Crime and Punishment
“To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s.”
In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, former university student Rodion Romanovitch (who also goes by Rodya and Raskolnikov) theorizes that if great people murder for a good reason, then they will not feel guilty. Poor and unemployed, but certain of his own greatness, he decides to test this theory by murdering an old pawnbroker, and suffers severe psychological consequences.
Dostoevsky’s exploration of Rodion’s psyche is brilliant. Originally a levelheaded thinker, after the murder Rodion becomes sick and angry and crazed at any moment. He lashes out at his family and alienates his friends. His inability to control himself and his urge to confess are fascinating and terrifying at the same time.
Rodion concludes that there is a moral law that cannot be breached, even by great people. (Or, if he was right that great people can breach it, that Rodion himself is not a great person.) He also seems to suggest that thinking is dangerous. Rodion would not have created such trouble for himself if he had not been so smart.
What I found most difficult about reading this book was keeping track of Dostoevsky’s characters, who have three or four names each which are used interchangeably. I was not previously acquainted with Russian naming, so it took me far too long to make simple connections, like that Razumihin and Dmitri Prokofitch were the same person. If you keep a list of the names associated with each character, you should be able to follow the storyline more easily.
Crime and Punishment should be read by everyone at some point, but probably at an older age because of the more serious material. I would also suggest reading it more slowly than usual, so that the insanity of the protagonist does not get to your head. You would probably enjoy it if you like Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, which is almost exactly the same story, just simplified. Often, in normal conversations, Rodion thinks of his friends and associates just as Poe’s protagonist thought of the police: “They suspected! – they knew! – they were making a mockery of my horror!”