Monday, September 24, 2012

Crime and Punishment Wrap-Up

by Adriana

Note to Myself:
Following The Well-Educated Mind does not mean merely reading through a list of Great Books and underlining the stuff I like! There are questions I must answer! This is "The Great Books Workout," not a stroll in the park!

Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Warning! This Post Contains Spoilers!

Law school drop-out, Rodion Raskolnikov, has a theory: Some men are "extraordinary"; others are merely "ordinary". "Extraordinary" men (like Napoleon, for example)  need not follow the same laws as ordinary men because they are above the law. Raskolnikov thinks he is one of these Napoleonic, demi-god types. To test his theory, he commits murder. Yet instead of triggering a rise to greatness, his action causes him to dive into a heinous downward spiral. We follow his internal punishment and witness the weight of his transgression throughout most of the novel. The thing that bothers him most? He's not Napoleon after all.


What is the inciting incident? For Raskolnikov, the point of no return is the scene in which he murders an elderly pawn broker, Alyona Ivanova, and her sister, Lizaveta, with an axe.

Can you identify the climax? Yes. I think everything in this novel hinges on the moment when Raskolnikov, a murderer, confesses to Sonia, a pious prostitute. I anticipated the scene quite anxiously. Every time they were alone together I thought, Now?; all the falling action of this novel occurs after this moment.

Suddenly a strange, unexpected feeling of corrosive hatred for Sonya came over his heart. As if surprised and frightened by this feeling, he suddenly raised his head and looked at her intently, but he met her anxious and painfully caring eyes fixed upon him; here was love; his hatred vanished like a phantom. That was not it; he had mistaken one feeling for another. All it meant was that the moment had come. Part V, Chapter IV

What is the author's argument? If you feel the urge to prove you are a demi-god, kindly leave your axe at home.

Why did the author write this book? I had to do some research to figure this one out. Dostoevsky explained his reason in a letter to  publisher, Mikhail Kathov: 
Dostoyevsky's letter to Katkov reveals his immediate inspiration, to which he remained faithful even after his original plan evolved into a much more ambitious creation: a desire to counteract what he regarded as nefarious consequences arising from the doctrines of Russian nihilism.

Russian what?

The Nihilist movement was a Russian movement in the 1860s which rejected all authorities. It is derived from the Latin word "nihil", which means "nothing". After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, the Nihilists were known throughout Europe as proponents of the use of violence in order to bring about political change. source


Did the author lay out facts to support his purpose? Yes. Raskolnilov did not become the Napoleonic Übermensch he thought he would become when he defied the law and pursued what he had considered a "higher purpose". Killing the pawnbroker and her sister caused him to completely unravel.

Did the author succeed or fail?  Well, I suppose that yes, he made his purpose clear. I'm convinced that murdering someone to prove a point to oneself is delusional, absurd, base, and vile.


What does the writer want me to believe?

The only thing that truly sets individuals apart as extraordinary is self-sacrifice. Our heroine, Sonia Marmeladovaconsistently sacrificed for others in this story. Dostoevsky used her as a type of Christ. I loved her character because of her Christ-like attributes.

Also, there was something else I think Dostoevsky wanted me to believe (which is, in fact, something I do believe). The following is a quote about the protagonist Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky's close friend, Vladimir Solovyov:

Raskolnikov's] boundless self-confidence must disappear in the face of what is greater than himself, and his self-fabricated justification must humble itself before the higher justice of God.
Oh. That's good. Now read it again in the first person:
My self-fabricated justification must humble itself before the higher justice of God.  If I had to distill Crime and Punishment down to one simple moral, this is it.

What does the writer want me to experience? Tragedy and redemption. A graphic, intimate exploration of a murderer's thoughts, insight into his bizarre motive.

Am I convinced? Yes. Though the setting of this of this novel was sad and creepy, I can see how the breaking down of a person's world view can create profound confusion and lead to tragedy. It was a hard read because it was so dark, but the redemptive ending provided hard earned relief. One of the best endings I've read. Ever.

Have I experienced what writer wants me to experience? I believe so. I experienced the dingy tenements, backstreets and poverty of pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg. I've experienced the psychology of a tortured soul. I've discovered intense purity in an unlikey person (Sonia Marmeladova) and I've witnessed the healing power of self-sacrifice and confession.

Most of these questions originally come from my guidebook for a classical education, The Well-Educated Mind. I copied the questions (not the answers) from my friend Ruth's blog, An Experiment With The Well-Educated Mind (except for the one about the inciting incident, that comes from Donald Miller's book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years) . Visit Ruth's blog to read her answers!


  1. Wow, Adriana, and I thought I got a lot out of that book by reading it with a bunch of other judges in a class! Nicely done.

    Like you, I got a sense of the grittiness on every page. It permeated the street scenes and the squalor of the tenements and the heart of Raskolnikov himself. It was so palpable I felt it getting caught between my teeth as I chewed on every page.

    Thanks for helping me remember the story today, and that my own justification attempts are nothing and God's justice is paramount.


    P.S. Did you ever notice that the first part of Raskolnikov's name sounds like rascal? It stayed with me throughout the book.

    1. If I ever met a judge in person, I'm sure I wouldn't be able to utter anything intelligible, let alone attempt to wax eloquent about a literary classic!!

      I WOULD have enjoyed being a fly on the wall for that class though ...

      I really appreciate how you've encouraged me on my quest. I'm inspired by your new blog every day! Blessings to you and yours!

      Oh and yes, I did notice the "rascal" in Raskolnikov! :)

  2. Adriana, I love this; it came out perfect. Your insight is much deeper than mine, which is why I am doing this whole inquiry business in the first place. I especially appreciate your explanation of what the author wants the reader to believe and experience. So I go back to my understanding, and I wonder, "Why didn't I get that???"

    1. The funny thing is -- I am completely intimidated my your Commonplace book!!!

      This makes me think of a quote I just read the other day. Somebody named Edmund Wilson said,

      "No two persons ever read the same book."

      This is true. It is all a matter of perspective and personal experience. I would even go so far as to say no individual ever reads the same book twice! I went through a difficult emotional experience this summer. An event occurred when I was on p.193 that hurt me deeply. From that point on, certain themes in the book like redemption and self-sacrifice and Sonia as a type of Christ just jumped out at me. I was feeling very sad and hungry for that kind of stuff at the time.

      Keep on writing your awesome summaries Ruth! I would not have stepped it up a notch and answered the inquiry for C & P if it were not for you!

    2. I totally agree about the personal experience and even the re-read. I re-read Scarlet Letter and hated it. I bet it would be nice to figure out why I loved as a fifth-grader, but had a different experience as an adult.

      Anyway, thanks for the encouragement. And thanks for your great blog. Keep it up!

  3. I keep telling myself to get a notebook and start taking notes and answering questions...but I don't. This just isn't the season for me. I am glad that I am finished with C &P, although in the end I did find much to chew on in this book. I loved reading your questions and answers, they made me think.
    I am getting into Anna Karenina a little more quickly.

    1. So glad to know you are still on board with us Melissa!! I completely understand what you mean about it not being the right season for you to keep a notebook. :)

      I had a very difficult time getting the ball rolling for C & P, but I agree with you about Anna Karenina -- Tolstoy is much easier to follow so far.

  4. Great job!! I took note of your "note to self" -- I still haven't gone beyond my short summaries at the end of each chapter. But since you're my main "mentor" for this project and you've done it, I think I can get myself to answer the questions starting with Anna K. <: )

    By the way, how big is the Russian toy? My first impression was that it is huge (people-sized) - I thought it was something at a park. But then I read that it was a toy you brought home from Russia, so maybe it's actually small? Just curious! :) As always, I loved both your words and your pictures.

    1. Oh Sandy! The idea of being your main mentor through WEM scares me half to death! I'm still honing this process myself! I have much to learn. I'm SO grateful for all of my trusty companions who plod along on this quest every day with me! Sandy, your encouragement helps me to move forward on this challenging journey.

      In ten years we may not know much about reality TV (or popular culture in general), but we will have minds full of some of the richest insights on the planet. Oh, I yearn for that!! To discuss the classics and actually sort of know what I'm talking about already feels rewarding!

      P.S. I posted another picture of the toy on the Classical Quest Facebook page so you can get a better idea of the actual size.


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