Posted by: Nathan | July 18, 2006

Desultory Crime and Punishment Review

I recently finished Fyodor Dostoevsky‘s classic novel Crime and Punishment, and I really enjoyed it. This is my second Dostoevsky book (The Brothers Karamazov was my first), and having already read Mr. D. was helpful in approaching C&P. There are a few things Dostoevsky does extremely well in his writing: psychology, dialogue, characterization, and relating the events of his books to larger social ideas and philosophies. C&P is an excellent example of each of these talents of its author.

It’s difficult to provide a plot summary for the casual reader without giving any significant details away. The book follows Raskolnikov who commits a crime early in the story. After this, he goes into a deep depression, and the reader follows him through his mental delirium as he struggles to reconcile what he’s done and his life with others, e.g. his sister Dunya and his mother. He takes pity on a poor family and meets Sonya, who’s supporting her family via prostitution, and falls in love with her. Meanwhile, he’s under suspicion of the police and undergoes frequent questioning. Naturally, everything gets intertwined and makes for good reading.

The big idea Dostoevsky explores in C&P is that of the superman (no, not that Superman), i.e. a person who is above social morals. Raskolnikov strives to be a historical mover, and he models himself after Napolean and his crimes against humanity. Why do people put up with and approve of criminals in government but those who commit crimes on a smaller scale suffer? Raskolnikov believes that “the only thing that matters is to dare,” and puts his principle into practice.

Another theme that is ever-present in Dostoevsky is that of suffering. The characters in this novel all endure pain, especially from poverty and circumstance. Dostoevsky is a master at portraying suffering without trying to explain it, yet there is hope in his works.

Dostoevsky’s talents are on display throughout the novel. The psychological elements consist mostly of what Raskolnikov goes through after his crime, and they are truly captivating to read. The dialogue is excellent and a lot of the book consists of it. Frequently when one reads dialogue, it sounds contrived or fake; Dostoevsky’s characters’ speech always sounds real, and this greatly contributes to the construction of his characters, who were also very believable and interesting (though not many are likeable). I’ve already touched on the main two philosophical elements of the book, both of which are as relevant now as they were then.

I apologize that this review is so scatterbrained. It’s really hard to know what to say about C&P because the book is so immense and involves so many characters and plotlines. The only thing it really lacks is a gripping plot. The plot is exciting in parts, but it doesn’t move along well; then again, we are talking about Dostoevsky here–Russian literature isn’t famous for its rapid pace. It was well worth reading, but it never soared to greatness for me. I give it a 8.9/10 and an A-. I’d read it again.

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Responses

  1. Great review! I’ll read the book for the first time (later) because of it.

  2. I won’t (didn’t even read most of your post)!!! w00t

  3. A very fine review, indeed. You manage to ably synthesize and criticize without giving too much information away.

    I don’t know in which chapter one would find it, but the final part of Marmeladov’s speech at the bar is one of the most profound and beautiful expositions on grace that I have ever read.

    From the Project Gutenberg version:

    “And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us. ‘You too come forth,’ He will say, ‘Come forth ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!’ And we shall all come forth, without shame and shall stand before him. And He will say unto us, ‘Ye are swine, made in the Image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!’ And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, ‘Oh Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?’ And He will say, ‘This is why I receive them, oh ye wise, this is why I receive them, oh ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.’ And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before him… and we shall weep…and we shall understand all things!”

    Beautiful!

  4. Nate, you’re a punk. Kyle, i read that section very differently: a drunkard unwilling to repent but expecting God’s mercy anyway, but maybe i missed the whole point. There’s a lot of Xty in Dostoevsky b/c he’s a Xn.

  5. In my memory, Marmeladov is the archetypal ‘sinner.’ He’s everyman. His conversation with Raskolnikov is filled with remorse for and justification of his actions at the same time.

    In my mind, the arc of the conversation leads to this instance of remarkable clarity. In the vein of ‘Ragamuffin’ and ‘Green Letters,’ Marmeladov says that there is nothing we can do but rest in God’s enveloping grace.

    In Marmeladov’s speech, Jesus says, “This is why I receive them, oh ye wise, this is why I receive them, oh ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.” This, to me, is the crux of this part of his speech.

    To me, the amazing part of this whole section is that it so clearly mirrors each of our respective struggles with sin. After the bar scene, the reader isn’t clear whether Marmeladov is going to turn his life around or keep living in such a state. This is the choice that we each must make when we face our sin.

    Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but that’s my story.

  6. I’m in the middle of the book right now (page 300!), so I admit I only scanned the post for now, and I’ll read it again later. 🙂 Read The Idiot sometime when you get a chance, too. Good stuff.

  7. […] I have recently polished off J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic The Silmarillion. My dad actually read me the book when I was younger, but it was so complicated to listen to and I was so tired (and frequently fell asleep) that I didn’t catch any of it. More recently, Dan read it and highly recommended it to me, so I was looking forward to perusing its pages. Plus, after C&P I was ready for something that read a little faster. […]


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