Monday, February 27, 2012

Crime or Punishment?

As we are now done with Crime and Punishment, I feel like now is as good a time as any to reflect on the title. I, for one, am a bit curious as to why Doestoevsky would title his novel in such a way. We've had points in the course so far where we've questioned titles (e.g., The Captain's Daughter, A Hero of Our Time), yet I'm surprised that none of us did so about this novel in large-group discussion.

On one hand, this novel is most certainly centered around one man's murders and the events that ensued afterwards, ultimately leading up to his confession at the end and his punishment in Siberia in the epilogue. However, the “punishment” in and of itself is only in the epilogue, a part that we discussed was added on a year after the novel was released. So in it's original form, the novel really didn't have a punishment if we think about it in that way.

However, I would like to pose the idea that the punishment was actually the internal, psychological suffering that Raskolnikov seemingly went through for the entire novel. The crime itself, while central to the novel, occurred early on, so we really have the bulk of the novel left to give a theme to, and I think that “punishment” is an excellent label for that theme. Through his paranoia and unhealthy mental state, we see a very psychologically fragile mind that seems to get taxed more and more with each encounter, whether the person has reason to suspect him of murder or not. This punishment manifests itself in practically every aspect of Raskolnikov's life, severely affecting his functionality as a person and seriously  straining his social relationships.

Is the anguish and torment that Raskolnikov went through due to his actions a true punishment, or is his Siberian labor the only punishment for him? Does his religious conversion at the end redeem him or atone for his crime? Or should the novel have a different title that better reflects its themes?


  1. I completeley agree with the idea that the punishment is essentially the central part for most of the book. I feel that the internal punishment Raskolnikov is struggling with is much more powerful and effective regarding the final redemption/catharsis we get from the ending. Tthe "actual" punishmnt is somewhat of a prolonged, conclusion to a tumultuous end. And even though the "crime" took up a very small portion of the book, it had a great impact on the rest of the book. I think the title is a perfect, minimalistic summary of book.

  2. I thought it was interesting how at the end of the book, Raskolnikov's religious epiphany doesn't just result in forgiveness for his crime, but seems to completely erase it from his past. Dostoevsky emphasizes the new life Raskolnikov has and the hew world he enters, leaving everything from his past behind. To this extent, it seems likely that his inner turmoil was his punishment. But I also think that the novel really draws into question what "crime" and "punishment" are-- what does it mean if Raskolnikov doesn't view his actions as criminal but the rest of the world does?

    1. That brings up a good point. When exactly does the 'crime' happen? If Raskolnikov doesn't think what he did was a crime until late in the book (when he starts to feel guilty) then most of the book is a lead up to the crime. It seems that the punishment happens when Raskolnikov realizes that he is guilty of committing a crime, and that he is in fact not an extraordinary man. The punishment is the realization of the crime itself.