Between the Lines Book Club: Five Themes from Crime and Punishment

between the lines book club logoBetween the Lines Book Club is meeting on Aug 22, 2015 at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, CA to discuss Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. We meet at 10:30 AM and coffee is provided.

To get you in the mood, here are some themes to pay attention to when reading the book:

1. Guilt and Morality

Is it ever ok to kill someone? Is it ever OK to hurt another person? What about hurting yourself? If you commit a crime, do you have to atone? How?

These issues are explored through the central crime of murder but also through prostitution, child abuse, suicide, and political crimes. Dostoyevsky spent eight years in a labor camp in Siberia for reading banned books so he had a very high stake in matters of deciding what is and isn’t a crime and how people should pay for it.

2. Being in one’s “right mind”

How does being insane (or drunk) affect your culpability? Are you responsible for things you do when not “in your right mind”?

3. Free Will.

A lot of coincidences happen in this book, they aren’t the result of lazy plotting. Are the characters ruled by choice or by fate?

4. Poverty

Dostoyevsky spent much of his childhood living on the grounds of an institution for the poor (his father was a doctor there). As an adult, he struggled with poverty all his life. The characters are largely driven by money and yet the central crime is not. As litcharts.com puts it, speaking of Raskolnikov:

His rehabilitation will come through a spiritual and ethical rebirth, and not through a monetary windfall. He did not kill for money, and he cannot be reformed by money.

5. Family

Family means different things to different people, but for all of the characters family is a driving force. Who feels hostile to their family? Do they act out of love or obligation? When do family relationships motivate people to be “good” and when do they motivate people to do bad things?

Other themes to watch for: suffering, religion, education.

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