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Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Crime and Punishment | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Part 5, Chapter 4, of Crime and Punishment, what is the significance of Sonia's exclamation "What have you done—what have you done to yourself?"

Sonia says these words to Raskolnikov just after her realization that he is a murderer. Her exclamation is divided into two parts. First, saying "what have you done" emphasizes Raskolnikov's crime, his murder of the two women. She is horrified by what he has done to his victims and is likely struggling to understand how and why the crimes occurred. The second part of the exclamation is about a different aspect of the crime: what Raskolnikov has done to himself. Raskolnikov has caused himself great suffering, as Sonia compassionately acknowledges. The first part of the equation (the crime against others) inevitably leads to the second (the crime against himself).

How does Sonia represent religious morality in Crime and Punishment?

Sonia is the most purely religious character in Crime and Punishment, and it is through her that Raskolnikov reconnects with religious morality after his experiment in rational morality. Sonia is a sincere believer, almost fanatical in her faith, with a pure soul despite the profession she has been forced into. Her deep faith supports her through everything she endures. Sonia also represents redemption through suffering, an allusion to Christ and his crucifixion when he died for the sins of humankind. Throughout the novel she suffers for other people, going into prostitution to support her family, enduring abuse from a suffering Katerina Ivanovna, and ultimately helping to carry Raskolnikov's suffering about his crime. Raskolnikov recognizes Sonia for this in Part 4, Chapter 4, bowing to her and saying, "I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity." She also offers hope for redemption to Raskolnikov, showing him a path to a new life that he likely would not have found without her. Before he goes to confess, he comes to her to get a cross to help him on his way.

How does Porfiry use psychology to question Raskolnikov in Part 4, Chapter 5, of Crime and Punishment?

Porfiry is at his trickiest in his second conversation with Raskolnikov, at his office in Part 4, Chapter 5. With no concrete evidence against Raskolnikov, he sets out to push his psychological buttons to elicit a confession. Porfiry irritates Raskolnikov by making trivial conversation and laughing, possibly at him. Speaking mostly hypothetically, he first implies that he is toying with Raskolnikov and then that he is concerned Raskolnikov will confess out of delirium, not guilt. His insights sometimes seem as if he has the ability to read Raskolnikov's mind, and an anxious Raskolnikov completely loses his temper, demanding to know if he is a suspect. When Porfiry says he has a witness behind his office door, Raskolnikov is on edge. If Nikolay had not burst in and confessed at that moment, it is possible Porfiry's plan would have worked and Raskolnikov would have confessed.

In Crime and Punishment how does Nikolay's confession to the murders develop the theme of suffering?

In Crime and Punishment Nikolay represents the redemptive value of suffering taken too far. He feels so much guilt for lying about where he found the earrings and selling them rather than turning them in that he enters a downward spiral that leads to attempting suicide, another thing to feel guilty about, then confessing to the murders. Although none of his sins are crimes, Nikolay feels such overwhelming guilt for them that he feels he needs external punishment. His upbringing in a religious sect that emphasized suffering as not just redemptive but inevitable encouraged him to seek out suffering out of proportion to his sins. He enacts the same type of martyrdom as Sonia and Dounia, who sacrifice themselves to men to save their families but without the promise their families will in fact be saved.

In Part 4, Chapter 4, of Crime and Punishment, Sonia reads Raskolnikov the story of Lazarus. What does Lazarus symbolize about Raskolnikov in the story?

In the New Testament of the Bible, Lazarus is a man whom Christ raises from the dead. Before he does so, Lazarus's sister makes a declaration of faith. In Crime and Punishment this story is a symbol of new life through faith. When Raskolnikov tells Porfiry in Part 3, Chapter 5, that he believes literally in the story of Lazarus, he is foreshadowing his own eventual return to faith and religious morality. Sonia's ecstatic reading of the story of Lazarus in Part 4, Chapter 4, marks the beginning of Raskolnikov's movement from the spiritual death of crime and alienation toward confession, redemption, and rebirth.

In Crime and Punishment why does Raskolnikov periodically hate his mother and sister?

After the murders Raskolnikov experiences contempt, loathing, and revulsion for others but primarily for himself. However, he cannot allow himself to acknowledge them because, according to his theory, he is not guilty of his crime; it was justified by his status as an extraordinary man. In addition, his hidden guilt and shame cause him to feel unworthy of love or understanding. This places him in a nasty bind. With no other outlet, he projects these feelings of hatred outward onto the people in his life who love him and might understand him, such as Dounia and Pulcheria.

How does Dostoevsky criticize socialism and other new ideas of the time through the character of Lebeziatnikov in Crime and Punishment?

In Part 5, Chapter 1, Lebeziatnikov is described as good-natured but stupid, a follower of the latest ideas who doesn't really understand them. He spouts ridiculous opinions at the slightest provocation. He advocates the value of propaganda over respect and kindness, claiming he would attend Marmeladov's funeral dinner, not in remembrance of the dead man, but only if a priest were attending, as an objection to organized religion. He thinks Sonia's job as a prostitute is also a form of social protest rather than a harsh reality. His words belie his claim to have abandoned all traditional moral values when he calls Luzhin's "generosity" to Sonia "honorable," a concept that, as a socialist, he is supposed to despise.

Why does Raskolnikov see the face of Lizaveta when he looks at Sonia in Part 5, Chapter 4, of Crime and Punishment?

This strange effect occurs when Raskolnikov asks Sonia to guess that he killed Alyona and Lizaveta, and she realizes what he has done. There are important connections between Sonia and Lizaveta. Lizaveta and Sonia were friends, both devout Christians who traded crosses. When Sonia reads the story of Lazarus to Raskolnikov in Part 4, Chapter 4, it is from a Bible that Lizaveta left behind. Both women are good people but suffer because of the way their families treat them. When he sees the two women's faces superimposed, the truth of Raskolnikov's crime is revealed to him. It is as if Lizaveta were in front of him in the room. He can see the terror and suffering he caused his defenseless victim, now channeled through Sonia's horrified expression. In the end this recognition will lead to Raskolnikov's redemption. Significantly, it is not Alyona's face he sees blend with Sonia's. Lizaveta's murder was the one he did not plan, creating a moral crisis for Raskolnikov because he can never defend her death as promoting the common good.

How does the type of narrative in Crime and Punishment contribute to the story?

The third-person omniscient narrator reveals Raskolnikov's thoughts and feelings but doesn't offer much objective interpretation of them, leaving the reader to slowly discover the reasons behind what he does, says, and thinks. Readers are stuck in Raskolnikov's madness with him and don't know any better than he does whether or not he is going to carry out his plan or confess what he has done to the police, creating much of the tension and suspense in the novel. The third-person omniscient narrator also allows readers access to the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters. Dostoevsky can thus compare and contrast characters' responses to a variety of themes. For example, Svidrigaïlov and Raskolnikov, while they are both criminals with guilty consciences, end up taking very different paths in response to their crimes. The narrator provides readers with the ability to gain inside knowledge about these two characters. Through the narrator readers are immersed in these characters' most private thoughts and feelings, even their dreams.

Why does Raskolnikov confess to Sonia first in Part 4, Chapter 4, of Crime and Punishment?

Raskolnikov confesses to Sonia first because he feels she is the only person who will understand what he has done. He feels they are both sinners who have crossed a line and are "accursed." His mother and sister love him, and Razumihin is a loyal friend, but they have not crossed any moral lines and therefore cannot understand what it means to do so. Despite being labeled a "great sinner" by Raskolnikov (a label he gives her for sacrificing herself to her family instead of being true to her own nature, not because she is a prostitute), Sonia's soul is pure and her faith is strong, allowing her to lead Raskolnikov to redemption. He may also confess to Sonia because she is the most compassionate of all the characters in the novel.

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