Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 1: Dualistic Portrayal of Characters

Created January 12, 2015


The Lesson


Portrait of the Writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1972, Vasily Perov

Portrait of the Writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Credit: 1872, Vasily Perov

"Can Dostoevsky Still Kick You in the Gut?" This title is the subject of a recent New Yorker article that evokes more than a nod from readers who have witnessed their fair share of crime and punishments. Dostoyevsky’s character, Raskolnikov, is a brilliant and deeply compassionate young man, stressed by poverty and alienation and driven to commit a terrible crime not unlike some reported in today's news. Dostoyevsky engages 21st-century readers deeply in the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that precede and follow Raskolnikov’s radical step beyond decency. Crime and Punishment is a challenging text that demands much from readers but also leads to more than one "kick in the gut" in discussions of characters, events, and ideas.

Worksheet 1 is provided as an aid for students to record quotations and reflections as they read the novel. The completed worksheets can be extremely useful as sources of textual evidence during discussions and in writing essays.

To begin the lesson activities, students need to have completed their reading through Chapter 1 of Part 3. Worksheet 2 involves an examination of the divided nature of Raskolnikov’s character and personality. Worksheet 3 leads students to uncover the divided natures of other characters—a fact that becomes increasingly evident as the novel progresses.

Worksheet 4 offers an optional extension activity at the conclusion of the lesson comparing and contrasting a brief passage using three popular translations of the novel. It is important for readers to remember that, in reading a translation, one is not looking at the writer’s actual choices of diction and syntax, but at someone else’s interpretations of those choices.

This lesson is one part of a three lesson unit about Crime and Punishment. The three lessons may be taught in sequence or each lesson may stand on its own. Teachers may link to the full unit with Guiding Questions, College and Career Readiness standards and Background. Lesson 1 aligns with CCSS ELA LITERACY RL 11-12.1.

Learning Objectives

  • Analyze Dostoevsky's portrayals of dualistic personality traits in the main character and other characters
  • Identify thematic implications of Dostoyevsky’s characterization

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Dualistic Portrayal of Characters

Present the old adage: A house divided against itself cannot stand. Explain that it has biblical roots and was used by Abraham Lincoln in a speech before the American Civil War.

Ask students to unpack its meaning. A country, business, family, or individual torn by dissension and differences is bound to fail.

Ask students what they see in Rodion Raskolnikov’s name.

Have them look up “Raskolnik” in a dictionary. Clarify that the word derives from a schism in the Russian Orthodox Church and means “division” or “schism.” Why would Dostoevsky have chosen this name for this character?

(Suggested answer: His name derives from “Raskolnik,” a term that originated from a schism in the Russian Orthodox Church. Students come to see that, far from being an integrated person, the protagonist is torn by conflicting impulses. He is both instinctively compassionate and coldly brutal. He is capable of deep love and affection but tends to isolate and distance himself from others. As the novel as a whole demonstrates, he is incapable of the kind of callousness necessary to get away with his crime. )

Have small groups use Worksheet 2 to analyze the divided nature of Raskolnikov’s character as he is portrayed from the very beginning of the novel.

Follow with whole-class review, using Worksheet 2: teacher version

Read aloud Razumihin’s description of Raskolnikov during his conversation with Dounia and Pulcheria in Chapter 2 of Part 3. Have students discuss the many ways that his views parallel those revealed during the completion and discussion of Worksheet 2. On one hand, Raskolnikov is noble and generous; he is also cold and loveless.

Have students complete Worksheet 3 as a basis for discussion of other characters. (Point out that a full understanding of characters necessitates knowledge of the entire novel.) Readers’ perspectives shift as the author reveals additional information. Follow with class discussion. See Worksheet 3. teacher version.

Lesson 1 follow-up discussion questions. Use textual evidence to support your answers:

  • Is there symbolic significance in the dream about the peasant and horse? Why is Raskolnikov so repulsed by the dream? (Part 1, Chapter 5)
  • Raskolnikov is desperately poor, but what does he do with money when it comes his way? Why?
  • Why does the overheard conversation in the bar, in which a student speaks intellectually about the possibility of murder have such a great impact on Raskolnikov? What does it suggest about the mood of young intellectuals at that time in that place? (Part 1, Chapter 6)
  • Viewed superficially, Sonia can be described as both saint and sinner. Do you think this description is accurate? Why or why not?
  • What aspects of the text suggest that the protagonist is bound to end up badly? Is it possible that he can move on from murder to live a normal life?
  • Does anything suggest that there is hope for Raskolnikov—that he is not destined for ruin and perhaps insanity?
  • Which characters in the novel have won your sympathy? Why? Have you come to dislike any of them? Why, or why not?


Have students write a short essay on Dostoevsky's view of human nature as it is revealed in the novel. Emphasize that this assignment involves analysis of one of the work's many significant themes. Students are not simply analyzing characterization; they are analyzing thematic implications. Require use of textual support, including judiciously chosen quotations, and original thinking.

[To ensure that the essay provides a venue for original thought beyond content of the classroom discussion, it is best not to provide examples or suggestions for development except in the context of consultations with individual students. If necessary turn to the EDSITEment literary glossary for a review of the term theme.]

Optional Lesson Extension

Point out that students are reading a translation of the novel Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, not his original words. The meaning behind the word or combination of words is sometimes not readily translatable. At that point, a translator has to adopt other methods. As students probably know from their own experiences in foreign language classes or situations, effective translation depends on thorough knowledge of two languages. The translator or translating team needs to be cognizant of words’ denotations and connotations and sensitive to ways a translation can communicate the original writer’s tone and style.

Distribute Worksheet 4, and ask students to complete the exercise. Follow with discussion in which students describe similarities and differences among the translations.

Suggested answers


  • All three translations mention hypochondria and a failure to listen to what others have to say;
  • All three translations also stress the idea students discussed in working with Worksheet 2, Raskolnikov’s divided nature.


  • In the second translation, Razumihin does not speak in complete sentences, as if he is stating ideas thoughtfully as they come to mind;
  • The McDuff translation does not explicitly include the good qualities mentioned in the other two, and "chap" has a British sound; it includes no clue as to why the two young men would be friends.

Follow the discussion by asking students to indicate whether they prefer one translation over the others, and have them explain reasons with textual evidence in their answers.

The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Novels
  • Literature and Language Arts
  • Auditory analysis
  • Compare and contrast
  • Creative writing
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Cultural analysis
  • Discussion
  • Essay writing
  • Interpretation
  • Literary analysis
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Summarizing
  • Textual analysis
  • Writing skills
  • Mary Anne Kovacs