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Free Study Guide-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free Booknotes
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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

Part I

Crime and Punishment centers around the life of Raskolnikov, a law student at the university in St. Petersburg. He lives in a dilapidated boarding house and is very poor. He is young, handsome and quite intelligent. He writes a brilliant if somewhat shocking paper on a theory that he has developed: that the world consists of two types of people; the ordinary and the extraordinary. In his thesis, he asserts that the extraordinary human has the right to commit any crime, as long as this is done to further an important goal. As he considers himself one of these superior people, he decides to test his theory by putting it into practice. He meticulously plans the murder of a greedy old moneylender, Alena Ivanovna, as he feels she is a parasite who preys upon the poor and deserves to die.

After committing the first murder, Raskolnikov is then forced to murder Alena's stepsister, Lizaveta, who unexpectedly enters the scene of the crime before he can leave. When he returns to his lodgings after the double murder, he is exhausted and stays in his room for several days, feverishly drifting in and out of consciousness.

Part II

During this period, a fellow student and friend, Razumihin, arrives. Raskolnikov is also visited by Nastasya, his landlady's servant, and a police officer that summons him to the police station. He fears that his crime has been detected but is soon relieved to learn that his landlady has complained about him to the police for not paying his rent. He returns home after signing an IOU at the police station. Then he hides the money and some other objects he stole from the old moneylender under a large rock in a nearby park. However, his fears about his crime do not subside, and he falls under another spell of illness and delirium.

His friends, Razumihin and Nastasya, and Dr. Zossimov look after him. Whenever they discuss the recent murders and how the police have arrested two painters working near the scene of the crime, Raskolnikov expresses a keen though morbid interest in the matter. He even defends the painters, claiming they are innocent. However, one of them later confesses to the crime, strangely enough. At the close of Part II, Luzhin visits Raskolnikov. He is a suitor for Dounia, Raskolnikov's sister, who has just arrived in St. Petersburg along with her mother, Pulcheria Alexandrovna.


Raskolnikov resents Luzhin's rather patronizing attitude and his shabby treatment of Dounia and her mother. He put them up in a shoddy apartment that everyone feels is "a disgusting place . . . of doubtful character." Raskolnikov drives Luzhin out of his room. When Raskolnikov recovers from his illness, he goes out and reads about his crime in the recent newspapers. In a tavern he meets Zametov, a police official, and alludes to his crime, thereby arousing the man's interest. He even visits the scene of the crime and once more resolves to go to the police and confess. However, he changes his mind.

Part III

Shortly afterward, he witnesses the death of Marmeladov, a former government clerk, who is knocked down by a carriage when he is wandering, drunk, in the street. Raskolnikov had met him previously in a tavern, and he helps the man's family and meets his daughter, Sonia, for the first time. She has turned to a life of prostitution to help support her father's family.

Back at his room, Raskolnikov objects to his sister's impending marriage to Luzhin, saying: "I won't accept the sacrifice." Meanwhile, Razumihin develops feelings for Dounia. Matters get more complicated when her former employer, Svidrigailov, follows her to St. Petersburg. He had once tried to seduce her, and so now Raskolnikov will not permit him to meet his sister.

Luzhin tries to create a rift between Raskolnikov and his family. He insinuates that Raskolnikov has given money to Sonia, and not to Marmeladov's widow, Katerina. A reunion between Luzhin and his fiancée's family is interrupted by the arrival of Sonia. She invites them all to a memorial service for her father and shares a brief moment alone with Raskolnikov. From the shabbiness of his room, she realizes that he has given them all his money. She begins to feel a fondness for him.

Raskolnikov soon learns that the police are interviewing all those who borrowed money from the old moneylender. So he decides to meet Porfiry, who is Razumihin's uncle. At the meeting, he discusses his theory of the "extraordinary man" with the inspector. However, he does not reveal his role in the recent murders. He fears the police suspect him but thinks they have no proof of his guilt. On his way home, a stranger taunts him with the word, "Murderer!" This incident leaves him shaken, and he begins to have terrible nightmares about the murder.

Part IV

This part of the novel begins with an encounter between Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov, an evil man who resembles the murderer in certain respects. They both share a propensity for evil and a domineering will. Rumor has it that Svidrigailov often beat his wife. When she died, she left 3,000 rubles for Dounia, who had worked for them. Having rejected Luzhin and Svidrigailov as suitors for Dounia, Raskolnikov advises Razumihin to take care of his mother and sister.

Then, in a state of deep agitation Raskolnikov visits Sonia. He asks her to read the biblical story of how Christ raised Lazarus from the dead. Ironically, she reads this story from a Bible that Lizaveta once gave her. He leaves Sonia with the promise to tell her who killed Lizaveta and her elder sister.

Parts V and VI

Raskolnikov has a second, disturbing interview with Porfiry. He then decides to reveal everything to Sonia. Svidrigailov overhears this confession and uses the information in a sadistic attempt to seduce Dounia. After she escapes his lustful designs, he commits suicide. Porfiry then meets Raskolnikov and tells him that he knows who murdered the two women. However, he says that he prefers to have the murderer come forward and confess his crime of his own accord.

Raskolnikov finally goes to the police and reveals that he is the murderer. He is tried and sentenced to eight years hard labor in a Siberian prison camp. His sister marries Razumihin, while his mother dies soon after, blissful ignorant of her son's deadly crimes. Sonia follows Raskolnikov to Siberia and, after a year, he is finally able to reach out to her and to his fellow prisoners. He then begins his slow journey to emotional and spiritual rehabilitation. Dostoevsky hints that when Raskolnikov is free in seven years time, he and Sonia may find a degree of happiness and peace in their life together.

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