Crime and Punishment: A Mystery Beyond Measure


“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart.”

The novel ‘Crime and Punishment‘ is an old one, written in 1866. However it becomes a must read in the 21st century, especially in a society like ours, riddled with crimes and criminals. Written by Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky, this philosophical novel delves deep into the psyche of the protagonist, Raskolnikov, who in the very beginning commits the crime so there’s no mystery about the usual– “Who did it?”

The novel explores the motive behind the protagonist’s actions, who is an ex-student, an intellectual being residing in the ugly slums of St. Petersburg. Eliminating the “who did it” mystery and having the protagonist feel rather guilty from the beginning seems to be quite the opposite of what would make a good crime thriller. But Dostoevsky creates a gripping psychological drama which gradually unfolds multiple layers of symbolic interactions between a cast of diverse characters. The plot builds around the questions “Why did he do it?” and “Will he be caught?”

What really astonishes the readers is the manner in which Dostoevsky has tapped into the deep recesses of the mind of his characters, that too, at a time when Freud and Jung had not been published or even heard of. Thus, human psychology becomes the major theme of this crime thriller and we see the plot donning multiple shades of grey as Dostoyevsky drives home the point that not even one character can be divided in black or white. There’s good and bad in everyone and therefore no one can be condemned for being entirely evil. Dostoevsky explores their motivations, desires, and fears. He even probes their subconscious thoughts through dreams and unintentional slips of the tongue. The tension reaches its zenith when Raskolnikov meets the detective, Porifory and they engage in serious psychological battle which will decide the fate of our Napoleonic Hero.

Apart from the obvious themes being discussed in the novel, i.e., crime, punishment, suffering and redemption, there’s also the Machievellian concept of “do the ends justify the means?” He investigates sin, sinners, and saints and points out the gulf between upper and lower classes. Often through the novel you’ll see him consciously and unconsciously giving himself the status of an extra ordinary man– a sort of Napoleonic figure.

However one needn’t worry about the novel turning drab or tedious. The first few pages may be a little slow as Dostoevsky lays the groundwork for the novel but the remainder of the novel is a high tension psychological drama to the extent of being unrealistic even, but somehow Dostoevsky keep the melodrama in control and balances the plot between the fine line of pragmatism and melodrama.

Rating: 3-5-stars

About the Author:

Pratibha Nehra (Dept. of English)

Pratibha Nehra
(Dept. of English, PU Campus)

I’m an avid reader who has a passion for writing as well. I’m also a music buff and a fan of live music. I’m pursuing my masters degree from Panjab University and would love to become a food critic someday. If you like what I write, then do visit my blog –


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