The protagonist of the novel. A former student, Raskolnikov is now destitute, living in a cramped garret at the top of an apartment building. The main drama of the novel centers on his interior conflict, first over whether to kill the pawnbroker and later over whether to confess and rejoin humanity. Raskolnikov is ill throughout the novel, overwhelmed by his feelings of alienation and self-loathing.
Raskolnikov’s love and Marmeladov’s daughter. Sonya is forced to prostitute herself to support herself and the rest of her family. She is meek and easily embarrassed, but she maintains a strong religious faith. She is the only person with whom Raskolnikov shares a meaningful relationship.
Raskolnikov’s sister. Dunya is as intelligent, proud, and good-looking as her brother, but she is also moral and compassionate. She is decisive and brave, ending her engagement with Luzhin when he insults her family and fending off Svidrigailov with gunfire.
Dunya’s depraved former employer. Svidrigailov appears to believe, almost until the end of the novel, that he can make Dunya love him. The death of his wife, Marfa Petrovna, has made him generous, but he is generally a threatening presence to both Dunya and Raskolnikov.
Raskolnikov’s friend. A poor ex-student, he responds to his poverty not by taking from others but by working even harder. Razumikhin is Raskolnikov’s foil, illustrating through his kindness and amicability the extent to which Raskolnikov has alienated himself from society. To some extent, he even serves as Raskolnikov’s replacement, stepping in to advise and protect Pulcheria Alexandrovna and Dunya. His name comes from the Russian word
The consumptive wife of Marmeladov. Katerina Ivanovna’s serious illness gives her flushed cheeks and a persistent, bloody cough. She is very proud and repeatedly declares her aristocratic heritage.
The magistrate in charge of investigating the murders. Porfiry Petrovich has a shrewd understanding of criminal psychology and is exquisitely aware of Raskolnikov’s mental state at every step along the way from the crime to the confession. He is Raskolnikov’s primary antagonist, and, though he appears only occasionally in the novel, his presence is constantly felt.
An alcoholic public official whom Raskolnikov meets at a tavern. Marmeladov is fully aware that his drinking is ruining himself and his family, but he is unable to stop. It is unclear whether his death by falling under the wheels of a carriage was a drunken accident or intentional.
Raskolnikov’s mother. Pulcheria Alexandrovna is deeply devoted to her son and willing to sacrifice everything, even her own and her daughter’s happiness, so that he might be successful. Even after Raskolnikov has confessed, she is unwilling to admit to herself that her son is a murderer.
Dunya’s fiancé. Luzhin is stingy, narrow-minded, and self-absorbed. His deepest wish is to marry a beautiful, intelligent, but desperately poor girl like Dunya so that she will be indebted to him.
Luzhin’s grudging roommate. Lebezyatnikov is a young man who is convinced of the rightness of the “new philosophies” such as nihilism that are currently raging through St. Petersburg. Although he is self-centered, confused, and immature, he nonetheless seems to possess basic scruples.
An old, withered pawnbroker whom Raskolnikov kills. Raskolnikov calls Alyona Ivanovna a “louse” and despises her for cheating the poor out of their money and enslaving her own sister, Lizaveta.
Alyona Ivanovna’s sister. Lizaveta is simple, almost “idiotic,” and a virtual servant to her sister. Sonya later reveals to Raskolnikov that she and Lizaveta were friends.
Raskolnikov’s doctor and a friend of Razumikhin. Zossimov is a young, self-congratulating man who has little insight into his patient’s condition. He suspects that Raskolnikov is mentally ill.
A servant in the house where Raskolnikov rents his “closet.” Nastasya brings him tea and food when he requests it and helps care for him in his illness after the murders.
The police official whom Raskolnikov encounters after committing the murder and to whom he confesses at the end of the novel. Unlike Porfiry Petrovich, Ilya Petrovich is rather oblivious and prone to sudden bouts of temper (thus the nickname “Gunpowder”).
A junior official in the police station who suspects that Raskolnikov is the killer of Alyona Ivanovna and Lizaveta.
A painter working in an empty apartment next to Alyona Ivanovna’s on the day of the murders. Suspected of the murders and held in prison, Nikolai eventually makes a false confession.
The oldest daughter of Katerina Ivanovna from her former marriage.