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Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Crime and Punishment | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


How does Razumihin's observation that "it's as though he were alternating between two characters" apply to Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment?

Raskolnikov is full of contradictions. According to Razumihin, his friend "has a noble nature and a kind heart" but is also "morose, gloomy, proud and haughty." Raskolnikov's thoughts and actions are erratic, shifting wildly between opposing thoughts and actions, sometimes within the same paragraph. Should he commit the murder or not? Should he confess or not? Does he want to be around other people or remain completely isolated? He "kills for a principle," but he often responds to the suffering of others with surprising generosity. Sometimes he seems sane; at other times, insane. Raskolnikov's crime pulls him between opposing views of morality. In fact, the entire arc of his story involves his transition between opposing sides: from cold intellect to warm heart, from alienation to redemption.

How does Raskolnikov's crime alienate him from family and friends in Crime and Punishment?

After committing the murders, Raskolnikov finds himself separated from his friends and family by the secret he is keeping. Starting in Part 2, he shows little interest in conversations with his friends, except when the murders come up. In his guilt and shame, at various points he actively tries to drive his mother, his sister, and Razumihin away. Raskolnikov commits the murder in part because he believes his superior intellect makes him an "extraordinary man." His theory, the justification for his crime, dismisses most of the rest of humanity as beneath him. Raskolnikov's pride in his crime alienates him from others. His confessions alienate him in a different way, changing family's and friends' perceptions of him. But with the secret revealed, he is finally able to reconnect emotionally with his mother and sister in Part 6, Chapter 7. He is also able to end his alienation from himself, finding love with Sonia in the Epilogue.

In Part 3, Chapter 3, of Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov says that "to act sensibly, intelligence is not enough." How does this statement apply to Raskolnikov?

With this statement Raskolnikov, a man exceedingly proud of his own brain power, points out the limitations of intelligence. Just because someone is intelligent does not guarantee that that person's actions will be logical or moral. Raskolnikov originally made this statement about Luzhin, but it is certainly true of Raskolnikov himself. He uses his intelligence to create his misguided theory of the extraordinary man, with disastrous results. Applying his considerable intellect to trying to conceal his crime nearly drives him insane, and he relies too often on his own cleverness to create excuses for his immoral actions. Raskilnikov's intelligence also alienates him from other people because he believes he is mentally superior. In the end his intelligence is not enough, and he must turn to the worlds of emotion and belief in order to "act sensibly."

How do Dounia's and Pulcheria's attitudes toward Sonia differ in Part 3, Chapter 4, of Crime and Punishment?

Because of her role as a prostitute, Sonia is considered "immoral" and therefore deemed a social outcast. Having heard of Sonia's negative reputation before they are introduced in Part 3, Chapter 4, Pulcheria cannot help but be disapproving of Raskolnikov's respectful opinion of Sonia, whom he treats with respect. Solely because of her reputation, she suspects that Sonia is the cause of her son's illness and irritability, not realizing that he has brought that problem on himself. Dounia looks past rumors and reputation to try to see the person underneath. Sonia's kindness and gentleness win Dounia over. As a result she ends up valuing Sonia highly, just as her brother does.

How does Raskolnikov's dream about the pawnbroker reveal his state of mind in Part 3, Chapter 6, of Crime and Punishment?

Dreams are often a key to the dreamer's true state of mind, conveying anxieties and fears that normally remain hidden because the person might not be able to handle them in waking life. In Raskolnikov's dream the man who called him a murderer stands in for Raskolnikov's conscience, leading him back to the scene of the murders. At first Raskolnikov thinks the pawnbroker seems scared of him as he approaches. But, when he strikes Alyona with an axe, she does not move, then shakes "with noiseless laughter." The more he strikes her, the harder she laughs. He cannot make her stop. Raskolnikov's dream occurs shortly after he begins to realize that his crime has failed to make him an extraordinary man. The joke is on him: he is "perhaps viler and more loathsome than the louse he killed." Clearly haunted by what he's done, Raskolnikov's dream reveals his horror at how absurd his crime really is.

Based on Raskolnikov's theory in Crime and Punishment, what is the difference between an ordinary and an extraordinary person? How does this relate to the theme of morality?

In Part 3, Chapter 5, Raskolnikov posits to Porfiry that there are two types of people. Ordinary people exist to reproduce, they enjoy being obedient, and they like things the way they are. They represent the present and account for most of the population. Extraordinary people, on the other hand, such as Napoleon, have new ideas, are willing to transgress moral boundaries, and want to destroy the established order, replacing it with something better. They represent the future, and they are a very exclusive club. Raskolnikov has invented his own moral code, and, unsurprisingly, he identifies with the extraordinary people. For Raskolnikov, ordinary people are like cows in a field content to chew their cud. Exceptional people are men of action, and they favor the notion that the end justifies the means, even if they have to shed blood. This view of morality stands in opposition to traditional moral values in which God embraces all humankind and the shedding of innocent blood is a crime. The only crime an extraordinary man might commit is not being truly extraordinary.

How does Raskolnikov's "extraordinary man" theory conflict with his religious beliefs in Part 3, Chapter 5, of Crime and Punishment, and how does this relate to his suffering?

Raskolnikov's "extraordinary man" theory, which he explains in Part 3, Chapter 5, is an exercise in the new logical morality, justifying killing, forbidden in religious morality, as moral. It is a variation on the theme of the "greatest good for the greatest number," justifying harm to individuals for the good of the world. However, Raskolnikov tells Porfiry he believes quite literally in the story of Lazarus, the miracle of a man being raised from the dead, suggesting he believes in religious morals that conflict with the morality of his theory. This conflict causes his mental turmoil throughout the novel. Even before the murders, part of him knows they are wrong, and after the murders his guilt manifests in numerous powerful ways.

What is Razumihin's criticism of socialist thinking in Part 3, Chapter 5, of Crime and Punishment?

Razumihin argues that socialist doctrine completely ignores human nature. Socialists believe that, if they just find the right organization for society, all sin will disappear "in an instant," when humans have not been able to achieve that goal in millennia. Nor does socialist doctrine further any deeper understanding of human actions, such as crime, which it reduces to a single motivation: "Crime is a protest against the abnormality of the social organization and nothing more." Razumihin equates human nature with the soul, another religious concept. In essence he is arguing Dostoevsky's point of view that religious morality is a better guide for society than socialism's radical ideas of a new social organization that will magically fix everything.

How does the character of Svidrigaïlov contribute to the theme of crime in Crime and Punishment?

Svidrigaïlov's's crimes have different consequences than Raskolnikov's. Svidrigaïlov is the more consistent criminal, being a chronic sexual abuser and likely murderer. However, he faces few consequences for his crimes, partly because of his (or Marfa Petrovna's) money and position and arguably because he is a more effective criminal than Raskolnikov, who can barely hold himself together after just one crime. Unlike Raskolnikov's, Svidrigaïlov's crimes are more traditionally criminal as well, being grounded in personal pleasure and gain rather than a need to prove a theory. At first Svidrigaïlov appears to be the extraordinary man about whom Raskolnikov theorized. He commits innumerable crimes without any apparent remorse. But his behavior identifies one large gap in Raskolnikov's theory: Svidrigaïlov is not bettering the world. Still, Raskolnikov fears that Svidrigaïlov is better than him even as he denounces him. Svidrigaïlov, however, is not able to escape his conscience. He believes in divine retribution and fears the consequences he will face in the afterlife. Trying to assault Dounia brings him face to face with his depraved nature. When she tells him she can never love him, he is crushed. A combination of a broken heart and a guilty conscience drive him to kill himself. His suicide is perhaps the final nail in the coffin of Raskolnikov's theory.

How does Raskolnikov's belief that "power is only vouchsafed to the man who dares to stoop and pick it up" apply to Luzhin in Crime and Punishment?

As a well-off lawyer, Louzhin certainly seems powerful. But his attempts to gain power by taking it don't fare very well. For example, in Part 3, Chapter 3, Luzhin tries to gain power over Dounia through marriage. Because she comes from a financially struggling family, he thinks she will be so grateful to marry a man with money that she will become subservient to him. Luzhin also uses lies to "take power," pretending that Raskolnikov has given money to Sonia. When Luzhin's own letter reveals his manipulative character, Dounia breaks off the engagement. Infuriated, he plots another manipulative power grab to humiliate Raskolnikov by framing Sonia as a thief in Part 5, Chapter 3. But his plot only works up to point. Unmasked by a socialist who proves Sonia's innocence, the wealthy Luzhin's attempt to "take" power reveals how weak he really is. This philosophy of taking power does not work out well for Raskolnikov either, who becomes obsessed with fulfilling it through his crime.

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