Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment

Portrait of the Writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1872, Vasily Perov
Photo caption

Portrait of the Writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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.

Guiding Questions

Can individuals live outside of society?

When do the ends justify the means?

What does the psychology of a crime mean in comparison to the punishment?

Learning Objectives

Analyze Dostoevsky's portrayals of dualistic personality traits in the main character and other characters