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Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Crime and Punishment | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


How do coincidences enable Raskolnikov to commit the crime in Part 1 of Crime and Punishment?

Several coincidences occur before the murders. Raskolnikov sees them as fate, encouraging him to carry out his plan.The student in the tavern talks about how murdering Alyona would be morally justified, right after Raskolnikov has visited her and is having similar thoughts. Immediately after he abandons the plan, the perfect opportunity for the murder presents itself when he hears that Lizaveta is going out, leaving Alyona home alone. Finding another axe when the one in the kitchen is unavailable keeps his plan in motion. After the murders Raskolnikov only escapes undetected due to a series of lucky coincidences. The man waiting outside the door for the porter gets impatient just in time for Raskolnikov to exit Alyona's apartment unseen. The second-floor apartment just happens to be empty at the exact moment he needs to hide from the porter. At Raskolnikov's boardinghouse, the porter's room is open but empty, allowing him to return the axe unseen.

What is the significance of the girl Raskolnikov tries to help in Part 1, Chapter 4, of Crime and Punishment?

The girl Raskolnikov tries to help in Part 1, Chapter 4, is one of several vulnerable adolescent young women who appear in the novel, including Sonia, Dounia, and several of Svidrigaïlov's victims. She appears drunk, has likely been violated once, and is probably about to be again when Raskolnikov steps in to protect her. The girl helps readers understand different sides of Raskolnikov. Like him, she is in a deeply confused state brought on by intense suffering. She also provides an opportunity for Raskolnikov to demonstrate his ability to respond to suffering, morally and compassionately. His treatment of her gives readers hope for Raskolnikov. However, she is likely the victim of a crime, and he is a budding criminal, about to take advantage of a woman. His encounter with the drunken girl also reveals one of Raskolnikov's biggest flaws. After he intercedes and convinces the policeman to help her, he suddenly tells the policeman to leave because he thinks the girl is doomed. No longer a human being, she has become part of a philosophical debate in his mind. Fortunately the policeman disregards Raskolnikov and goes off to help the girl.

Why does Raskolnikov faint in the police station in Part 2, Chapter 1, of Crime and Punishment?

Since the murders the night before, Raskolnikov hasn't really slept, and he has been feeling like he has a fever. When he gets the summons to the police station, he can't help but think it is about the murders, putting him under increased pressure. When he gets there and learns he was summoned for a debt, he feels great relief. However, his feelings of guilt still nearly overwhelm him, and he badly wants to confess. Just when he is on the verge of doing so, he learns that the police have a piece of accurate information about the murder. They realize the killer was in the apartment when the two men arrived. After swinging between stress and relief, and in an already weakened state, Raskolnikov's repressed guilt overwhelms him and he faints.

What does Raskolnikov do with the stolen items in Part 2, Chapter 2, of Crime and Punishment? How does this relate to the theme of morality?

In Part 2, Chapter 2, Raskolnikov hides the stolen items under a stone in a hidden courtyard. Afterward he wonders why he did not open the purse or look at the jewelry, but he realizes that he had never really intended to do so. This creates a moral dilemma for Raskolnikov. He was supposed to have used the money to do great things, to justify his crime. Now this appears to have been an excuse for his crime rather than a credible justification. Perhaps his actions indicate he may have had immoral motives for the murder to begin with but can't face them. It also indicates he cannot escape the traditional morality that says profiting from a murder is wrong. Ironically, his hiding the stolen items later becomes justification for a lesser criminal sentence because his jury sees it as proof he was feverish and perhaps insane.

Explain the symbolism of the coin Raskolnikov throws in the river in Part 2, Chapter 2, of Crime and Punishment.

After seeing Raskolnikov whipped in the street, a woman gives him a coin "in Christ's name." The coin is a symbol of religion and faith and also demonstrates the woman's compassion for Raskolnikov's suffering. By throwing it in the water, he rejects religious morality in favor of his justification of the crime. This makes him feel he did nothing wrong. In addition, Raskolnikov's gesture is also a rejection of the woman's compassion for him. This symbolizes his alienation from the rest of humanity: as he throws away the coin, he cuts himself off "from everyone and from everything at that moment." His crime, and his justification for it, alienate him from the rest of society.

What is the significance of Raskolnikov's illness in Part 2, Chapter 3, of Crime and Punishment?

The moral conflict between rationalization and conscience finally affects Raskolnikov's body, causing fever and delirium. The illness keeps his crime at bay, which provides some relief, but only temporarily. It also provides a convenient opportunity for Raskolnikov to be even more isolated from the world than he already is. The fever and delirium cut him off from everyone, which is often what he claims to prefer. Below the surface of his illness, however, the memory of his crime lingers: "But of that—of that he had no recollection, and yet every minute he felt that he had forgotten something he ought to remember." Underneath it all Raskolnikov still worries about having to cover up his crime, and he is horrified to find out he has been raving about his bloody sock when there was a policeman in the room. There is no escape from what he has done.

Compare the characters Luzhin and Svidrigaïlov in Crime and Punishment.

Both Luzhin and Svidrigaïlov are fairly wealthy and fashionable men. In addition, they share a desire to control or manipulate women, and both are deeply immoral. Luzhin hopes to marry Dounia because she will not only increase his status with her beauty and intelligence but also be indebted to him because she has little money. Svidrigaïlov's sexual escapades often involve very young women or housemaids, women who he can dominate through social status and power. Both men are schemers too. Luzhin plants money on Sonia to make her look like a thief. Svidrigaïlov tricks Dounia into his rooms, then locks the door on her, threatening to rape her. One significant difference between the two men, however, is that Luzhin appears to lack generosity and conscience. Svidrigaïlov gives money to Marmeladov's children and is haunted by guilt for his crimes against women.

Why does Raskolnikov return to the scene of his crime in Part 2, Chapter 6, of Crime and Punishment?

Raskolnikov has lived in fear that his crime will be discovered, but he returns to the scene of the crime in Part 2, Chapter 6. For someone so afraid to be found out, he is taking a huge risk. Once there he rings the doorbell of Alyona's former apartment like a madman. Workers are fixing up the apartment where the blood on the floors were, and he demands they take him to the police. Raskolnikov is shocked because "he somehow fancied that he would find everything as he left it, even perhaps the corpses in the same places on the floor." The apartment is being redecorated for a new tenant, but for Raskolnikov it is frozen in time at the moment of his crime. His thoughts and actions suggest how deeply guilty he feels and how desperate he is to be caught. He is doing everything but blurting out a confession. In addition, his return to Alyona's apartment reveals how mentally unstable he continues to be.

What is the significance of Marmeladov's death in Part 2, Chapter 7, of Crime and Punishment? How does it relate to the theme of suffering?

Marmeladov is a probable suicide, suggesting that the intensity of his suffering likely played a role in his death. His death foreshadows how a number of characters in the novel, including Raskolnikov, Sonia, and Svidrigaïlov, will consider suicide as an escape from their pain. Marmeladov's death brings out the best in some characters. Raskolnikov responds to the situation with empathy and kindness rather than his usual arrogance and alienation. Sonia expresses intense compassion for her dying father. In Part 1, Chapter 2, Marmeladov spoke of his belief that he would find redemption through God's love in the afterlife. His death creates a powerful scene of forgiveness between him and Sonia, setting the stage for Sonia's forgiveness of Raskolnikov in Part 4, Chapter 4, and Raskolnikov's own redemption.

In Crime and Punishment why does Raskolnikov try to make people guess about his crime instead of confessing?

Raskolnikov repeats a pattern of trying to confess by making people guess the truth. This starts in Part 2, Chapter 2, when he hypothetically confesses to Zametov, and continues as he revisits Alyona's apartment in Part 2, Chapter 6, ringing the bell, talking about blood, and asking people to take him to the police. In Part 4, Chapter 3, he manages to convey the truth to Razumihin without saying a word about the murders, simply by staring intently at him. When Raskolnikov finally confesses to Sonia in Part 5, Chapter 6, he does so by revealing details only the murderer would know and again staring intently at her. The fact that Raskolnikov dares people to guess his crime rather than admitting it outright shows how conflicted he is. He wants to hide his crime, but at the same time he secretly wants to get caught. However, having someone guess what he has done suggests he wants to avoid taking full personal responsibility by not saying the words out loud. Raskolnikov is also proud of his intellect. By getting someone to guess his crime, it is as if he is playing a mental game in which only he knows the true answer.

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