Why You Should Read Crime and Punishment: An Animated Introduction to Dostoevsky’s Moral Thriller

A des­per­ate­ly poor law stu­dent kills a pawn­bro­ker. There we have the sto­ry, max­i­mal­ly dis­tilled, of Fyo­dor Dos­to­evsky’s Crime and Pun­ish­mentOr at least we have the cen­tral event, to which every­thing in Dos­to­evsky’s best-known nov­el leads and from which every­thing else fol­lows. But as with so many 19th-cen­tu­ry Russ­ian nov­els, there’s much more to it than that; some Dos­to­evsky enthu­si­asts see the book as not just the sto­ry of a mur­der’s med­i­ta­tion and after­math but an inci­sive por­tray­al of the eter­nal moral con­di­tion of human­i­ty. But since such grand-sound­ing claims no doubt put off as many read­ers as they bring in, we’d do bet­ter to ask a sim­pler ques­tion: Why should you read Crime and Pun­ish­ment?

The ani­mat­ed TED-Ed les­son by Alex Gendler above answers that ques­tion in four and a half ani­mat­ed min­utes. “Though the nov­el is some­times cit­ed as one of the first psy­cho­log­i­cal thrillers,” Gendler says, its scope reach­es far beyond the inner tur­moil of the stu­dent-turned-killer Raskol­nikov. “From dank tav­erns to dilap­i­dat­ed apart­ments and claus­tro­pho­bic police sta­tions, the under­bel­ly of 19th-cen­tu­ry Saint Peters­burg is brought to life by Dostoyevsky’s sear­ing prose.”

With its large cast of ful­ly real­ized and often not-quite-savory inhab­i­tants, this “bleak por­trait of Russ­ian soci­ety reflects the author’s own com­plex life expe­ri­ences and evolv­ing ideas” — expe­ri­ences that includ­ed four years in a Siber­ian labor camp as pun­ish­ment for his par­tic­i­pa­tion in intel­lec­tu­al dis­cus­sions of banned social­ist texts.

You might assume that such a back­ground would pro­duce a bit­ter writer con­cerned only with revenge against the state, but Dos­to­evsky’s social cri­tique, Gendler says, “cuts far deep­er. Raskol­nikov ratio­nal­izes that his own advance­ment at the cost of the exploita­tive pawnbroker’s death would be a net ben­e­fit to soci­ety,” which “echoes the doc­trines of ego­ism and util­i­tar­i­an­ism embraced by many of Dostoyevsky’s con­tem­po­rary intel­lec­tu­als.” And all of us, not just intel­lec­tu­als and polit­i­cal lead­ers, have the poten­tial to cut our­selves off from our own human­i­ty as Raskol­nikov does. Some of us face pun­ish­ment for the crimes we com­mit, but many of us don’t — or not offi­cial, exter­nal­ly applied pun­ish­ment, in any case, but “Dostoyevsky’s grip­ping account of social and psy­cho­log­i­cal tur­moil” still shows us how the harsh­est pun­ish­ment comes from with­in.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Dig­i­tal Dos­to­evsky: Down­load Free eBooks & Audio Books of the Russ­ian Novelist’s Major Works

Dos­to­evsky Draws Doo­dles of Raskol­nikov and Oth­er Char­ac­ters in the Man­u­script of Crime and Pun­ish­ment

Fyo­dor Dostoyevsky’s Life & Lit­er­a­ture Intro­duced in a Mon­ty Python-Style Ani­ma­tion

The Ani­mat­ed Dos­to­evsky: Two Fine­ly Craft­ed Short Films Bring the Russ­ian Novelist’s Work to Life

Bat­man Stars in an Unusu­al Car­toon Adap­ta­tion of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Pun­ish­ment

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Comments (5)
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  • Gerald Washington says:

    Excel­lent sum­ma­ry of Crime and Pun­ish­ment. The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov is anoth­er book that should be read an stud­ied many times.Joseph Frank’s bio:A Writer in His Time is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

  • LyleDunn Jr says:

    That book impact­ed and changed my life.…THE BEST THING I EVER READ

  • Sean Nelson says:

    It was a good book. I think it is one of his weak­er ones after Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov, the Pos­sessed, and the Idiot. Those are all more com­plete books. The Pos­sessed and Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov are pur­er ver­sions of one theme of Crime and Pun­ish­ment. I think the Pos­sessed is prob­a­bly his mas­ter­piece. Although the Idiot is a close sec­ond.

  • Ellen Ruth says:

    You lost me at “has drank.”

  • Marian Schwartz says:

    You name the per­son who reads the book but say noth­ing about which trans­la­tion is used–a fac­tor of much greater sig­nif­i­cance to the qual­i­ty of the expe­ri­ence. So, who is the trans­la­tor?

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