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Crime and Punishment | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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How does the city of Saint Petersburg set the mood in Part 1, Chapter 1, of Crime and Punishment?

As Raskolnikov walks the streets of Saint Petersburg, he feels "the airlessness, the bustle and the plaster, scaffolding, bricks, and dust all about him." It is a crowded city with a wide variety of inhabitants, and, like other cities of its size, it has some unsavory areas. Raskolnikov's neighborhood is packed with taverns and drunks. The seedy Hay Market square is frequented by prostitutes. Many of the people Raskolnikov passes on the street are poor and wear ragged clothes, like himself. The July air is hot and stifling, and Raskolnikov smells the stench of a city in summer without modern sanitation. This description of Saint Petersburg creates a disordered and oppressive mood.

How does the symbol of Raskolnikov's garret in Part 1 of Crime and Punishment foreshadow his crime?

Raskolnikov's room on the top floor of a boardinghouse is dirty and disorganized. Since withdrawing from the university weeks before, he has shut himself up in this cramped and dingy place, alienating himself from the world. This isolation has helped him separate himself from society and its rules, which he needs to do to carry out his crime. The oppressiveness of the cramped room has affected his mind, and he is trapped in his own obsessive thoughts. The garret's location above the rest of the house also symbolizes Raskolnikov's unfounded arrogance. From his high perch, he looks down on the rest of the world, even though there is nothing elevated about his situation. His sense of superiority will allow him to justify the two murders he commits.

What clues to the crime Raskolnikov plans appear in Part 1, Chapter 1, of Crime and Punishment?

Raskolnikov's first mention of this plan ("I want to attempt a thing like that and am frightened by these trifles") indicates that it is serious, certainly risky enough to scare him. He calls it a dream of "hideous but daring recklessness," and, after the rehearsal of the crime at the pawnbroker's, he is disgusted by his "atrocious," "filthy," and "loathsome" thoughts about it. It seems likely he is pursuing something illegal. This is supported by details that indicate he doesn't want to be noticed. He is afraid his hat is too conspicuous. He is relieved to find that Alyona has no neighbors because the apartment across from hers is empty and asks her if she is always home alone. He also focuses on minute physical details during his visit, counting the steps to the tenement building, remembering the arrangement of rooms in the pawnbroker's apartment, and noting where she keeps her keys and money. It seems likely he is going to try to rob her.

How do the members of the Marmeladov family help develop the theme of suffering in Crime and Punishment?

Marmeladov's alcoholism creates a vicious cycle of suffering. His drinking impoverishes his family, causing starvation and illness. His guilt over the pain he causes them makes him drink, resulting in even more suffering. He hopes his suffering will somehow redeem him in the next life. A probable suicide, he leaves his wife and children behind to continue to struggle with their circumstances. Marmeladov's wife, Katerina Ivanovna, suffers starvation, illness, insanity, and eventually death as a result of her husband's drinking. She fantasizes that her situation will improve, but it only gets worse, and she cannot escape the horrible reality of her family's situation. The young Marmeladov children suffer from starvation, lack of clothing, and their mother's temper and eventual mental breakdown. Sonia, the eldest, is forced into prostitution to support the family because of her father's drinking. By the end of the novel, they are all orphans. Sonia's relationship to suffering differs from her parents', however. In the end her outcome is not tragic. Her suffering, and her ability to take on the suffering of others, brings about good in the world and hope for a better future for herself and Raskolnikov.

What do Raskolnikov's statements about work in Part 1, Chapter 3, of Crime and Punishment suggest about his crime?

In Part 1, Chapter 3, Raskolnikov states that he is sick of teaching lessons for a few coins; he wants much more. This suggests that he has a financial motive for the potential crime he is considering. Stealing from someone like a rich and greedy pawnbroker would be a quick way to get some much needed cash. Raskolnikov's comments also imply that he expects more out of ordinary life than it provides and is in fact above the usual obligations of the everyday world. Why use his superior intellect to teach lessons for little money when he could plot a clever crime with a bigger payoff? His egotism winds up playing a large part in his crime and his supposedly clever attempts to cover it up.

Compare and contrast the characters of Raskolnikov and Razumihin in Crime and Punishment. How do they represent different moralities?

In some ways Raskolnikov and Razumihin are very similar. Physically, they are both tall and dark-haired. Both are highly intelligent former university students who have had to withdraw because of their poverty. But they are defined by their differences. Razumihin works hard to support himself, whereas Raskolnikov decides to take a shortcut out of his financial difficulties by committing a crime. Razumihin, although he appears messy and uncouth, represents practicality, reliability, and good sense. He argues against new intellectual ideas of morality in favor of traditional morality based in religious concepts. He is warmhearted and friendly, caring for Raskolnikov even when his friend is at his most hostile and exasperating. Raskolnikov, handsome and refined in appearance, represents intellectualism and the downfalls of the new morality, which he uses unsuccessfully to rationalize his crime. Unlike Razumihin, he is moody, alienated, and arrogant. Only after a very long time is he able to redeem himself through traditional religious morality, love, and suffering.

How does Raskolnikov's dream about the horse being beaten in Part 1, Chapter 5, of Crime and Punishment relate to his murder of Alyona and Lizaveta?

Raskolnikov's dream foreshadows the disturbing violence of the murder Raskolnikov will commit. As Mikolka, the horse's owner, is viciously beating the nag, a bystander yells out, "Fetch an axe to her! Finish her off." This is the same weapon Raskolnikov will use in the murders. The dream connects Raskolnikov to Mikolka as well. Both men believe they have the right to kill: Mikolka believes he has a right to kill the horse because she is his property. Raskolnikov believes he has the right to kill the pawnbroker because he is doing so on principle, for the good of society. Alyona and Lizaveta, like the horse, are innocent victims. In his dream Raskolnikov is a small boy who knows that cruelty and killing are wrong. His father and the horse's owner, whose actions prove that he is "not a Christian," represent Raskolnikov's adult self that has become separated from that moral judgment. Therefore, the dream symbolizes the conflict that Raskolnikov experiences about whether or not his crime is justified.

How does the mood of Crime and Punishment change after Raskolnikov's dream in Part 1, Chapter 5?

At first the mood is dark and disturbing. After he awakens from his dream, Raskolnikov is horrified. "He felt utterly broken: darkness and confusion were in his soul." The dream forces Raskolnikov to consider how terrible the crime he is contemplating actually is. He renounces his "accursed dream" to kill Alyona, reconnecting with his religious morality by praying. The mood lightens considerably once he makes this decision. His obsession seems banished as he calmly and quietly watches the sun set over the river. For a minute he is simply able to breathe, and the mood is peaceful and calm.

What reasoning in Part 1, Chapter 6, of Crime and Punishment does Raskolnikov use to justify committing murder?

Raskolnikov follows the same logic as the student he overhears in the tavern in Part 1, Chapter 6: that to kill Alyona would be morally just. Alyona treats her customers unfairly. She pays less than the items they pawn are worth. She charges high interest on loans and is merciless about the due dates for payments. The murder would also allow Alyona's money to be used to help perhaps hundreds of people rather than the monastery for which she intends it. The murder would also save her half-sister, Lizaveta, from Alyona's physical and mental abuse. Like the student, Raskolnikov reasons that the good of helping so many people would outweigh the harm done to one bad person to accomplish it.

Contrast the characters of Alyona and Lizaveta in Crime and Punishment. How does each character affect Raskolnikov's crime?

Although they are half-sisters, Alyona and Lizaveta couldn't be more different. Alyona is greedy and miserly, charging extremely high interest on pawned items and hoarding her money. Although Alyona is older than Lizaveta and smaller in physical stature, she beats her sister freqently. Lizaveta is meek and subservient to Alyona, although physically she towers over her. In her business Lizaveta is known to be honest, setting fair prices and sticking to them. Alyona's lack of redeeming qualities and abundance of money allows Raskolnikov to reason that killing her benefits society, providing him with a moral justification for his crime. That rationalization is challenged directly when he also kills Lizaveta, an act he cannot justify as benefiting society.

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