Crime and Punishment

The Ethics of Crime in Crime and Punishment

The novel Crime and Punishment is a lengthy debate on the topic of what constitutes crime and how it should be punished. Dostoevsky presents many differing opinions on the topic through the various characters. There is one central crime in the novel, the murder of Alyona and Lizaveta Ivanovna by Rodion Raskolnikov, but there are many other crimes depicted along the way to further the debate. The main questions brought up repeatedly throughout the novel have to do with scale. Is there such a thing as a justified crime? Are some crimes worse than others and where is the line drawn? Raskolnikov presents a very clear point of view on these matters and continues to defend this position in the face of many other viewpoints as presented by the other characters.

The debate initially centers on the crime of murder, as that is the first crime we witness. Raskolnikov believes that some murders are in fact justified, and elaborates on this point throughout the course of the novel. He views the murder he commits as completely justified because Alyona Ivanovna was a pawnbroker who took advantage of the poor and caused much suffering in many people’s lives. He believes that it is just to kill one when it benefits many. He repeatedly refers to...

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