Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Plot Summary

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the plot summary of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment.

Crime and Punishment | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Part 1

The setting is Russia in the 1860s. During a hot July in Saint Petersburg, Raskolnikov, an impoverished student, plans a crime. In preparation he visits Alyona, a greedy pawnbroker, and memorizes where she keeps her money. Later he meets Marmeladov, a former clerk, and his impoverished family. Marmeladov's alcoholism has forced his oldest daughter, Sonia, into prostitution to support them.

The next day Raskolnikov reads a letter from his mother, Pulcheria. His sister, Dounia, has survived a near scandal after refusing the advances of her employer, Svidrigaïlov. Dounia plans to marry Luzhin, a rich lawyer, to help her family. Pulcheria and Dounia will visit Raskolnikov soon.

Raskolnikov tries to help a drunken girl in the street. Later he becomes ill and dreams about a man beating his horse to death. Raskolnikov wavers about robbing and killing Alyona. He decides to do it when he discovers by chance that she will be home alone. A flashback reveals how Raskolnikov overheard a student talking about how Alyona's death would benefit others, confirming Raskolnikov's feelings. Raskolnikov kills the pawnbroker with an axe and robs her, then kills Alyona's half-sister, Lizaveta, who appears unexpectedly. He gets lucky and escapes without being seen.

Part 2

The police summon Raskolnikov for unpaid debts. He arouses suspicion by fainting as the police discuss the murders. He finds a distant hiding place for his loot. Deeply alienated, he becomes deliriously ill for days. Raskolnikov recuperates, as his friend Razumihin and a doctor, Zossimov, care for him. They notice his fascination with the murders.

Luzhin visits Raskolnikov, who threatens him about Dounia. Raskolnikov wants to get caught, but he does not want to confess. He drops hints about the murders to Zametov, a police clerk, and returns to Alyona's apartment to do the same with some workers there. No one believes him. A carriage runs over Marmeladov. He dies in Sonia's arms, a probable suicide. Raskolnikov gives money to his widow, Katerina Ivanovna, and he no longer feels the urge to confess.

Part 3

Dounia and Pulcheria visit Raskolnikov, who forbids Dounia to marry Luzhin. Dounia and Pulcheria worry about Raskolnikov's erratic behavior. They meet Razumihin, who falls for Dounia. Raskolnikov's guilt continues to torture him. Sonia visits Raskolnikov to thank him for the money he gave her family. Raskolnikov introduces her to his family.

To allay suspicion, Raskolnikov meets with Porfiry, a police investigator, to report that he pawned items with Alyona. Porfiry mentions an article Raskolnikov wrote about how "extraordinary men" are allowed to transgress moral boundaries without punishment. On his way home, a stranger calls Raskolnikov a murderer, terrifying him.

Part 4

Svidrigaïlov visits Raskolnikov. He wants to give Dounia money as an apology, but Raskolnikov is suspicious. Svidrigaïlov describes his depraved past and troubled marriage. He reveals that his recently deceased wife has left Dounia money.

Raskolnikov and his family uncover a lie about Raskolnikov and Sonia that Luzhin wrote in a letter to Dounia. Dounia breaks her engagement. Haunted by his crime, Raskolnikov breaks with his family, leaving them in Razumihin's care. Raskolnikov visits Sonia, believing she understands him. She reads to him about Lazarus. He discovers that Sonia knew Lizaveta.

The next morning Raskolnikov visits Porfiry. Suddenly another man confesses to the murders. Later Raskolnikov again meets the man who called him a murderer. The man apologizes, saying he jumped to conclusions.

Part 5

Luzhin plots revenge against Raskolnikov, planting money on Sonia to make her look like a thief. When he tries to entrap her at Marmeladov's funeral dinner, Lebeziatnikov, a neighbor, says he saw Luzhin plant the money.

Raskolnikov finally confesses his crime to Sonia. She is shocked but treats him compassionately. She encourages him to kiss the ground, confess, and be redeemed.

The Marmeladovs are evicted and become homeless. Katerina Ivanovna loses her mind, then dies of tuberculosis. Svidrigaïlov offers to help her children financially. He tells Raskolnikov that he has overheard his confession to Sonia.

Part 6

Porfiry tells Raskolnikov he knows he is the murderer but cannot prove it. He gives him two days to confess before arresting him.

Raskolnikov meets Svidrigaïlov, whose stories reveal he is a sexual predator. He has a new young fiancée, so he claims no interest in Dounia, but Raskolnikov is skeptical.

Svidrigaïlov lures Dounia to his apartment and locks her in. He uses Raskolnikov's crime to sexually blackmail her, then threatens to rape her. Dounia tries to shoot him, but her gun misfires. Svidrigaïlov asks if Dounia can love him, and she says no. He lets her go but keeps the gun.

Svidrigaïlov gives money to Sonia's family and to his fiancée. He checks into a hotel. He cannot eat and has terrible dreams. The next morning he shoots himself.

The next day Raskolnikov says goodbye to his family. Sonia gives him her cross, and then he leaves for the police. On the way he bows down and kisses the ground ecstatically. He sees that Sonia has followed him. At the station he learns of Svidrigaïlov's death. Shocked, he decides not to confess. However, as he leaves, he sees Sonia waiting. He returns to the police and makes his confession.

Epilogue, Chapters 1–2

Nine months later Raskolnikov goes to prison in Siberia for eight years. Sonia follows him. He still refuses to admit that what he did was a crime and remains alienated. Sonia perseveres, visiting him regularly. After a serious illness, he realizes he loves Sonia and is reborn into a new life.

Crime and Punishment Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Raskolnikov plans a crime.

Rising Action

2 Raskolnikov overhears an opportunity to carry out his plan.

3 Raskolnikov kills the pawnbroker and her half-sister.

4 Raskolnikov faints in the police station, raising suspicion.

5 Porfiry interrogates Raskolnikov about the murders.

6 Raskolnikov promises to tell Sonia who killed Lizaveta.

7 Nikolay confesses to the murders.

8 Porfiry accuses Raskolnikov of the murders.


9 Raskolnikov confesses the murders to Sonia.

Falling Action

10 Raskolnikov confesses the murders to the police.

11 Raskolnikov is tried, convicted, and sent to Siberia.


12 Raskolnikov begins to love Sonia and look to the future.

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