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Crime and Punishment

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Raskolnikov

Raskolnikov is the protagonist of the novel, and the story is told almost exclusively from his point of view. His name derives from the Russian word raskolnik, meaning “schismatic” or “divided,” which is appropriate since his most fundamental character trait is his alienation from human society. His pride and intellectualism lead him to disdain the rest of humanity as fit merely to perpetuate the species. In contrast, he believes that he is part of an elite “superman” echelon and can consequently transgress accepted moral standards for higher purposes such as utilitarian good. However, that guilt that torments him after he murders Alyona Ivanovna and Lizaveta and his recurring faintness at the mention of the murders serve as proof to him that he is not made of the same stuff as a true “superman” such as Napoleon. Though he grapples with the decision to confess for most of the novel and though he seems gradually to accept the reality of his mediocrity, he remains convinced that the murder of the pawnbroker was justified. His ultimate realization that he loves Sonya is the only force strong enough to transcend his ingrained contempt of humanity. Raskolnikov’s relationships with the other characters in the novel do much to illuminate his personality and understanding of himself. Although he cares about Razumikhin, Pulcheria Alexandrovna, and Dunya, Raskolnikov is so caught up in his skeptical outlook that he is often unappreciative of their attempts to help him. He turns to Sonya as a fellow transgressor of social norms, but he fails to recognize that her sin is much different from his: while she truly sacrifices herself for the sake of others, he essentially commits his crime for his sake alone. Finally, his relationship with Svidrigailov is enigmatic. Though he despises the man for his depravity, he also seems to need something from him—perhaps validation of his own crime from a hardened malcontent.

Sonya

Sonya is quiet, timid, and easily embarrassed, but she is also extremely devout and devoted to her family. Her sacrifice of prostituting herself for the sake of her family is made even more poignant by the fact that it would not be necessary were her father able to control his drinking habit. Initially scared of the half-delirious Raskolnikov, Sonya, in her infinite capacity for understanding, begins to care deeply about him. She is not horrified by his crimes, but rather, concerned for his soul and mental well-being, urges him to confess. Raskolnikov thinks of her, at first, as a fellow transgressor, someone who has stepped over the line between morality and immorality, just as he has. But there is a crucial difference between their transgressions that Raskolnikov is unwilling to acknowledge: she sins for the sake of others, whereas he sins for no one but himself. Sonya illustrates important social and political issues that were of concern to Dostoevsky, such as the treatment of women, the effects of poverty, the importance of religious faith, and the importance of devotion to family.

Dunya

Dunya is Raskolnikov’s sister and shares many of his traits. She is intelligent, proud, beautiful, and strong-willed. But in most other ways, she is Raskolnikov’s exact opposite. Whereas he is self-centered, cruel, and prone to intellectualizing, she is self-sacrificing, kind, and exhibits endless compassion. The relationship between Dunya and Raskolnikov is always based on mutual love and respect, but it swings from one extreme of emotion to the other as Raskolnikov slowly approaches the moment of confession. In many ways, Dunya is more mature than her brother: while he grows angry and dizzy confronting Luzhin, she remains confident and in control, even when she becomes just as angry. She is the strongest female character in the novel, neither as crushed by poverty nor as timid as Sonya. If there are any heroes in Crime and Punishment, she, along with Razumikhin, is certainly one of them, which makes their marriage at the end of the novel particularly appropriate.

Svidrigailov

Svidrigailov is one of the most enigmatic characters in Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky leaves little doubt as to Svidrigailov’s status as a villain. But all of Svidrigailov’s crimes, except for his attempted rape of Dunya, are behind him. We witness Svidrigailov perform goods deeds, such as giving money to the family of his fiancée, to Katerina Ivanovna and her children, and to Dunya. Although he is a violent and sneaky individual, Svidrigailov possesses the ability to accept that he cannot force reality to conform to his deepest desires. In this regard, he functions as a foil to Raskolnikov, who can accept only partially the breakdown of his presumed “superman” identity. Further, whereas Raskolnikov believes unflinchingly in the utilitarian rationale for Alyona Ivanovna’s murder, Svidrigailov doesn’t try to contest the death of his romantic vision when Dunya rejects him. Although the painful realization that he will never have the love of someone as honest, kind, intelligent, and beautiful as she is compels him to commit suicide, he is one of the few characters in the novel to die with dignity.

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Raskolnikov's reaction

by Jojo1618, July 25, 2012

When Raskolnikov decides not to let his sister's marriage happen, he takes on the role of a typical big brother. He thinks no one is good for his sister, in addition to feeling that she is doing it for him. He is egocentric and his reaction really mirrors what any big brother would do who does not want his baby sister to marry an idiot.

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Pulcheria's Letter

by taylor197, August 09, 2012

When Raskolnikov (Rask) gets his mother's letter, she explains that her pension is small but may be just enough to help out her son. Next, she tells him that his sister, Dounia, is getting married to a slightly arrogant business man, Pyotr.

Rask despises what's happening to his family. He doesn't take a "big brother" stance, but is simply angry that Pyotr is using the family's poverty to get a "legal concubine". Raskhas a large amount of pride in himself seeing that he won't accept any of Pulcheria's pension and later gives money... Read more

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78 out of 90 people found this helpful

Marmeladov's Monologue

by Rero37, September 03, 2012

(Starting from Part 1, Page 12 of the last paragraph)

- Marmeladov's Monologue is a very important part of the story, simply because it helps set the pace for the rest of the story.

Raskolnikov had just come into a bar, regardless of how crowded it was, and the first person to talk to him is this drunk, strange man, named Marmeladov and he's the first person he's actually wanted to talk with in a long time. A drunkard is known to speak his mind and he began to give this long monologue about how he resembles a beast, how he 'lus... Read more

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