Crime and Punishment - Happiness and Ethics
Crime and Punishment (1867)
Written by the Russian, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-81),
- Dostoyevsky was influenced by his imprisonment in a Siberian labour camp for his
opposition to Russia’s ruler, the Tsar.
- Made into a BBC TV film in 2002.
- The leading character, Raskolnikov, has a split personality with a good and a bad side to
his character - raskol in Russian means split
Raskolnikov, poor ex-student.
Sonya, his girlfriend.
Dunya, his sister.
Razumikhin, his friend.
Marmeladov, Sonya’s father.
Svidrigailov, Dunya’s ex-employer.
Porfiry Petrovich, police detective.
Raskolnikov, a poor ex-student living in St Petersburg, despises an old, repulsive
pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna, for cheating poor people like him. So he
kills her and (unintentionally) her nice sister, Lizaveta, who arrives
Guilt ridden, he becomes ill and is looked after by his old friend, Razumikhin.
Raskolnikov meets a drunk, Marmeladov, who is killed in an accident, and his daughter,
Sonya (forced into prostitution to support her family). He gives them all his money to pay
for the funeral.
Raskolnikov is fiercely opposed to his sister, Dunya’s engagement to a horrible government
official, Luzhin. But she ends the relationship. Her lecherous
ex-employer, Svidrigailov, and Rasumikhin are in love with her.
Suspected and interrogated by the police detective, Porfiry Petrovich, Raskolnikov confesses
the murder to Sonya who tries to persuade him to give himself up.
Sonya's mother dies and Svidrigailov offers to support the family.
Svidrigailov (now engaged to a 16-year-old girl) threatens to rape Dunya after she refuses to marry him. She
attempts to shoot him. He then kills himself, giving substantial sums to Dunya and his fiancée’s family.
Both Sonya and Petrovich tell Raskolnikov that he can find salvation and peace, if he confesses to the police,
which he does.
He is sentenced to eight years hard labour in Siberia. His attitude in prison changes from self-centredness to
humble contrition. He is transformed by his love for Sonya, who visits him regularly.
On his release, they marry, as do Razumikhin and Dunya.
What does it tell us about happiness and ethics?
1. Crime doesn’t pay
Raskolnikov (John Simm, pictured right in the BBC adaptation) is tormented by
guilt after the murders, but finds peace in love (like Razumikhin, his
2. Confession is cool
Raskolnikov’s guilt is eased by confession.
So Sonya gives him a cross to wear, symbolizing Jesus’s message of:
- redemption through confession.
3. Life is sacred
Raskolnikov justifies the murder of Alyona, the pawnbroker, on utilitarian grounds
In other words, it will make people happier, because she can no longer harm the poor she cheats.
But he learns that murder is never justified, however bad a person is.
4. One wrong may lead to another
Alyona’s murder results in the killing of her nice sister, Lizaveta, who is Sonya's friend.
5. Love liberates
Raskolnikov’s unhappiness leading up to the murder is caused by his self-centredness.
His preoccupation with his own problems and the injustices of society blind him to his need for love and
Marmeladov defines hopelessness as “when one has no one, nowhere else one can go”
Raskolnikov only finds true happiness with Sonya who shows how satisfying selfless
giving can be.
6. There is good and bad in everyone
Raskolnikov has a split personality, torn between good and evil.
7. Morals matter
Raskolnikov is handsome and intelligent, but his evil murders nearly destroy him.
He finds happiness by:
- rejecting his bad, murderous side.
- following his desire to do good, helped by the compassion of Sonya, Razumikhin and the
8. See yourself as others see you
Raskolnikov would have been a better person, if he had done something about the
weaknesses that other people saw in him.
9. Pleasure through pain
Raskolnikov, Sonya and Dunya all face difficulties, but their triumph over them makes them happier and better
Dostoyevsky once said that the idea behind the book was:
“Happiness is bought with suffering”.
10. Forgive and forget
Sonya forgives Raskolnikov, even though he has killed her friend, Lizaveta.
Key quote on
Power is only given to him who dares to stoop and seize it ... one must have the courage to dare,
Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most, Raskolnikov.
All is in a man's hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, Raskolnikov.
Key quotes on stress and pain
Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I
think, have great sadness on earth, Raskolnikov
Do you understand, Sir, what it means when you have absolutely nowhere to turn?,
Accept suffering and achieve atonement through it, Sonya
Key quote on happiness
If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake. That will be punishment - as well as the prison.
Key quotes on communication
Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing easier than
Talking nonsense is man’s only privilege that distinguishes him from all other organisms.
Key quote on ethics
To go wrong in one's own way is better than to go right in someone else's, Razumikhin
What if man is not really a scoundrel. . .then all
the rest is prejudice, Raskolnikov.
Two literature websites to recommend