Crime and Punishment Book summary

Fyodor Dostoevsky



Dostoevsky had taken on the debt of his late brother, Mikhail, and had accrued a significant debt of his own owing to his gambling addiction. He sought the help of a publisher and promised him the rights of his past and future works if he failed to provide him with a manuscript the following year. At the time, he had been working on two ideas, the first was to deal with the increasing problem of drunkness, while the second was to be an exploration of a criminal's psychology. This second idea was what led to the development of Crime and Punishment. In the course of the book, Dostoevsky drew on his experience of social radicalism and the subsequent punishment. Through this novel, he indicated that Western Ideologies were not only incompatible with Russian society but rather posed a significant danger to its people. Dostoevsky burned the first draft he had written for the novel, and reinitiated his work, this second version had most of the same characteristics of the original protagonist, but it included the addition of sub-plots that helped develop the main plot of the novel. Crime and Punishment was published in volumes, the first of which appeared in January 1866, and the final volume was published in November of the same year.


Plot Summary

Raskolnikov is a poor student living in St. Petersburg, he has been forced to leave his study at the university for lack of funds. Since leaving the university, he has failed to find work of any significant pay and relied on money that his widowed mother and poor sister have been able to send him. He has been unable to pay his rent for a long period, and the landlady has begun to stop sending him food regularly. He lies in his dirty room, without food for days on end. He paces through the city muttering to himself, without a destination in mind. He has been thinking about murdering an old and mean pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna, for he feels that he will be able to do much good with her money, and believes that her death won't cause anyone anguish. He has pawned certain items with the lady, and has overheard another student discussing how vile and cruel the old woman was to her step sister. He receives a letter from home and learns from it the terrible maltreatment that Dunya, his sister, has borne at the hands of her employer, Marfa Petrovna, because of the lady's husband, Svidrigailov. The misunderstanding about his sister's character had been cleared, and Marfa Petrovna had helped find a rich suitor for Dunya.

This suitor, Peter Petrovich, was a much older businessman who only wished to marry Dunya because he believed that she would be ever grateful to him for lifting her and her family out of poverty. Raskolnikov understands that Dunya is only marrying the man for for his sake, and is unable to bear that knowledge. He ends up killing the old Pawnbroker when he discovers, by chance, that her step-sister Lizaveta would be away from the apartment the following night. He kills the old woman, but forgets to lock the apartment, and Lizaveta soon arrives to discover her murdered sister. Raskolnikov kills Lizaveta as well but is then nearly discovered by two men. He manages to escape narrowly and returns home to fall into a delirious sleep.

The next day, Raskolnikov is summoned to the police station concerning an I.O.U. that his landlady had extracted from him, and while at the police station, he overhears the police discussing the murders he has committed. This causes him to faint, and one of the policemen, Ilia Petrovich, begins to suspect him for the murders. Raskolnikov hurries home, collects his loot, and hides it away beneath a stone in a deserted part of town. He then visits his friend, Razumikhin, but he is unable to explain why he has come to see him. He returns home and is overcome by sickness. He wakes four days later to find Razumikhin in his apartment and learns from him the details of the investigation into the murders. Razumikhin's relative, Porfiry Petrovich, is a criminal lawyer involved with the investigation, and so Razumikhin is able to fill in Raskolnikov. Their conversation is interrupted by the visit of Peter Petrovich. Raskolnikov insults the man, causing him to leave in anger, and then Raskolnikov also sends away his friends. He then takes to the streets in his delirious state, and nearly reveals his crime to Zamyotov, the clerk from the police station. He then goes to the apartment where he had committed the murders and tells the people there that they should accompany him to the police station, but they all dismiss him as they mistake him to be a troublemaker. On his way to the police he comes upon Marmeladov, a man he had recently met in a tavern, where he had learned of Marmeladov's drinking and poor economic condition that had forced the man's daughter, Sonya, to go into prostitution. Driven on by his guilt, Raskolnikov takes the man to the Marmeladov family's residence, and upon his death gives his widow all of the money that Raskolnikov's mother had only just sent him.

He returns home with Razumikhin and discovers that his sister and mother have arrived at his apartment. He tells them to leave with Razumikhin who immediately becomes infatuated with the beautiful Dunya. Razumikhin cares for Raskolnikov's family and informs them of Raskolnikov's sickness. The next day, Dunya receives a letter from Peter, informing her of his altercation with her brother, and requests to meet them without Raskolnikov. Peter also slanders Raskolnikov by untruthfully claiming that he had given away all of his money to Sonya, who he labels a woman of questionable character. Razumikhin and Raskolnikov's family visit Raskolnikov and find him in better health. Raskolnikov had forbidden his sister from marrying Peter the previous night, and he repeats this demand when he meets her again. Dunya decides to include Raskolnikov for Peter's requested meeting, and also invites Razumikhin. Their discussion is interrupted by Sonya, who has come to invite Raskolnikov to her father's funeral. Raskolnikov's family leaves, while Razumikhin, and Sonya remain with Raskolnikov. He reveals to Razumikhin that he wishes to go to the police and inform them that he had pawned items with the murdered woman, for he wants to claim them back at a later date. Raskolnikov also takes down the address of Sonya and promises to visit her later. As she returns home, she is followed by Svidrigailov, who has recently begun to live right next door to her apartment.

Raskolnikov and Razumikhin travel to Porfiry Petrovich, who is being visited by Zamyotov, and during their conversation it becomes evident that Porfiry suspects Raskolnikov's involvement in the murders. His primary clue is a psychological one, that of an article Raskolnikov had written, titled “On Crime.” Porfiry invites Raskolnikov for an official examination the following day. Raskolnikov rushes home to check if he has left any traces of his crime, and as he is leaving his home, he comes upon a man who has been asking the porter for him. Raskolnikov follows the man, and attempts to discover why the man had been looking for him. The man shocks Raskolnikov by calling him a murderer.

Raskolnikov returns home and falls into a delirious sleep. He is awoken by the entry of Svidrigailov who has come to St. Petersburg after the untimely death of his wife, Marfa Petrovna. He and Raskolnikov seem to have a connection, but the man has come to ask him to arrange a meeting with Dunya. He wishes to give her a large sum of money and prevent her wedding to Peter Petrovich as he believes that Peter is an unsuitable match for Dunya. After the man leaves, Raskolnikov and Razumikhin go to meet Raskolnikov's family for the meeting with Peter. During their meeting, Peter's true nature becomes apparent and the betrothal is severed. Peter blames Raskolnikov for his broken relationship and plans on getting revenge.

After Peter leaves, Raskolnikov attempts to sever his relationship with his family. He tells them that he would come back to them if he could but for the sake of his sanity, they should leave him alone. He leaves Razumikhin with the responsibility of his family and goes to Sonya's home. He questions her about her life and tries to understand how she can live the depraved life of a prostitute. He feels that they are similar to one another and promises to tell her who had killed Lizaveta if he could see her again the following day. This whole conversation is overheard by Svidrigailov.

The next day, Raskolnikov goes to see Porfiry Petrovich, and the lawyer toys with him psychologically. Raskolnikov is tortured by his conscience and almost confesses to the murder, but is saved by the entry of Nikolai, another man who is suspected of the murders. Nikolai confesses to the murder of the pawnbroker in front of Raskolnikov and Porfiry. Raskolnikov returns home relieved, and is visited by the man who had called him a murderer in the streets the previous day. That man had only guessed that Raskolnikov was the murderer because he was present the night Raskolnikov had visited the apartment of the murdered woman in his delirious state. Raskolnikov begins to believe that he would be able to escape punishment.

Peter Petrovich lives in the same building as the Marmeladov family, and on the day of Sonya's father's funeral, he falsely accuses her of stealing. The lie is revealed thanks to Peter Petrovich's roommate, and Raskolnikov who explains to everyone Peter's desire to discredit Sonya so that he could sever Raskolnikov's relationship with his family. Sonya is overwhelmed and leaves for her apartment. Raskolnikov follows her home, and there he confesses to murdering Lizaveta and her step-sister, the pawnbroker. Sonya accepts his confession and understands the pain he is experiencing, she advises him to confess. He refuses, but feels that the police will eventually catch him, and asks her if she would follow him. Their conversation is interrupted as news arrives that Sonya's stepmother, Katerina Ivanovna, has lost her mind. She was beating her children and making them beg in the streets. Katerina dies soon after and leaves her children in the custody of the destitute Sonya. Svidrigailov reveals to Raskolnikov that he plans to help Sonya and the other Marmeladov orphans, and also indicates that he is aware of Raskolnikov's murders.

Raskolnikov becomes delirious upon being discovered by Svidrigailov,and learns from Razumikhin that Dunya had received a suspicious letter that made her sad. He is also visited by Porfiry Petrovich, who confronts him with knowledge of his crime. He advises Raskolnikov to confess to the murder and promises to arrest him if he does not do so within the next couple of days. Raskolnikov leaves to meet Svidrigailov, and during their conversation, the man tells Raskolnikov of his past with Dunya. From his conversation, it becomes clear to Raskolnikov that Svidrigailov intends to force himself upon Dunya. He follows Svidrigailov but the man evades pursuit easily. Once Raskolnikov leaves, Svidrigailov goes to meet Dunya. He takes her to his deserted apartment and blackmails her with the knowledge of Raskolnikov's crime. Dunya pulls out a gun but refuses to use it despite the threat of rape, and so Svidrigailov has a change of heart. He lets her go. He distributes his money, giving some to Sonya and some to a young fiance he had found in the city. Then, Svidrigailov kills himself.

Raskolnikov goes to see his mother and asks her to pray for him before he leaves. He meets his sister as she is waiting for him at his apartment, and finally, he goes to see Sonya who gives him a Cross so that he has the courage to confess. Raskolnikov goes to the police station and nearly does not go through with the confession, but finally reveals to the police that he had murdered Alyona Ivanovna and Lizaveta Ivanovna.

He is sentenced to 8 years in Siberia, and Sonya follows him there. Razumikhin and Dunya get married, but Raskolnikov's mother passed away soon after he disappeared from her life. Raskolnikov remains bitter and sullen until one day he breaks down in front of Sonya, for he finally recognises her love for him, and his for her.

  • Author(s)

    Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Publication date


  • Language


  • Classification

    Philosophical novel

  • Pages



Crime, Novel


The Russian Messenger