Crime and Punishment

Dostoevsky’s Flawed Critique of Russian Liberalism in Crime and Punishment 12th Grade

19th Century Russia saw immense economic, political, and ideological changes. With Western influence pervading Europe, Russian society became fiercely polarized between radicals who strove for rapid reform and reactionaries who opposed the sociopolitical revolution. During Tsar Nicholas I’s reign, marked by “autocracy, Orthodoxy, and nationalism,” he censored liberal literature and exiled revolutionaries including Fyodor Dostoevsky for his involvement in an underground radical literary group (Gutek 421). In 1855, Alexander II assumed power and brought radical changes, most notably the abolition of serfdom. Hence came a flood of job-seekers without open opportunities to accommodate them. This led to an era of desperation and widespread drunkenness, crime, disease, and prostitution.


Despite the widespread liberal ideology, many radicals were disappointed with both the pace and consequences of change. Alarmed by the upheaval, Alexander II censored liberal literature and exiled prominent revolutionaries, much like his predecessor. Dostoevsky eventually was released from exile and returned to Russia. But his political views had completely shifted. Having spent six years in Siberia interacting with people holding more conservative...

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