Dostoyevsky on the possibility of redemption

In Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the protagonist Raskolnikov murders two women and then suffers immense mental anguish as the police trace the crimes to him. (Spoiler alert!) He is justly convicted. But instead of being sentenced to death (as he had expected), he is sentenced to seven years in Siberia.

At the end of the novel, he is serving his time in Siberia, and is joined by his beloved Sonia.

Under his pillow lay the New Testament. He picked it up mechanically; it belonged to (Sonia), the one from which she had read him the resurrection of Lazarus. At the beginning of his exile he had suspected she would bother him with religion, keep talking to him about the Gospels, and shove books at him. To his great surprise she did not mention such a thing once and never even offered him the Gospels. He had asked her for the New Testament himself, not long before his illness, and silently she had brought it to him. Since then he had not even opened it.

Nor did he open it now, but he thought: “Can her beliefs not be mine, too? Her feelings and aspirations, at least . . .”

–Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, trans. by Sidney Monas

I’ve always loved the sense of hope in this ending: the murderer who deserved to die is given a chance for a new life and a new beginning. There’s a sense of wonder on his part: could Sonia’s Christian beliefs be his, too? Is redemption possible even for the likes of him . . . and us?


2 thoughts on “Dostoyevsky on the possibility of redemption

  1. I had the pleasure of reading C&P in a small class of judges who met to discuss this as part of an occasional offering of classes loosely labeled “Literature and Judicial Reasoning”. Your insight here was even better than I got in that class.

    Redemption even for the likes of him and us? Dostoevsky’s story captures what it means to be a person underserving of grace yet receiving it and living in it in spite of our failings, in spite of even our murderous thoughts and venal acts.



    1. Ooo–that sounds like a fascinating series of classes!

      I’ve recommended C&P to several people over the years, trying to explain the grace and hope that I take away from this book. Usually I’m met with a blank stare. But, hey, they ASKED me to recommend a book to them, so they can’t complain!

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Tim.


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