Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoyevsky has been hailed as the greatest literary work in the Western hemisphere. Crime and Punishment was written in pre-Communist Russia under the Tsar. Dostoyevsky's writing shows insight into the human mind that is at once frightening and frighteningly real. His main character, around who all other characters are introduced, is Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov.
Raskolnikov murders an old pawnbroker woman for seemingly no reason at all. His sister and mother move to St. Petersburg following his sister's engagement to a man whom Raskolnikov was extremely displeased. Raskolnikov undergoes severe mental trauma, and falls ill after the killing. The reader isn't sure why Raskolnikov killed the woman, indeed it appears that Raskolnikov didn't know himself. He is surrounded by friends and his family and draws in other characters to him during his illness. He befriends a woman, Sofya Seymonavitch, who prostitutes herself to support her mother and her drunken father. As the police come closer onto his trail Raskolnikov faces serious threats to his sister from her two suitors, one of which tries to rape her and kills himself after he finds that he can't bring himself to. At the end Raskolnikov gives himself up, and gives his family into the care of his friend Rauzumihin, who marries Raskolnikov's sister Douina. Dostoyevsky exposes the darkest sides of human nature in with characters that are completely human. The tale Dostoyevsky weaves is a murder mystery, with the murderer and all the facts of the murder known in the very first pages of the book.
How then can it be a murder mystery? The mystery is finding out why Raskolnikov comm...
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...and then gives all of his money in the world to Marmeledov's family after his death? Who befriends and supports Sofya? Who time and time again defends his sisters honor and safety? Can the reader call this man murderer, shun him, and cast him out, make him the bad guy? Or must the reader be forced to see the suffering Raskolnikov is inflicting upon himself, the acceptance that what he did was evil, his urge to confess to the world what he had done. Must the reader in the end admit that this horrible criminal is human? That Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov was neither brute nor hero, but one of us? Dostoyevsky leaves the reader who was looking to divide the characters with the sword of moral right and wrong with the sword pointing directly at himself.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Modern Library, 1950.
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