Crime And Punishment / Fyodor Dostoevsky

I read Crime and Punishment in college and since then have vividly recalled the mental anguish of Raskolnikov, the book’s main character, after he murders a pawnbroker and her sister for money.  What I did not remember were the novel’s other interesting characters and plot lines that swirl around the central story.  Raskolnikov is an impoverished ex-student living in St. Petersburg, barely able to keep starvation at bay.  A proud young man, he convinces himself that if he kills the unscrupulous pawnbroker and uses her money for good, it will counterbalance the crime itself.  He has developed a theory that superior individuals are capable of carrying out such a crime without getting caught.  The book is divided into six parts, and the murders take place early in the story.  From the start, his attempted crime does not go as planned.  He is forced to kill the sister when she comes home unexpectedly, and then barely escapes detection when others come upon the scene.  Immediately after the murders, Raskolnikov falls ill, a representation of his mental anguish and the unacknowledged guilt he is feeling.  Throughout the rest of the story, he wrestles with his conscience, unwilling to admit that what he did was morally wrong.  Thankfully, not all the attention is focused on Raskolnikov.  The other characters help not only to flesh out his story;  they add some much needed color to this dark tale.  There is his bigger than life friend, Razumikhin, who nurses him back to good health.  Also arriving soon after the murders are his sister and mother.  His sister is engaged to Luzhin, a despicable lawyer who wants a woman who will be beholden to him financially and thus obedient to his demands.  Porfiry, the detective investigating the murders, is an investigator on par with Sherlock Holmes.  His use of psychological games to get Raskolnikov to confess keeps the reader on the edge of their chair.  Then there is Sonia, the daughter of a drunkard father who has been forced into prostitution to help her family.  A woman with a pure heart, she is the key to Raskolnikov’s ultimate redemption.  Crime and Punishment has strong religious overtones and is Dostoevsky’s argument against the consequences of nihilism, a popular theory taking hold across Europe and Russia when this book was written.  The main theme, to me though, is a simple one: that a crime such as murder inflicts a mental punishment more severe than prison ever can.  Even if one has read this novel before, a second reading offers a greater appreciation of its complexity.

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