Why You Should Read Fyodor Dostoevsky “Crime and Punishment”

The theory that an individual's identity is shaped by their ideas is narrated perfectly throughout this psychological fiction

Swati Suman


Portrait of Fedor Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov [Wikimedia Commons: Public Domain]

In general, people avoid giving a second thought to the crimes circulating around them until they experience it first hand. And when it happens, a sense of bewilderment touches their emotions.

As a collective group, as much as we are inclined towards progress, we must also be aware of the concerns that uproot society. We need to examine crimes and the reasons behind them. Crime thrillers are fascinating because we get to understand the psychological aspects of functioning in a criminal's mind.

Some questions invoke curiosity like:

  • What drives someone to become a cold-blooded murderer?
  • What thoughts spiral in a criminal's mind?
  • Is killing someone for self-defense legally apt?
  • Why is murdering someone for a better purpose in the world illegal?
  • What kind of society gives space to such people?

My cognitive dissonance gushed with such questions. It was found revolving around the psychology of an individual who depicts such antisocial behaviours and moves around causing mortal sins. These questions thrilled me, and the more it dawned, my critical thinking wanted to decipher the meaning behind the same.

In the pursuance of resolving the dilemmas, I came across the psychological thriller fiction “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

“Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.” ― Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Philosopher Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

Years ago, these mental model questions aroused curiosity in the mind of Fyodor Dostoevsky, the Russian author, essayist, and a well-renowned Philosopher. His psychological fiction “Crime and Punishment” is one of Russian literature's legendary works and is supremely praised worldwide.

Dostoevsky's works revolve around exploring human psychology in the troubled spheres of the social, political, and spiritual atmosphere of 19th century Russia. He intricately links these subjects with philosophy, religion and throws light on Existentialism and Freudianism. His novel Crime and Punishment centrally focuses on the psychological makeup of a man trapped in the web of his moral dilemmas.

The Plot of The Story

The novel primarily focuses on the thought processes of the protagonist Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. He is described as a young law student holding an aura of enthusiasm with sharp brilliance.

However, Raskolnikov's striking feature was his dual personality. On the one hand, he is bitter, callous, and antisocial, while on the flip side, he can be seen as surprisingly warm and compassionate.

Many of us might encounter such a personality mix in individual lives, where our emotions gamble. Isn't it so? At least, somewhere, our personality is a curiously vulnerable ball of emotions; one never knows what strikes at whichever moment.

Raskolnikov lived in Saint Peterburg in abject poverty. At the beginning of the story, he experiences shortages of funds to support his studies. Upon it, the letters from his family members only added to his distress. He realized his mother and sister's sacrifices in advancing him towards success—the impoverished physical conditions of his also malnourished his mind.

Becoming incredibly desperate to fix life's issues, he sold the last of his valuables to an elderly pawnbroker. Afterwards, he formulates a plan to murder the unscrupulous and cynical pawnbroker for monetary gains. However, the most astonishing aspect is the reason he cited for the murder.

Raskolnikov believed that the murder would liberate him from extreme poverty and help him perform great deeds. His philosophical theory comprised where he thought “intelligent” men are extraordinary creatures placed above the law.

After his sinful act of killing, the reality thundered upon him, where he found himself grappled in confusions, paranoia, and disgust for the misdeed he committed. Later, the real-world consequences of his unlawful act made him a victim of horror, guilt, and pain. He is found to be confronted with his inner agonizing moral dilemmas, which made his wrongdoings questionable.

The author rightly sums the above narrative as:

“The man who has a conscience suffers whilst acknowledging his sin. That is his punishment.”

Reading through the novel, I found the role of Raskolnikov extends beyond his criminal act. It revolves around his psychological realms and covers his journey from suffering to redemption, and finally, his transformation by realizing his guilt.

The Authors Synchronicity

The literary works of any writer depict his creative personality, and it is the thoughts that structure their story.

Fyodor Dostoevsky elaborates his ideas to portray Russian life through his searing prose. It highlights the narrative enveloping surroundings comprised of dilapidated apartments, claustrophobic police stations, and damp taverns that affect the people's lifestyle and living conditions.

The introduction of characters like Svidrigailov, a corrupt maniac nobleman, and Marmeladov, a miserable official whose drinking habits ruined his family, disturbed the atmosphere. On the arrival of Raskolnikov’s family in the city, their moral innocence stands in stark contrast with the reality of the deprived state of the city.

The author's bleak portrayal of Russian society combines his own complicated life experiences and complex ideas. As a young writer, Dostoevsky left behind his bright military career. He was attracted to the ideas of socialism and reform. To expand his intelligence, he joined the community of intellectuals to discuss radical texts banned by the sovereign government.

Upon revelations, the group members, along with Dostoevsky, was arrested. Many of the people were sentenced to death and were subjected to last-minute executions by the ruler. Before being released in 1854, Dostoevsky spent four years in a Siberian labour camp. The doleful experiences made him hold a pessimistic view of social reforms and shifted his focus towards spiritual concerns.

In one of his novel, “Notes from Underground,” he expressed that rationalism and western utopian philosophies can never resolve the conflicting yearnings of the human soul.

The novel “Crime and Punishment” was constructed the same year, reflecting on many similar themes like moral framework, social alienations, utilitarianism, nihilism, sufferings, madness, the psychology behind the crime, and the idea of greatness.

In ample ways, Raskolnikov was subjected to the dangers of urban life and disturbed social conditions. He thought that killing the unethical pawnbroker would eventually benefit society. In doing so, he wanted to join the league of extraordinary men who according to his philosophical belief are held above laws. Henceforth, he ultimately deprives his subconscious self of the morals of humanity.

Final Thoughts

My analysis connotes that every individual being is moulded by the circumstances faced. This breaks down to the fact that nobody wants to be a criminal neither aspires to be hated. Even if someone commits crimes of any nature, the psychological conditions, and the philosophy through which the person lives needs to be focused upon.

Raskolnikov’s suffering was simple: He wanted to be understood, but the blindness of society, his social state, his lack of knowledge, and depressed emotions impelled him towards the unlawful zone.

Most of the time, we fear facing our emotional state. Consequently, we either neglect our emotions, misunderstand it, and finally walk away from it. As humans, it's imperative that we understand our feelings, read through the emotions, speak through the moments, and critically analyze before making any decisions. Ultimately, it's the acceptance of your feelings that will leave you transformed.

Because in the words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky:

“It is not the brains that matter most, but that which guides them — the character, the heart, generous qualities, progressive ideas.”



Swati Suman

In the rhythm of words, I try to unfold life. Thoughtful expressions in Philosophy, Science, Humanities. Compassion above All. Email: