"Crime and Punishment"

Quotes From Fyodor Dostoevsky's Famous Novel

Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" was originally published in 1866 as a series of monthly installments in the literary journal The Russian Messenger, but has since gone on to become one of the most influential works of literature of its time, riddled with numerous quotes ranging from a poor man's murderous thoughts to the guilt felt in the aftermath of a crime.

The story focuses on Rodion Raskolnikov's moral dilemmas and mental suffering after he formulates and successfully plots to kill a pawnbroker to take her money, arguing that with the money he takes from her he can do good that would offset the crime he committed in murdering her.

Like Frederich Nietzsche's Ubermensch theory, Dostoevsky argues through his character that some people even have the right to perform such vigilante actions as murdering an unscrupulous pawnbroker for the greater good, arguing multiple times that murder is okay if done in the pursuit of the greater good.​

Quotes About Pity and Punishment

With a title like "Crime and Punishment" one can correctly assume that Dostoevsky's most famous work is riddled with quotations about the idea of punishment, but it can also be said that the author implored his punishers to have pity on the guilty and suffering the narrator must endure for committing his crime. 

"Why am I to be pitied, you say," Dostoevsky writes in Chapter Two, "Yes! There's nothing to pity me for! I ought to be crucified, crucified on a cross, not pitied! Crucify me, oh judge, crucify me but pity me?" This question lends to the idea that there should be no pity given to the guilty — that it is not for a judge to pity the felon but to punish him appropriately — in this case, the speaker argues by crucifixion.

But punishment does not only come in the form of a judge reaching a verdict and sentence for a criminal, it also comes in the form of a guilty conscience, wherein the morality of the criminal himself is pitted as the ultimate punishment. In Chapter 19 Dostoevsky writes, "If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake; that will be punishment — as well as the prison."

The only escape from this personal punishment, then, is to ask forgiveness of mankind and of God. As Dostoevsky writes at the end of the 30th chapter, "Go at once, this very minute, stand at the cross-roads, bow down, first kiss the earth which you have defiled, and then bow down to all the world and say to all men aloud, 'I am a murderer!' Then God will send you life again. Will you go, will you go?"

Quotes on Committing Crime and Acting on Impulses

The act of committing murder, of taking another person's life, is discussed multiple times throughout the text, each time with the implication that the speaker cannot believe he is about to commit such a heinous act.

From the very first chapter, Dostoevsky makes this point clear as a contention element of the protagonist's life, writing "Why am I going there now? Am I capable of that? Is that serious? It is not serious at all. It's simply a fantasy to amuse myself; a plaything! Yes, maybe it is a plaything." This is almost a justification for the speaker to act later on impulse, an excuse to give into his carnal desires, painting murder as a mere plaything.

He argues this concept again, coming to terms with the reality of committing murder, in chapter five wherein he says "can it be, can it be, that I shall really take an axe, that I shall strike her on the head, split her skull open...that I shall tread in the sticky warm blood, blood...with the axe...Good God, can it be?" 

Would the crime be worth the moral implications, or the known punishment for such an act? Would it defy the very idea of living a good life itself? Dostoevsky also answers these questions through a variety of quotes in the book

Quotes on Life and the Will to Live

Especially given the idea of committing the ultimate crime of taking someone else's life, the ideas of the will to live and living a good life come into play many times throughout "Crime and Punishment."

Even as early as chapter two, Dostoevsky discusses the possibility that mankind may have its ideals of a good life skewed, or at least that mankind is in and of itself skewed from a good reality. In Chapter Two, Dostoevsky writes "What if man is not really a scoundrel, man in general, I mean, the whole race of mankind — then all the rest is prejudice, simply artificial terrors and there are no barriers and it's all as it should be."

However, in Chapter 13, when faced with the idea of being punished by being put to death, Dostoevsky visits an old adage of waiting for death for eternity being better than actually dying in a moment to observe the reality of a person's will to live:

Where is it I've read that someone condemned to death says or think, an hour before his death, that if he had to live on some high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he'd only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than to die at once! Only to live, to live and live! Life, whatever it may be!"

In the Epilogue too, Dostoevsky speaks of this hope, man's never-ceasing desire to continue breathing for at least one more day, saying of the two characters that "they were both pale and thin; but those sick pale faces were bright with the dawn of a new future, of a full resurrection into a new life. They were renewed by love; the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other."

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Lombardi, Esther. ""Crime and Punishment"." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/crime-and-punishment-quotes-2-739396. Lombardi, Esther. (2023, April 5). "Crime and Punishment". Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/crime-and-punishment-quotes-2-739396 Lombardi, Esther. ""Crime and Punishment"." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/crime-and-punishment-quotes-2-739396 (accessed May 28, 2023).