Crime and Punishment

There Are No Small Parts, Only Small Actors

Anyone who has had any exposure to theatre has at least once heard the colloquialism, "there are no small parts, only small actors." Some may mock this platitude, pointing out the fact that, of course there are small parts; most literary works contain several "bit parts." But the root of this statement is true: no matter how "small" a character's part may be, that character makes a contribution, large or small, to the story. And in Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic work, Crime and Punishment, a central character that provides a key turning point has only two brief appearances.

Alyona Ivanovna is a pawnbroker and moneylender. This acceptable existence, vaguely awkward for a woman, in the beginning of the novel leads one to first want to disregard her as a mere surface character. But as the story unfolds, it becomes quite clear that both Alyona Ivanovna and her despicable character are a vital part of Raskolnikov's plot to achieve extraordinary status.

To begin with, Alyona Ivanovna first presents a problem for Raskolnikov at her murder, albeit quite indirectly. While he is bludgeoning Alyona Ivanovna with the butt end of an axe, her sister Lizaveta returns from an errand and happens upon the...

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