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Essay on The Murderer's Motives in Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment

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The Murderer's Motives in Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment


The beauty of Crime and Punishment is that there are no absolutes. It is a 19th century murder mystery, with the identity of the murderer clear, but the murderer's reasons far from being so. Although each chapter was replete with uncertainty, no other facet of the novel caused greater vexation both during the reading and even after its conclusion than what drove Raskol'nikov to commit the murder. That is not to say that he committed murder without purpose or reason, that he was just a cookie cutter villain with no purpose; instead, he is a multi-faceted character that is both likable and a scoundrel at once. The protagonist himself is unsure why he plans and carries out what he does. As he went to bury what he had stolen, he asked himself: "If it all has really been done deliberately and not idiotically, if I really had a certain and definite object, how is it I did not even glance into the purse and don't know what I had there, for what I have undergone these agonies and have deliberately undertaken this base, filthy, degrading business?" (Part II, Ch. 2, pgs. 92-93). The reader is not left completely in the dark, however, as motives were established. The caveat being that motive is plural, and motive is usually a mutually exclusive term. The first motive to be presented, and the strongest in the novel during Raskol'nikov's planning stages, was the issue of poverty. He was destitute, living in squalor, and in need of money to crawl out of his grave-like flat. After the murder was committed and Raskol'nikov came under suspicion, he came face to face with the inspector general, Porfiry Petrovich. Their discussion made the cut-and-dried appearance of the motive tu...


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...orce behind his confession and struggle with his conscience. Does this lessen its impact as a motive? Of course not, due to the Russian psyche. Raskol'nikov may not have explicitly mentioned a "will to suffer" in his thoughts prior to the murder, but as a Russian who professed to believe in God and the Eastern Orthodox Church (although it was not always apparent, he was at least raised in such an environment), he sought suffering. It may not have been an active goal, but it was there, hiding in his subconscious. Such a complex motive is worthy of such a complex subject.

Works Cited

Beebe, Maurice. "The Three Motives of Raskol'nikov." As printed in Crime and Punishment. Ed. By George Gibian. W. W. Norton & Company. 3rd Edition. New York, 1989.

Dostoevsky, Feodor. Crime and Punishment. Ed. By George Gibian. W. W. Norton & Company. 3rd Edition. New York, 1989.


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