Bryn’s Books: “Crime and Punishment”


Credit: Elizabeth Zhong

In the latest installment of “Bryn’s Books,” junior guest writer Bryn Leonard reviews “Crime and Punishment” and details the most prominent factors of the novel.

Originally written in Russian in 1866, “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of Russia’s greatest writers, delves into the mind of a criminal. I picked up this dense novel from my Dad’s bookshelf over the beginning of quarantine in 2020, and the story propelled me into mid-nineteenth-century Russia inside the mind of the complex young narrator, Raskolnikov.

In St. Petersburg, Raskolnikov, a broke and existential 23-year-old law student, decides to commit a crime. He meticulously plans and murders Aleona, a selfish pawnbroker, violently with an axe and in the process also kills Aleona’s half-sister Lizaveta. Raskolnikov escapes without getting caught but soon falls into a delirious state and is ravaged by feelings of guilt and paranoia.

“Crime and Punishment” is a psychological novel that explores the thoughts and actions of a criminal who justifies his wrongdoings throughout the story by believing that he is morally superior. The book opens with the conflict right away when Raskolnikov, plagued with corrupt morals, commits the murder, and the proceeding chapters involve Raskolnikov’s emotional struggle as he copes with his delirium and paranoia in fear of getting caught.

On top of Raskolnikov’s internal conflict of his murder, various other dissensions are occurring simultaneously in the story. For example, the tensions between him and his newly engaged sister Dunya, his protective mother and a poverty-stricken prostitute named Sonya.

Written with a mixture of the first person and third person omniscient voice, Dostoevsky describes in detail Raskolnikov’s mentally feverish symptoms: immense guilt, uncontrollable anxiety, sweaty palms and feelings of illness. Dostoevsky also vividly demonstrates Raskolnikov’s physical consequences, such as his constant mumblings to himself and unnerving encounters with other people. The story constantly keeps readers on their toes, and the suspense builds continuously throughout the entire story. The ending was satisfying, and I was content with the fates of the various characters in the final chapters.

Although I enjoyed “Crime and Punishment,” I had a few issues. I thought the main character was very unlikeable, making it difficult to sympathize or feel empathy for Raskolnikov. I didn’t have any emotional attachment to his character. Also, some of the scenes dragged on, and I felt bored and unsatisfied at times. After the initial murder, there is a lack of action except for Raskolnikov’s ongoing internal conflict.

Overall, “Crime and Punishment” is unequivocally an incredible novel that was worth the lengthy read. It was very dramatic and enthralling, and Dostoevsky’s intense writing allowed me to see into the mind of a mentally unstable man falling into the rabbit hole of guilt and despair after committing murder. I recommend this novel because of the gripping story concept and because it’s a challenging read.

Bryn’s rating: 4/5