Raskolnikov is a poverty-stricken, 23-year-old former law student. Conflicted in almost every way, he is handsome and intelligent but also egotistical and obsessive, often overvaluing his mental abilities. His thoughts and actions can swing suddenly between extremes, startling and confusing others, who often question his sanity. However, while deeply alienated from the world around him, he often steps in to help others who are suffering or in distress. The crime he commits pushes him to the breaking point, and he is haunted by what he has done. His response to his crime makes him a litmus test for deciding which is greater, the need for power or the power of love.
Just 18, Sonia is forced into prostitution to support her alcoholic father, tubercular stepmother, and three young stepsiblings. Although this forces her to live apart from her family and hurts her reputation, she endures without complaint. Sonia is shy on the outside, but she has great inner strength. Far from being corrupted by her situation, she remains a pure soul, with boundless compassion for the suffering of others, including the most guilty or deeply flawed, such as Raskolnikov. Acting as the novel's moral compass, she represents suffering, faith, redemption, and the power of love.
Sixty-year-old Alyona gouges her customers any way she can, then selfishly hoards the profits. She abuses her gentle younger half-sister, Lizaveta, beating her and treating her like a slave. She is a portrait of faith without works: she may wear two crosses and plan to leave her money to a monastery, but she is devoid of compassion, charity, or any other Christian ideals.
A few years younger than Raskolnikov, Dounia strongly resembles her brother. Their mother, Pulcheria, notes that they are both "morose and hot-tempered, both haughty and both generous." But Dounia is not as alienated or self-involved as Raskolnikov. She loves her brother and is willing to make great sacrifices for him, but she does not excuse his every fault. Scrupulously fair, she has an unshakable sense of integrity and is not afraid to say what she thinks. Strong and beautiful, she fascinates a number of the men in the novel.
Luzhin has spent his life amassing a fortune and cares far more about social appearances than deeper considerations such as truth or love. He longs for a wife who is attractive and educated but poor, so she will look up to him. Luzhin attempts to use his money and social position to control others, but his actions often give him away, revealing him as a manipulative liar.
A former college friend of Raskolnikov, he differs from him in striking ways. In contrast to Raskolnikov's pessimistic view of existence, Razumihin looks at life constructively, with hope for the future. He befriends everyone. Even when Raskolnikov pushes him away, he remains a loyal friend, caring for him at his lowest moments. He also steps in to watch over Raskolnikov's mother and sister when Raskolnikov cannot. Often the novel's voice of reason, he sees Raskolnikov and the society they live in with remarkable clarity. The only thing he can't see clearly is that Raskolnikov is a murderer.
A 50-year-old former gambler who has spent time in prison for debts, he is driven by his appetite for women and fast living. His handsome face is a mask that hides his depravity. He has committed terrible crimes, including sexual assault, and is rumored to have killed his wife. Now he has designs on Raskolnikov's sister, Dounia. He is perceptive and charming but also slippery and highly manipulative. Svidrigaïlov is also surprisingly generous, giving money to the vulnerable and innocent. Below the surface, his conscience tortures him.