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Free Study Guide-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free Booknotes
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Major Themes

The apparent theme of the novel is that of planning and executing the perfect crime, as well as the subsequent suffering on the part of the criminal and his obsessive need to confess. Only the first part of the novel deals with the careful planning that precedes the crime. The other five parts are concerned with Raskolnikov's intermittent moments of remorse and his overwhelming desire to confess and to rid himself of the guilt. However, he is unable to do so until the end of the novel. The act of murder and its effects on the mind of the killer form the central subject of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

Linked closely to this cycle of crime and confession is the motif of all-encompassing fear. This fear reduces Raskolnikov to a quivering mass of indecision, subject to spells of illness, emotional outbursts of anger and horrible nightmares. The crime and its long- term effects on Raskolnikov's behavior and peace of mind become the very punishment itself. Only in Siberia does he overcome the fear and begin the difficult process of social rehabilitation and moral regeneration.

Minor Themes

One of the important minor Themes of this novel is that of the emotional estrangement and social isolation suffered by Raskolnikov, especially after he turns into a criminal. He feels terribly lonely and utterly devastated by his inability to turn to anyone after the double murder. He feels some sympathy for the unfortunate Marmeladov, who dies in a street accident and for the woman who attempts suicide in the River Neva. Sonia's patience and profound understanding finally help him to bring himself to confess his crime and ultimately to reintegrate into ordinary human society.

To reinforce the theme of isolation and alienation, Dostoevsky makes Raskolnikov often think of "the square yard of space" to which his crime has confined him. In addition, the novelist frequently introduces the motif of "fresh air" as a cure for the criminal's isolation and intermittent periods of sickness.

Another recurrent theme in the novel is the idea that man must undergo suffering before he can find redemption from a life of sin. The first sign of Raskolnikov's suffering is his illness after the murder, his terrifying nightmares and his recurrent failure to confess, although he often comes close to revealing his crime. A consistent pattern of suffering and hardship extends to almost all of the other characters.

Another significant theme is that of the Superman or "extraordinary man," who, according to Raskolnikov's startling thesis, stands above ordinary humans and is exempt from obeying the law. What Dostoevsky tries to show is that although Raskolnikov believes he is an extraordinary human being and thus commits the murders, he is no better or worse than an ordinary man. He cannot escape the consequences of his crime, and he is not above the common human experience of suffering the effects of one's deeds. On the one hand, Raskolnikov thinks of himself as a sort of superior human. On the other hand, he realizes as the novel progresses that he is a part of common humanity.


The mood throughout Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is somber, brooding and profoundly contemplative. For the most part, the reader lives in the consciousness of the protagonist, Raskolnikov, who is introspective and rather gloomy. He first contemplates how to commit the perfect murder and thus eliminate the predatory moneylender. Afterwards, he is haunted by his guilt and the fear of exposure, and he is driven by a compulsive need to confess, which he cannot transform into action.

Furthermore, a mood of suspense and anticipation is created, as in any good detective story. Here, the identity of the murderer is known to the readers, although not to the police, who are close to the criminal. There are also moments of extreme horror, as at the scene of the murder or when other characters die by accident, suicide or prolonged illness. A sense of panic and terror is also created by the nightmares that the murderer has and the almost claustrophobic ruminations that haunt him after he commits the crime. Until he confesses and begins to serve out his sentence, he seems to undergo the tortures of a living hell.

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Free Study Guide-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Plot Synopsis


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