Life, Self and God in Dostoevskyís Crime and Punishment I & II

Instructor: Svitlana Kobets, PhD, CE SMC, U of Toronto


Class 1

Part 1, Chapters I-IV

1. Under what circumstances and in what state of mind does the novelís main character, Rodion Romanovich Raskolínikov, first appear before the reader? What kind of a person is he?

2. What problems and concerns does Rodion Raskolnikov voice in his inner monologue when we first see him? Do you agree with his views? What, in your opinion, is his predicament?        

3. How many people populate Raskolnikovís world?

4. What, if anything, is unusual about the character of the moneylender, Aliona Ivanovna? How does she appear through the eyes of Raskolnikov? Do we agree with him? Why? Can we see her with any measure of objectivity?

5. How does Raskolnikov meet Marmeladov?           

6. How does Marmeladov identify his main problem? Do you agree with him?

7. What is Marmeladovís last hope and refuge? What is his most intimate aspiration?

8. Why are Marmeladov and Raskolnikov brought together in the novel?        

9. How does Raskolnikov react to Marmeladovís story? What does Marmeladov help us to learn about the main character, Raskolnikov?

10. In the beginning of the first part of the novel Raskolnikov is continuously on the go. Where is he going? What are the causes and goals of his errands and trips? Does he give himself an account of his whereabouts and actions?

11. When leaving the Marmeladovsí Raskolnikov left for them some of his money. How do you explain this act of charity in the light of his own dire straights and his later regrets? 

12. What are the reasons of Raskolnikovís discontent after he leaves the Marmeladovs?           

13. What role does the money play in this section of the novel (Part 1, chapters I-V)?           

14. How does Raskolnikov explain to Nastasia his predicament? Why does she respond with laughter? Does she relate to his plight?

15. If you had to identify the main themes found in the letter of Pulkheriia Alexandrovna Raskolnikova, Rodion Raskolnikovís mother, and you could use only three words, what would they be?           

16. How does Raskolnikov react to his motherís letter? What are his main concerns? How does he understand his motherís call to love his sister, who loves him more than herself?

17. What do we learn about Dunia, Raskolnikovís sister, from his motherís letter and Raskolnikovís own musings?

18. What, if anything, new did Raskolnikov learn from the letter of his mother, Pulkheriia Alexandrovna, about herself and his sister Dunia?

19. Having read his motherís letter, Raskolnikov becomes aware of the intensity of the despair his family is experiencing and realizes that he has to act at once. What does he intend to do to prevent his sisterís marriage? How does he identify his own choices? 

20. What role does the young drunk victimized girl play in the narrative?

21. What kind of a person is Razumikhin? How did he and Raskolnikov become friends? Why does the author introduce this character after R. contemplates the plight of the drunk girl?

Class 2

Part 1, chapters V-VII

1. Raskolnikovís first dream does not have any unusual components (e.g. fantastic figures, actions that defy the laws of physics), which would indicate that it is a dream. In fact, the episode of the horse-beating could have been easily used as an insight into Raskolnikovís inner world, his memories about memorable traumatic events. Why did Dostoevsky choose to present this episode as a dream?

2. What message does the horse-beating dream send to Raskolnikov? Does Raskolnikov get it? What impact does this dream have on him?

3. What is the role of Raskolnikovís first dream in the narrative?

4. What questions does Raskolnikov ask himself after he wakes up from his first dream?

5. Dostoevsky continuously emphasizes the unstable, feverish, agitated state of his protagonist. Why is this state important for the interpretation of his intentions, thoughts and actions?

6. After his first visit to Aliona Ivanovna Raskolnikov overhears a conversation between an officer and a student, who discuss benefits of murdering the old moneylender (Aliona Ivanovna). What is the studentís rationale?  What is the role of this conversation in the narrative? What was its impact on Raskolnikov? Is it a coincidence that both that student and Raskolnikov have the same thoughts about ďthe useless and harmfulĒ moneylender?

7. Raskolnikov believes that he met Lizaveta and overheard the conversation about her next day appointment by chance. Another accidentally overheard conversation was the tavern discussion between a student and an officer of the moneylender Aliona Ivanovna and her sister Lizaveta. How much do these coincidences contribute to Raskolnikovís decision to commit the murder?

8. What were other important incentives for Raskolnikovís decision to commit murder?

9. What does Raskolnikovís second dream, about a stop in some African or Egyptian oasis, tell us about him, his mind and his intent? (P. I, ch. VI, 67)

10. On the day of the murder, Raskolnikov oversleeps and is not on schedule. He is not sure what time it is (ďit could be 6Ē), is not prepared for his venture, is overly agitated and is not in a good shape in general. Why does he go ahead with his plan anyway?

11. What, according to Raskolnikov, gives away criminals?

12. What made Raskolnikov conclude that his murder was not a crime?

13. When philosophizing about the illness that accompanies crime, Raskolnikov is determined not get afflicted and therefore not to get caught. Does he succeed?

14. What are the symptoms of Raskolnikovís ailment? Did its onset occur before or after the murders?

15. Raskolnikov manages to come to the moneylenderís apartment unnoticed; there are no neighbors on her landing, nor do his victims make any noise. Finally, despite all odds, the murderer escapes unnoticed from the crime scene. Would you say that he was incredibly lucky? Would you say that his venture was a success?

16. The author gives a detailed description of the murder and its aftermath. What do these event tell us about Raskolnikov?

17. What do the last lines of the Part I add to our understanding of Raskolnikovís mind and state?

Class 3

Part 2, chapters I-VI

1. What does Raskolnikov realize and what does he miss when he wakes up on the second day after the murder?

2. How many times does Raskolnikov ask himself about what is wrong with him when he wakes up on the next day after the murder? Why does he keep repeating this question?

3. After having received the summons to the police station Raskolnikov falls on his knees to pray yet ends up not praying. Why?

4. What does the scene at the police station contribute to the portrait of Raskolnikov, his inner world and his environment? Why, when at the police station, does Raskolnikov reveal private information about himself?

5. Why did Raskolnikov faint at the police station?

6. Raskolnikov robbed the money-lender yet he did not even look at what he had stolen. How do you explain this lack of interest? Why was R. disheartened when he realized that he did not look at his loot?

7. Raskolnikov refuses to accept Razumikhinís help. Later on he throws into the river Neva 20 kopeks, the only money he has and does not want to accept the money sent to him by his mother. Why does he reject both help and money? (115, 120)

8. Why, after waking up, does Raskolnikov think about fleeing to America? (127)

9. What new details/facts does Raskolnikov learn from Razumikhin and Zossimov about the murder investigation?

10. What prevents Razumikhin from believing that Mikolka (or Nikolai) the house-painter is a valid murderer suspect?

11. How would you explain Mikolkaís (Nikolaiís) behavior and confession?

12. Why is Petr Petrovich Luzhin not welcome when he visits Raskolnikov?

13. Razumikhin, Zosimov, Luzhin, as well as Raskolnikov resort to science to support their arguments and views. In which ways do they rely on science? What is the role of science in the novel?

14. As Luzhin, Razumikhin and Raskolnikov discuss the recent murder of the pawnbroker as well as current crime tendencies they bring up several important insights into the contemporary criminal minds. What are these insights?

15. Raskolnikov is adamant to ďend all this immediatelyĒ (Part 2, ch. VI, 155). He says that he ďdoes not want to live like this.Ē What does he mean? What does he want to do?

Class 4

Part 2, Chapters VI-VII, Part 3, Chapters I-III

1. In the end of Part 2, chapter VI, Raskolnikov goes to the Haymarket, where he visits a tavern, talks to drunks and prostitutes, bluffs with Zamiotov in the Crystal Palace, has a fight with Razumikhin, and revisits the crime scene. What do his actions and itinerary tell us about his state of mind, plans, objectives?

2. Why was Raskolnikov so enthusiastic about helping Marmeladov family?

3. What kind of person is Katerina Ivanovna? What are the causes of her plight?

4. Just a little while ago Raskolnikov was ready to give himself in, yet when he saw Nikodim Fomich, the head of the police station, he did not. Why did he change his mind?

5. Why does Raskolnikov ask Polya to love him and pray for him? Why did his short conversation with little Polya was so important to Raskolnikov?

6. When Raskolnikov goes to Razumikhinís house warming party he says to himself that he needs strength and that strength is acquired by strength (188). What does he mean?

7. Why does Raskolnikovís happiness vanish as soon as he sees his mother and sister? Why does he faint?

8. Razumikhin, on the other hand, is eager and happy to help Raskolnikovís mother and sister. What brings these three together? And why does Razumikhin, literally overnight, become their confidant and almost a family member?

9. Having filled the women in about Raskolnikovís current situation and illness, Razumikhin also comments on his friendís personality. As he does so, Razumikhin reveals much not only about his friend but also about himself. What do we learn about Raskolnikov and Razumikhin from the latterís conversation with Pulkheriia Aleksandrovna, Raskolnikovís mother, and his sister, Avdotya Romanovna (Dunia)?

10. Razumikhin also voices his insights regarding Duniaís personality and her uncanny resemblance with her brother. Would you consider her one of Rodion Raskolnikovís (albeit female) doubles?

11. Throughout this chapter there are multiple references to Raskolnikovís health condition and alleged madness. What do Zossimov, Razumikhin, Dunya and Raskolnikov himself think about his physical and mental states? Whose comments do you consider the most perceptive?

12. In the first parts of the novel we encounter a significant number of women who surround and influence Raskolnikov. Who are these women? What do we know about their social standing and views? What role do they play in the protagonistís life?

Class 5

Part 3, Chapters IV-VII

1. What does Soniaís (Sofia Semionovna Marmeladova) visit reveal to herself and other Raskolnikovís visitors about herself, him and the situation?

2. How do Raskolnikovís friends and family view and treat Sonia?

3. As Sonia and Raskolnikov part, a new character appears at the scene. Who is he? What does he have in common with Raskolnikov, his family or friends?  (p. 243)

4. Sonia is a tenant of Kapernaumovs, whose name derives from the famous Biblical/Gospels town Capernaum. What does this say about Sonia?

5. Svidrigailov is Soniaís neighbor, but, even though they live in the same building, he rents a room from a different landlady. What does the author intend to tell us by this detail?

6. What kind of person is Porfirii Petrovich? Does he look like a master detective? Does this novel need a detective at all? Donít we know from the very beginning, who is the perpetrator?

7. What strategy does the detective Porfirii Petrovich rely on?

8. What makes Raskolnikov think that Porfirii Petrovich knows that he committed the crimes? (251)

9. What are Rozumikhinís objections to the views of the socialists? How do the latter intend to instill humanity with righteousness?

10. What does Raskolnikov have to contribute to the debate about whether ďthere is such a thing as crimeĒ? Does he really believe that crime is just ďan ordinary social questionĒ?

11. Why is the reader not given an opportunity to read and personally assess Raskolnikovís article, but rather has this article retold to her by Porfirii? Is Porfiriiís rendition of Raskolnikovís article accurate? Does accuracy matter here?

12. To what extent, if at all, are Raskolnikovís ideas original?

13. To what extent, if at all, do Raskolnikovís own ideas, about which we learn from Porfiriiís account about Raskolnikovís article, overlap with the ideas expressed in the tavern in the conversation between an officer and a student?

14. Why does Porfirii consider it important to have objective criteria for identifying extraordinary people? Does Raskolnikov agree with him?

15. How does Raskolnikov relativize the crime?

16. In the end of part 3 Raskolnikov dwells at length on the causes of his failure. What are they? Why does he adamantly refuse to ďforgive the old croneĒ? (275)

17. What is Raskolnikovís fourth dream about? Whom does he see in the dream? What does he feel about the circumstances and events in his dream? What insights does he have in the dream?

Class 6 (1)

Part 4, Chapters I-IV

1. What do we learn about Svidrigailov from his first conversation with Raskolnikov? What stories of harm to others have been rumored about him? What do his dreams tell us of his psychic or spiritual life? In which ways, if at all, is he an appealing character? In which ways does Svidrigailov as described in this part of the novel differ from the one, Pulkheriia Aleksandrovna, Raskolnikovís mother, described in her letter?

2. How does Svidrigailovís bath-house view of eternity (IV: 1) compare with Raskolnikovís image of eternity as given in II: 6?

3. How do the characters reveal themselves in the course of Duniaís and Luzhinís break-up scandal?

4. Why does Razumikhin defend Rodion Raskolnikov before his sister Dunia, when Raskolnikov leaves his sister and mother? Isnít Dunia right when she accuses her brother of being callous with herself and their mother?

5. Why does Raskolnikov come to Sonia? Is he repentant for his crime? How well does Raskolnikov understand Sonia? Do we, readers, share his opinion of her?

6. What does Soniaís room tell us about her? In which ways is her room different from the lodgings of other characters, including Raskolnikov?

7. What does Dostoevsky intend to communicate to his reader through the scene of the harlot reading the story of Lazarus to the murderer?

8. What link does Raskolnikov see between himself and Sonia?

9. How do you understand Raskolnikovís statement, ďfreedom and powerópower above all. Power over all the trembling vermin and over all the ant hill.Ē (IV: 4)?

Class 7 (2) 

Part 4, Chapters V-VI, Part 5, I

1. How strongly does Porfiry suspect Raskolnikov at this point in the novel? What is his strongest evidence? Would the plot be very much different without the cat-and-mouse game Porfiry plays with Raskolnikov? 

2. Why does Dostoevsky have Porfiryís elaborately planned surprise come to naught?

3. Why does Dostoevsky have Mikolka confess in front of Raskolnikov?

4. What is the role of the workman who was hiding in the room adjoining Porfiriiís office?

5. What attitude does Dostovevsky wish to create toward the advanced social views of Lebeziatnikov? What kind of tone does the narrator take when he discusses this character?

6. Contrast Dostoevskyís tone toward Lebeziatnikov with the tone he takes toward Luzhin. Why the difference?

7. Why does Luzhin become a friend of Lebeziatnikov? 

8. Although the novel Crime & Punishment is largely about the ďgreat questions,Ē about sin, redemption, crime, and murder, there is much in the novel about politics and economic theory. Can we disengage Dostoevskyís attitudes toward Capitalism and Socialism, for instance? What kind of socio-economic system would Dostoevsky favour?

9. Do politics have anything to do for Dostoevsky, with the ďeternalĒ questions?

Class 8 (3)

Part 5, Chapters II-VI

1. During his confession to Sonia Raskolnikov saw the reaction in Soniaís face and it reminded him of Lizavetaís at the time he was about to strike her with an axe. Why does Dostoevsky so explicitly connect the murder and the confession?

2. After confessing to Sonia, Raskolnikov reviews his motives for killing the old woman. Which motive does he explicitly eliminate? Which does he seem to believe in?

3. How well does Raskolnikov understand his own motives? 

4. Does the confession mean that he is repentant? If not, why does he confess?

5. What does he mean when he says that he killed himself and not the old lady?

6. Why does he reject Soniaís suggestion that he give up himself?

June 5

Class 4 (9): Part 6, Chapters I-VII

1. How do you explain the alleged attraction between Svidrigailov and Raskolnikov? What common bond does Svidrigailov see between them?

2. What does Raskolnikov hope to get from Svidrigailov?

3. Where do Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov meet? What other events have taken place in the vicinity? 

4. In which way, if at all, does Svidrigaylov help Raskolnikov understand himself?

5. Why does Svidrigailov help the Marmeladov children? Why does he help the family of his fiancťe? In your opinion, is he better than he has been reported to be? Does he have an ulterior motive in seeking to help others?

5. Why does Dunia agree to see Svidrigailov and even go with him to his apartment? Why does he think his chances of seduction are good? What are his plans for Dunia? Why does Dunia not kill him? Why does Svidrigailov not rape her?

6. How do you explain Svidrigailovís bizarre choice of a hotel, a part of town and a room the night before his suicide? What does the room remind you of?

7. Explain the significance of Svidrigailovís dreams. If we consider the dreams as a revelation of his unconscious, of his innermost being, in what way does the being differ from the conscious Svidrigailov?

8. Why does Svidrigailov hate water? Why, at one point, does he contemplate finding a bush and dousing himself with water?


June 12

Class 5 (10): Part 6, Chapter VIII, Epilogue


1. Why does Dostoevsky devote the last, VI, part of the novel almost exclusively to Svidrigaylov? What do Svidrigaylovís fortunes have to do with Raskolnikov? 

2. What has Raskolnikov been doing while Svidrigaylov wraps up his life? 

3. Why does Raskolnikov finally give himself up? 

4. Does it matter which way he does it (Porfiriiís or Soniaís)?

5. How does Raskolnikov behave at the trial? Is he repentant? Does his conviction and the ensuing prison term provide a closure? How do the other convicts relate to him?

6. What relevance does the dream of the rational microbes have to the novel proper?

7. How does Raskolnikovís conversion come about?

8. Do you consider the epilogue necessary? What, if anything, would you change in this part of the novel?

9. Would the alternative of Raskolnikov shooting himself, which Dostoevsky considered at some point, have made a better ending?


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