Crime and Punishment is one of the best novels I have ever read. Written by Dostoyevsky, it’s a whirlwind of a book that probes deep into the human soul.
The book follows the story of Raskolnikov, a former student turned pawnbroker who commits a terrible act one day.
From then on Dostoyevsky weaves a stunning narrative of Raskolnikov’s confusion, relief at not being caught and indignation.
The book is an interesting look at the human psyche and what motivates people to do what they do and things they may not think they capable of.
It’s also a look at how people’s delusions can get the better of them an lead them, and those around them, into a path of despair.
As far as I’m concerned, Crime and Punishment is one of the best novels ever written. It’s a book everyone should read and one you will struggle to put down at times, such is its gripping nature.
Crime and Punishment summary
Takeaway 1 Delusions of grandeur are dangerous
Crime and Punishment is the story of Raskolnikov, a destitute former student who thinks more of himself than most of those around him do.
He sees himself as a great man akin to Napoleon. He believes he is acting for a higher purpose and this allows him to act in any way he sees fit.
Raskolnikov is symbolic of many people in the world. Despite their low stock, they seem themselves as more important than they actually are.
This is similar to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where people of low ability people believe they are cleverer than they are. Inversely, the most intelligent question themselves constantly.
As the novel shows, delusions of grandeur which go unchecked are dangerous and can have unfortunate circumstances.
We will all have had these delusions at some point, it’s only human. The key is not to take them too seriously and put your feet firmly back on the floor.
If we let the delusions grow, we will be consumed by them. Humility and a solid conscience are more important than believing you are destined for greatness.
Takeaway 2 Redemption is always possible
After committing his crime Raskilnikov is torn between indifference and regret at his actions. This reflects the dual personality of his character that is presented throughout the novel.
After being called into the police station he fears that he has been caught and will be sent to prison, however, he has been pulled in because of an unrelated misdemeanour.
His relief is evident and causes his questioners to suspect he may be responsible for the crime.
If this suspicion was not there, it’s possible Raskolnikov may have got away with his crime. However, he is pursued and eventually brought to justice for his crimes.
During the novel, he encounters Sonya, who has been forced into prostitution to provide for her family.
Raskolnikov is attracted to her and comes to realise that there is good in people and they are not simply lice who leech off society.
Her presence is enough to make him consider his conscience and his opinions towards humanity.
Everyone can be redeemed. We have all done things we regret, said things we wish we hadn’t, the key is to accept the mistakes and move on.
Mistakes and wrongs are bound to happen, we are only human. Where we fall down is when we fail to acknowledge we were wrong and blindly follow a path which devalues the lives of others.
We can always be redeemed, but only if we accept we were wrong.
Takeaway 3 How do we define good and evil?
This may seem like a stupid question, but like most things in life, it’s not black and white. The reality is that life is numerous shades of grey.
Reading the novel, it’s easy to assume that because of Raskolnikov’s crime he is an evil man. This is a fair point, but his subsequent feelings and redemption would suggest this is not the case.
We tend to think of good and evil in a biblical sense. God against the devil, Moses against the Pharoah, however, this is a simplified version of reality.
The world does not work in such terms. If you remove God from the picture, then there is no arbiter of what defines good and evil. Even God’s terms are spurious considering some of the passages in the Old Testament.
The reality is more nuanced than we care to imagine. Sometimes, good people are compelled to commit evil acts for one reason or another.
Maybe they were coerced, maybe they snapped. There are a multitude of reasons, but not everyone who commits a heinous crime can be defined as evil.
Dostoyevsky is asking us to think about our definitions of good and evil. Are men born evil? Do they have a natural inclination towards either good or evil? Or does society compel them to go in one direction or the other?
The society we live in is reflective of the collective. History has shown us that people with the best of intentions can commit the most despicable atrocities.
A realisation that good and evil are fluid characteristics and not easily definable is necessary in a world that is more nuanced and complicated than we realise.
Crime and Punishment review
This Crime and Punishment summary has taken a look at one of the most famous novels ever written. It’s one of my favourite pieces of literature and a thought-provoking book.
The story is a gripping one and keeps you glued to the page as you progress, but it’s the ability of the book to make you think that makes it such a great read.
Dostoyevsky raises multiple questions that are pertinent to human nature and still relevant today. One of them is the delusions of grandeur that many of us have.
This is something that is prevalent in modern society with the rise of social media giving anyone the ability to command a huge audience.
The problem is, a lot of people think they are entitled to such an audience, following or positions of power, in spite of their ability or competence.
If you’re wondering How Democracies Die, this is one of the reasons why. Throughout the book, the reader is posed with questions and scenarios that challenge perceptions.
There’s a reason Crime and Punishment is held up as one of the best novels in existence, it’s because it shines a light on the nature of humans good and bad.
Who should read Crime and Punishment?
As my Crime and Punishment summary has been at pains to express, this is a book that will make you think. It’s a long book but one that you will thoroughly enjoy if you like to be enjoyed.
If this sounds like you, then you’ll love the book. Likewise, if you’re a fan of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or other Dostoyevsky books such as The Brothers Karzemov, then you’ll enjoy this book.