Lesson Plans: Grades

Lesson 2: Man and Superman

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

People generally expect a crime like Raskolnikov's in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment to be motivated by emotions such as anger, greed, revenge, or a desire for some kind of thrill. Intellectual crimes, those motivated by an idea, seem less common but are no less dangerous. What leads an educated young intellectual like Raskolnikov, someone with no criminal history, to commit murder with an axe? Discussion of this issue reveals that divisions in the novel are not limited to the psychologies of individual characters.

Crime and Punishment expresses the theoretical distinction between ordinary and extraordinary individuals and considers the extent to which "extraordinary men" are free of the limitations imposed on others. Readers learn that Raskolnikov has written a published article on this subject articulating his belief that the great movers and shakers of history committed many crimes that were necessary and inevitable to achieve their goals; these men were or seemed to be exempt from guilt.

Students examine this theory as it is revealed in several scenes within the novel and tackle the larger questions it brings up: Are humans really divided into two distinct categories, the ordinary and the extraordinary? Is this division a figment created by an overactive intellect? What did Dostoevsky think? Students then go on to uncover yet another split in the world of the novel, one between intellect and emotion/instinct.

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 2 aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2.

Learning Objectives

  • Distinguish between man and superman as the theory relates to Raskolnikov's actions
  • Analyze the split between reason and emotion that is the basis of Raskolnikov's subsequent reactions to his crime

Preparation and Resources

Students need to have completed their reading of the entire novel. They also need access to the discussions of "man and superman" and crime in Part 1, Chapter 6; Part 3, Chapter 5; Part 5, Chapter 4; and Part 6, Chapter 5.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Man and Superman

Point out that Raskolnikov is intelligent and comes from a respected though impoverished family. He is an intellectual with an article published in an esteemed journal; someone, it would seem, unlikely to murder two women with an axe. Why did he do it? At times even he seems unclear on this point.

Explain that the theory of man and superman involves the difference between ordinary people and those who achieve greatness and transcend limitations. It is often associated with the Übermensch posited by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Dostoevsky anticipated this idea, as well as other concepts that were developed later by Nietzsche. Many Russian intellectuals of the 1860s were rebelling against traditional morality and religion. Ask students to look up a definition of nihilism, and ask them to explain it in their own words. Stress that nihilism involves rejection of authority and tradition.

Ask students to work with partners or small groups to complete Worksheet 5. Crime and Punishment in Theory; follow with discussion, using Worksheet 5. (teacher version).

Explain that sociologists sometimes distinguish between intellectual crimes and those motivated by passion. Intellectual crimes spring from thought rather than from anger, greed, or some other passion. For example, the protagonist speaks of killing the old pawnbroker, not because of hatred, but because of the intellectual conviction that the world would be better off without her. In order to benefit a wide circle of individuals, one would, in theory, be able to kill her with no experience of guilt or remorse.

Distribute Worksheet 6. Crime and Punishment in Practice, and have students answer the questions either individually or in collaboration. Follow with whole class discussion, using Worksheet 6. (teacher version).

Lesson 2 follow-up discussion questions. Use evidence from the text in formulating the answers.

  • Raskolnikov had the theory of man and superman all worked out. Why, then, is he in torment from the moment he carries out the crime?
  • Is the theory accurate? Does history show that extraordinary individuals (supermen) are beyond the limits imposed on and accepted by ordinary people?
  • During the course of the novel, more than one possible motive for the crime is described. Which do you think is the real one?
  • Dostoevsky is sometimes described as a psychologist. Does his portrayal of Raskolnikov’s mind at work seem realistic to you? Why, or why not?
  • To what extent do other characters understand Raskolnikov? What do their responses suggest about the man behind the crime?


Assign students to write short essays in which they respond to the question: What does Dostoevsky imply about the nature of reason/logic in contrast to the nature of emotions/heart?

[Require students to go beyond the content on the worksheets to address additional ways Dostoevsky’s novel contrasts the effects of reason and impulse. Use the following questions as additional prompts if appropriate: Does reason by its very nature lead to sophistry? Does the novel indicate that emotions are more honest? Which characters seem more linked to reason, and which to emotion? Do any characters exhibit a harmonious balance between reason and emotion? If so, how is that harmony attained?]

The Basics

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
  • Textual analysis
  • Writing skills
  • Mary Anne Kovacs