A novel unique during its time, and unique to this day, Crime and Punishment is a highly psychological book that follows a young murderer, Raskolnikov, and chronicles with extreme detail the stream of thought of this character before, during and after the crime. Although still a gripping moment of the book, the crime itself is not what is important in Crime and Punishment; it is the consequent psychological implications upon oneself that fills most of the book. The inner turmoil suffered by Raskolnikov is reflected in an almost Shakesperian pathetic fallacy: the chaos and sheer noise of the setting of this book – St. Petersburg – reflects Raskolnikovs ‘split’ in his mind.
The book carries strong religious undertones that increase in magnitude as the book progresses, although I will not reveal any more to keep the plot unknown to you. A sharp, challenging novel (with regards to the questions it raises), Crime and Punishment will demand you review your current beliefs. When considering the depth of this novel, it is quite unbelievable that Dostoevsky wrote it hurriedly in order to pay of debts; the level of complexity is unbecoming of a book written at such haste.
“Go at once, this very minute, stand at the cross-roads, bow down, first kiss the earth which you have defiled, and then bow down to all the world and say to all men aloud, ‘I am a murderer!’ Then God will send you life again.”
It also deals with an idea that perhaps everyone has encountered in some form: if you could kill one rich, selfish old woman and use her money to benefit other people, do you have the right to do it? Or in more abstract terms, does anyone have the right to take from or harm another person for the greater good? Raskolnikov believes there are certain ‘extraordinary’ people who have the right to transgress societal law in order to bring about a greater change; he uses Napoleon and Moses as an example. What Moses did (freeing his enslaved people) was in fact against the laws of his time, but it is clear what he did was for the greater good. And this is but one of numerous profound ideas discussed throughout this astoundingly deep book; this is recommended for adults of all ages and tastes.
“Crime? What crime?” he cried in sudden fury. “That I killed a vile noxious insect, an old pawnbroker woman, of use to no one!… Killing her was atonement for forty sins. She was sucking the life out of poor people. Was that a crime?”.