Crime and Punishment

Use a teaching guide that includes background information and discussion questions to be used when teaching Fyodor Dostoyevsky's superbly-plotted novel Crime and Punishment.
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1) How does Dostoyevsky achieve and sustain the suspense in his novel? Which scenes strike you as being particularly suspenseful? How does he use description to enhance the turmoil in Roskolnikov's mind?

2) What role does chance play in the development of the novel? In which scenes does coincidence figure heavily in the outcome? Is Dostoyevsky interfering too much with the natural course of events in order to move his story along, or is he making a point about the randomness of life, free will, and divine intervention?

3) Compare the characters of Roskolnikov, Luzhin, and Svidrigailov. How is each of these men a "villain," and to what extent are they guilty? How does each man face his guilt, and how does each suffer for it?

4) Compare the major female characters: Sonya, Dunya, Katerina Ivanovna. Do you think they are well-rounded characters or stereotypes? How does each figure in Roskolnikov's actions?

5) Discuss the scene in which Roskolnikov meets Sonya in her room and he asks her to read the story of Lazarus. What makes this scene so effective? What does Roskolnikov mean when he tells Sonya she is "necessary" to him? (p. 388)

6) Later, in confessing the murder to Sonya, Roskolnikov claims, "Did I really kill the old woman? No, it was myself I killed... And as for the old woman, it was the Devil who killed her, not I." (p. 488) What does he mean by this? What motive does Roskolnikov give for his murder? Why does he confess to Sonya? Why doesn't the confession ease him of his inner torment?

7) Discuss Roskolnikov's theory of the ordinary versus the extraordinary man. What is Dostoyevsky's attitude toward this theory? Can you think of modern-day examples of this theory put into practice?

8) Does the fact that Roskolnikov never uses the money he stole from the pawnbroker make him less - or more - guilty? Why do you think he never recovers the stolen items or cash?

9) Why does Roskolnikov reject his family's and Razumikhin's attempts at solace and comfort? Why, when they are at their most loving, does he have feelings of hatred for them? What is Dostoyevsky saying about guilt and conscience?

10) Roskolnikov emerges as a dual character, capable of cruelty and compassion, deliberation and recklessness, and alternating between a desire for solitude and companionship. Why has Dostoyevsky created such a complex psychological portrait?


The Brothers Karamazov
Dostoyevsky's masterful drama of parricide and family rivalry chronicles the murder of Fyodor Karamozov and the subsequent investigation and trial. This excellent translation recaptures the sound, tone, and rough humor of the original.

The Devils
Denounced by radical critics as the work of a reactionary, this powerful story of Russian terroists who plot destruction only to murder one of their own seethes with provocative political opinions.

The Gambler/Bobok/A Nasty Story
Conveying all the intensity and futility of an obsession, "The Gambler" is based on Dostoyevsky's firsthand experience; "Bobok" and "A Nasty Story" are two of the author's most darkly comic stories.

The House of the Dead
The four years Dostoyevsky spent in a Siberian prison inform this portrait of convicts, their diverse stories, and prison life, rendered in almost documentary detail.

The Idiot
At the center of a novel that has the plot of a thriller, Dostoyevsky portrays the Christlike figure of Prince Myshkin, bringing readers face-to-face with human suffering and spiritual compassion.

Netochka Nezvanova
Written as a serial, this never-completed first publication treats many of the themes that dominate Dostoyevsky's later great novels.

Notes from the Underground/The Double
In "Notes from the Underground," Dostoyevsky portrays a nihilist who probes into the dark underside of man's nature; "The Double" is Dostoyevsky's classic study of a psychological breakdown.

Poor Folk and Other Stories
Dostoyevsky's first great literary triumph, the novella Poor Folk is about an impoverished love affair. Also featured are "The Landlady," "Mr. Prokharchin," and "Polzunkov."

Uncle's Dream and Other Stories
"Uncle's Dream" is remarkable for its uncharacteristic objectivity, satire, and even farce, revealing a profound transformation in the author's worldview. This edition includes the stories "A Weak Heart," "White Nights," and "The Meek Girl."

The Village of Stepanchikovo
With its lighthearted tone and amusing plot, this work introduces a Dostoyevsky unfamiliar to most readers. But it also contains the prototypes of characters who appear in his later works.

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