the protagonist, a poor former student living in Petersburg. When we are first introduced to Raskolnikov, he is obsessed with the idea of committing a murder, to the point of physical and mental illness. Profoundly bifurcated, he appears almost obsessive-compulsive: he counts his footsteps, and cannot control his thoughts, which keep swirling about. He has formulated a theory that there are "extraordinary" people, set apart from the masses, who in the interest of a great idea can find a right within themselves to kill others in pursuit of that idea. Unable to stand it any longer, and given an unusually fortuitous opportunity, he kills the pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna and, unexpectedly, her half-sister, then robs the pawnbroker and escapes. From then on, he is beset with paranoia, though not guilt. He lurches through the world, flirting with capture, sometimes trying to get his confession spoken for him by others, sometimes trying to avoid suspicion altogether. He abandons his mother and sister, who have come to town, after helping to break his sister's unsuitable engagement and placing her and her mother in the care of his friend Razumikhin. Thrown in with the Marmeladov family, he falls into a strange relationship with Sonya, the oldest daughter, who has had to prostitute herself to provide for her family. Though Sonya loves him, he cannot accept her love for a long while, because he despises himself for not having been able to "step over" those he has killed; his petty crime and his failure to remain in control of his fate have proven to him that he is not a great man as he had hoped. At the end, he finally turns himself in, but still does not believe that his crime was inherently sinful. Sentenced to hard labor, whence he is followed by the faithful Sonya, he works sullenly and cuts himself off from his fellow-convicts until first he, then Sonya fall ill. When they meet again after their respective recoveries, something has changed in him, and he at last truly repents of his sin. His struggle, profoundly metaphorical, culminates in his resurrection from death and sin into love and life.
Sonya (Sofya Semyonovna) Marmeladov
the daughter of Marmeladov, and a prostitute. Sonya is the personification of purity and innocence, despite the fact that she has had to defile herself physically by becoming a prostitute to support her destitute family. We hear about her through her father long before we see her, at his deathbed. When Raskolnikov gives the family money for the funeral, she goes to his apartment to invite him, and there begins their strange relationship. They are clearly attracted to one another, perhaps because they are so different: Rodion's soul is in turmoil, while Sonya is anchored in her religious faith. Sonya is clearly a Christ-figure: she represents the only way to salvation, which is through faith and suffering (taking responsibility for the consequences of one's actions). Indeed, her attraction to Rodion seems at least partly grounded in her compassion for his suffering and unhappiness. She alone is able to elicit in him a desire to confess to her, as well as some softer, more human feelings than he has felt in a very long time. Sonya's devotion is remarkable; she follows Rodya to Siberia for his hard labor. Something of a mute witness to faith, she waits for Rodya to come to his own repentance, which he finally does at the end. With this revelation he is at last able to love her without fear or constraint.
Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin
Raskolnikov's fellow student and only friend from university. Kind, huge, somewhat clumsy but goldenhearted, Razumikhin takes care of Raskolnikov while he is ill and then takes care of Raskolnikov's family when Raskolnikov abandons them. He is in many ways the foil to Raskolnikov: friendly, sociable, and humble. Both are intelligent, but Razumikhin does not fall into the trap of hyperrationalism as Raskolnikov does; he maintains his perspective and can see the dangers of the new ideas that have corrupted Raskolnikov. Razumikhin falls in love with Dunya, Raskolnikov's beautiful sister, and pledges himself to take care of her and her mother forever. In the end, his marriage to Dunya makes this possible.
Dunya (Avdotya Romanovna)
Raskolnikov's sister. Beautiful, proud, virtuous, and somewhat arrogant, Dunya is in many ways similar to her brother. However, she has a faith that he lacks, which preserves her from the confusion which clouds his views on morality and sin. Dunya had been a governess in the Svidrigailov household, but was kicked out when the master of the house made advances on her. Like Sonya, Dunya is ready to sacrifice herself for the sake of her family, though she denies it, and therefore engages herself to the unworthy Luzhin, whom she follows to Petersburg. Finding herself caught between her brother and her fiancé, each of whom demands that she give up the other for his sake, she calls them together to reconcile and ends by breaking with Luzhin. Fortunately for her, word has just come that she has been left money in someone's will, so she has some security. She and her mother remain in Petersburg, but Rodya cuts himself off from them, after committing them to the care of Razumikhin, who has fallen in love with Dunya at first sight. Despite Rodya's desire to be left alone, Dunya resurfaces to tell him that he can rely on her if he ever needs anything. Not long after this, she receives a letter from Svidrigailov in which he promises to prove that Raskolnikov committed the murders of Alyona and Lizaveta Ivanovna. Their meeting reveals a more intimate past relationship than the reader has been led to expect. It is not entirely clear whether Dunya had feelings for the man mixed up in her desire to save him, or whether her interest in him was purely platonic. Svidrigailov attempts to blackmail Dunya into marrying him, and even threatens to take her by force, but she has come prepared to shoot him. The situation ends strangely but with Dunya still chaste and unharmed. By the end of the book she marries Razumikhin.
Raskolnikov's mother. She writes to Rodya early on in the book, telling him about Dunya's experience with the Svidrigailovs and her subsequent engagement to Luzhin. Though she tends to romanticize things and perhaps get carried away, Pulcheria Alexandrovna sees a good deal, which comes out in the end especially, when she falls ill and in her delirium betrays her suspicion of her son's fate, which till then has been kept from her.
Dunya's former employer and a scoundrel. Tainted by scandal and sin, Svidrigailov had conceived a passion for the pure and upright Dunya while she was working as a governess in his household. She rejected his advances. Once his wife dies, Svidrigailov heads to Petersburg to find Dunya and perhaps marry her. Svidrigailov ends up living next door to Sonya, where he eavesdrops and hears Raskolnikov's confession of his crime to her. A strangely complex character, Svidrigailov formulates a plan to blackmail Dunya with this knowledge at the same time as he provides materially for Sonya's orphaned half-siblings and pays for their mother's funeral. He meets with Dunya towards the end of the book, in an encounter that reveals a greater depth to their relationship than had previously been let on, but upon realizing that she cannot love him, he leaves her alone, makes various provisions for disposing of his money, and kills himself.
Marfa Petrovna Svidrigailov
the wife of Svidrigailov. She had rescued him from debtor's prison and then married him on the understanding that, though he had a wandering eye, he should remain faithful to her emotionally. However, Marfa Petrovna came upon Dunya and Svidrigailov in the garden, where he was apparently begging Dunya to run away with him to Petersburg. In a rage, and assuming Dunya was at fault, Marfa Petrovna kicked Dunya out and went about methodically sullying her reputation. When the truth came out that Svidrigailov had been the one making advances, Marfa Petrovna reversed herself and set about just as energetically restoring Dunya's reputation, and even set her up with Luzhin, a relation of hers. Marfa Petrovna dies under mysterious circumstances, possibly murdered by her husband, and bequeaths Dunya 3,000 roubles in her will.
Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin
a distant relation of Marfa Petrovna, and Dunya's fiancé at the start of the book. Luzhin, who had worked himself up from nothing, is vain and worships his money. He feels that Dunya, in her poverty, would make the ideal humble and grateful wife, and is astonished when he loses her to his own folly (namely, refusing to reconcile with Raskolnikov, with whom he had quarreled, and then proceeding to insult Dunya herself). He attempts to win her back and discredit her brother by framing and slandering Sonya, but it does not work.
the pawnbroker whom Raskolnikov sets out to murder and rob. Usually referred to as "the old crone," she is notoriously hateful and quite rich, though she hoards up her money like a miser. After his first business encounter with her, Raskolnikov becomes obsessed with the question of whether it is more just to let her live or to kill her and use her money for the benefit of the many who could use it.
the half-sister of Alyona Ivanovna. Dim-witted, kind and uncomplaining, Lizaveta is virtually enslaved by her half-sister. Because of her honesty and fairness, she acts frequently as a middleman or dealer for poor families which need to sell their things and make a profit. Lizaveta walks in when Raskolnikov is busy robbing Alyona Ivanovna, having murdered her. Desperate, he kills Lizaveta as well. Later he finds out that she had been a friend of Sonya's.
Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov
a titular councillor and a drunkard. He appears early in the novel to drunkenly bemoan his life and extol his suffering to Raskolnikov in a tavern. Through this discussion, Raskolnikov learns much about the Marmeladov family, including the horrible fact that Marmeladov's daughter Sonya has had to prostitute herself in order to support the family in the face of her father's incompetence. Marmeladov represents the grotesque sinner in Dostoevsky's panoply of characters, expecting his wife and daughter to martyr themselves in order to save him (which they do). Unexpectedly, Raskolnikov is drawn into something approaching intimacy with the family after Marmeladov, drunk as usual, falls under the horses of an approaching carriage. Raskolnikov happens to be present and gets Marmeladov home, where he dies.
Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladov
the unfortunate wife of Marmeladov. She had been born into something of a more upper-class family, married a first abusive husband, had three children by him, and then was rescued from widowhood by the pathetic Marmeladov. Quick-tempered and dying of consumption, Katerina Ivanovna nevertheless slaves over her family and loves them all, including her irresponsible husband, and her stepdaughter Sonya, whom she had effectively berated into prostituting herself to bring some money into the household. Katerina Ivanovna is extreme in her loves and hates, mocks those whom she considers inferior by birth, places great emphasis on breeding and lineage, and tends to exaggerate the importance of herself and her friends. On the day of her husband's funeral and memorial meal, chaos erupts and, having been kicked out of the apartment by the landlady once again, Katerina Ivanovna (whose mental capabilities have been in doubt due to her illness) rushes out and drags her children onto the street to sing for money. She collapses, and is rushed to Sonya's apartment, where she dies.
Andrei Semyonych Lebezyatnikov
a clerk in the ministry and a former ward of Luzhin. Lebezyatnikov is something of a pseudo-intellectual, subscribing on the surface to all sorts of "progressivist" ideas of free love and communal living, while underneath being not quite so committed to his convictions. For instance, despite his theoretical stance on free love, he is (at least according to rumor) the one responsible for getting Sonya thrown out of the Lippewechsel house once her prostitution became known. He is a comic figure, through whom Dostoevsky mocks the radical ideas of social restructuring that were then in vogue. However, Lebezyatnikov, despite his "convictions," is kind-hearted and appreciates acts of nobility. When Luzhin attempts to besmirch Sonya's reputation by framing her for theft, Lebezyatnikov is the one who comes forward with his testimony that Luzhin had in fact planted the stolen money on Sonya without her knowing it. Shortly thereafter, Lebezyatnikov also seeks out Sonya and Rodion to apprise them of Katerina Ivanovna's madness and imminent death.
Amalia Ivanovna Lippewechsel
Marmeladov's landlady. A woman of German origin (sometimes mockingly called Amalia Ludwigovna by Katerina Ivanovna) who kicks the Marmeladovs out, or threatens to, because they are behind in their rent and she and Katerina Ivanovna do not get along. Amalia Ivanovna helps with Marmeladov's memorial meal, but she and Katerina Ivanovna get into such a spat that she kicks them out for good.
servant and cook in the house where Raskolnikov stays. Nastasya is harshly critical of Raskolnikov's indolence and claustrophobic lifestyle, but she is kind-hearted and brings him tea and leftovers even though the landlady had stopped sending dinner up to his room. Easily amused, she is charmed by Razumikhin and has a tendency to listen in on every conversation she can.
Praskovya Pavlovna Zarnitsyn
Raskolnikov's landlady. Shy and retiring, Praskovya Pavlovna does not figure prominently in the course of events. Raskolnikov had been engaged to her daughter, a sickly girl who had died, and Praskovya Pavlovna had granted him extensive credit on the basis of this engagement and a promissory note for 115 roubles. She had then handed this note to a court councillor named Chebarov, who had claimed the note, causing Raskolnikov to be summoned to the police station the day after his crime.
a fat, imperious gentleman. He knocks on Alyona Ivanovna's door just after Raskolnikov has murdered the two women. Though he is supposed to watch the door while Pestryakov runs to get the caretaker, he leaves after a short while, allowing Raskolnikov the opportunity to escape.
the student studying to be a public investigator who discovers the murders with Koch. He joins Koch on the stairs and senses that something is not right, so he runs to get the caretaker, leaving Koch in charge.
Louisa (Laviza) Ivanovna
a madam, of German origin (hence the two formations of her first name). She is present at the police station when Raskolnikov goes in the day after the murders. She is also mentioned in passing by Razumikhin once or twice.
Ilya Petrovich "Gunpowder"
a lieutenant, the assistant to the police chief. A highstrung, easily offended man, he exchanges some words with Raskolnikov when the latter comes in to the station regarding his summons. Ilya Petrovich is speaking with his chief about the murders when Raskolnikov faints. Suspicious, Ilya Petrovich starts to interrogate Raskolnikov once he recovers, but is stopped.
chief of police. He appears the day after the murders, when Raskolnikov is summoned to the police station to address a claim on a promissory note. Nikodim Fomich, a kindly man, is talking with his assistant about the murder cases as Raskolnikov is leaving, causing Raskolnikov to faint (which is viewed suspiciously by Ilya Petrovich and Porfiry Petrovich).
Alexander Grigorievich Zamyotov
the clerk at the police station. He explains to Raskolnikov the matter for which he has been summoned to the station, and witnesses Raskolnikov's ill-timed swoon. While Raskolnikov lies ill, Zamyotov befriends Razumikhin. He encounters Raskolnikov when the latter, still ill, leaves his room and stumbles into a tavern. There Raskolnikov, half-crazed, leads Zamyotov through a half-mocking conversation where he confessesthen turns around and accuses Zamyotov of believing him. At first Zamyotov abandons his suspicion of Rodion, but then he changes his mind once again and goes to Porfiry Petrovich with this strange "psychological evidence."
the doctor who tends Rodya through his illness. Despite his portliness and languid demeanor, he is a good doctor and an intelligent man. He suspects that Raskolnikov is mad, and that he has developed an obsession with the murders because he had been "falsely suspected." A friend of Razumikhin's, Zossimov speaks with him frequently about Raskolnikov's case.
Gertrude Karlovna Resslich
Svidrigailov's friend and landlady in Petersburg. There is a hint of a scandal involving Svidrigailov and her teenage niece, of whom he apparently took advantage, and who consequently killed herself.
Nikolai (Mikolka) Dementiev
a young painter who was working in the house when Raskolnikov committed the murders. Chased by the police, he tried to hang himself, then confessed to the crime, even though he did not commit it.
Polina (Polenka, Polechka), Kolya and Lenya Marmeladov
Katerina Ivanovna's three children by her previous marriage. Polina, the oldest, takes care of Kolya, her brother, and Lenya, her sister. Polina also is the one sent after Rodion to ask him his name and where he lives after the death of her stepfather.
a court councillor. Praskovya Pavlovna had turned over Raskolnikov's promissory note to Chebarov, supposedly as payment for something. Chebarov had put in a claim for the note, causing Raskolnikov to be summoned to the police station the day after the murders.
Afanasy Ivanovich Vakhrushin
merchant from whom Pulcheria Raskolnikov borrowed money, on the security of her pension, to send to her son.
Crime and Punishment Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Crime and Punishment is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The action of the book takes place in St. Petersburg, the capital city of Russia, in the summer of 1865. (The brief epilogue is set in Siberia.) Crime and Punishment is a distinctly urban novel. In choosing a definite urban setting, Dostoyevsky...