Can there be such a thing as a “just” murder? Highly intelligent yet destitute, the law student Raskolnikov attempts to assert himself in the poverty-stricken streets of Saint Petersburg. Convinced of his superiority, he kills an old pawnbroker. Afterwards, however, he is plagued by guilt. A confrontation with the investigating judge who hounds him after the murder escalates into an ideological battle, and an encounter with Sonya, forced to prostitute herself to provide for her family, results in a change of heart. Raskolnikov is eventually sentenced to a long prison sentence in a Siberian penal colony. The protagonist’s radical worldview dictates that people are categorised as either “ordinary” or “extraordinary”. Can a crime, committed in the name of progress and serving a bigger purpose, be justified by the premise of universal human freedom? Raskolnikov is a divided character who attempts to override his conscience with reason: in the end, however, his moral qualms prevail.
Published in 1866, Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel of ideas depicts murder as a philosophical experiment, and has taken on a disturbing relevance in a time when people are sacrificed in the name of ideology and religion.