Quicklet on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment

by Sam Kim

What's in the book?

Quicklets: Your reading sidekick!

    • About the Book
    • About the Author
    • Synopsis
    • Chapter-By-Chapter Commentary & Summary
    • Key Character List
    • Key Terms and Definitions
    • Major Themes and Symbols
    • Interesting Related Facts
    • Additional Reading



Crime and Punishment is widely held to be one of Dostoyevsky's greatest works, second only to the grandiosity of The Brothers Karamazov. Like the latter, our present masterpiece delves into the complex and, at times, paradoxical nature of man’s existence and psychological makeup. The novel was originally published in 1866 in a dozen separate installments, and as a single book a year later. The story takes place in mid-nineteenth century St. Petersburg, Russia, and though the title might suggest a typical crime drama, the book is not a simple narrative about a criminal who is brought to justice by lawmen, but about the inner struggle and anguish of a proud intellectual, Raskolnikov, who longs to free himself from mundane existence. To do so, he commits an “extraordinary” act, murder, but finds himself bound by the same guilt, fear, and fate of all other trespassers of justice, no different than the rest.


Sam studied both Religion and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. His main interests in his field are historical theology, eastern Christian studies, far eastern systems of thought, and comparative religion and philosophy. Sam is a native Austinite of Korean descent, and his own writing, both personal and academic, reflects a cognizance of the discourse between east and west, between past and present, and an avidity for the classical awareness of goodness, order, and beauty to beautify the present age.


Nature of Morality: Raskolnikov is driven to commit his crime by his obsession with a kind of “superman” theory, according to which the general masses live in a state of slavery to laws and norms, while great men set the laws and may themselves transgress morality to establish new order. This ideology does two things: first, it presumes morality to be a mere human construct; and secondly, it justifies the crimes of powerful rulers. Indeed, this view holds that “superior” men are in a sense destined by their charismatic dynamism to be potentates and revolutionaries, and any people harmed along the way are necessary casualties. Might makes right. This ideology is intended to represent certain strands of progressive modern thought which Dostoyevsky was highly critical of. We see in the character of Raskolnikov where such thinking inevitably leads: emotional and psychological instability and the deterioration of the human being. Morality is manifested to be not merely a tool for the strong to keep the weak in line, but a real law of nature, known deep within the human soul, which demands the exacting of justice, and which pushes trespassers to repentance. Indeed, the English word “trespass” better captures the original Russian word for “crime” used in the novel’s title, which indicates the crossing of a boundary, and which suggests morality possesses real objective borders with near religious connotations.

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