was definitely too young when I read it the first time. I haven't read GWTW--maybe I should get on that. Or maybe I should finish the three books that are on my nightstand right now before opening another one...so many books, so little time.

  2. Peter really likes Dostoevsky. On the first deployment we picked a book to read together each month. The first month we read Anna Karenina. I won't give it away but I told the ladies at work that I was reading it and this one was like...oh can you believe X happens? So the whole book I was waiting for X to happen and it happens like 3 pages before the end of the book. I LOVE to read but it was like pulling teeth to get me to finish it. Peter of course thought it was great.

    On the other hand...Gone with the Wind...oh!!! I read it EVERY year. I love it. I read it for the first time in the 6th grade and I just think it is fabulous. Hmm...maybe I'll get that out to make the next month pass :)


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