Dostoevsky and Freud: Psychology of Raskolnikov | Crime and Punishment

To really understand Raskolnikov and his mental psychology in crime and punishment we have to look at his relationship most specifically with his mother, with his past and see why there remains the primary motive for Raskolnikov’s actions of murder, just like psychoanalytic’s In this brief yet comprehensive analysis I will attempt in this video to use Freudian terms to help bridge the gap between literature and psychology.

Raskolnikov is very much a split character in the dostoyevsky crime and punishment, hense for the name raskolnikov which means “schismatic” he is a poor and failing law student in petersburg who is in dire straits on the financial front, he relies on his mother and sister to send him money to allow the continuation of his studies and essentially his survival, his mother comes across as caring in the sense that she desires for him to become something mighty, a great man through his intellectual pursuits. interest and desire becomes latent when financial problems start to occur, thus, his mother and sister continue on in the process of sacrifice, his sister out of complete passion for her brother takes upon an engagement for supposed marriage with a sadistic man called Luzhin which will help give raskolnikov further financial support.

We come to learn that the mother in this story in the mind and from the perspective of raskolnikov is essentially a narcissist, she is an all consuming of character whereby raskolnikov for them is supposed to be their source of protection and glory, but instead they are making terrible sacrifices for him and he is impotent to them. Their sacrifices make him feel like more of a failure and put him under even greater pressure to fulfill their lofty dreams, this entire rage towards his family manifests primarily in the letter which his mother sends to him, his reaction of the letter gives him a “a bitter angry smile” because it puts him in an unbearable position of financial despair and their desired dream of him becoming: “rich, respected, honoured” and that he “may even die famous” by his mother’s wishes.

In a strange psychological sense we can see that the mother is essentially narcissistic and relies on raskolnikov’s potential success for her own happiness, Pulkheria falls into long spells, I quote: “of dismal brooding silence and speechless tears,” and whereby she to talks of her son, of her hopes, of the future.. that he is trying to, I quote: “give her a moment of pleasure”

with this narcissism and reliance on the mother’s side we can estimate that since birth Pulkheria has essentially not allowed Raskolinkov to develop separation, detachment or individualism because the mother continues to rely on him to be successful not for his own sake but for hers, this shows that there is a strange psychological complex between these two characters, we can see that the sisters altruistic sacrifices are out of strong compassion for her brother but pulkheria’s (his mother) are more out of self interest.

This essential interaction and brooding of such events is what I believe starts to formulate the Freudian “death drive” for Raskolnikov, which is opposite of the life drive, which is to express behaviours of repetitive aggression and self destruction.

This desire of potential napoleon superiority by violating the traditional morality and becoming the might great man his mother wants him to be becomes possible in his mind when eventually coming across and confronting the pawnbroker, when trying to make as much money as possible Raskolnikov comes across Alyona the pawnbroker, she is this horrible nasty woman but also someone who beats and mentally degrades her step sister Lizaveta who is of intellectual incapacity, she is represented as a very timid and meek girl while alyona is very demanding and cruel. these are the two people that he murders, therefore it makes no suprise that the repression of rage that raskolnikov develops against his mother eventually manifests towards the pawnbroker, that the pawnbroker broker is a symbolic representation of his mother and that Lizaveta is also a symbolic representation of his timid, meak self which he is trying to overcome, this Freudian defence system of repression eventually turns into displacement and therefore, murder; but there are many cooperative impulses at work which causes such an outcome: Rage against the mother, the desire for becoming a superior man and finanial insecurity are all motivators of such an action. Raskolnikov deludes himself  into thinking that the murders were a means of  testing out his Napoleonic theory of superiority,  that the murders were a way of determining  whether he was, I quote: “a man or a louse, like everyone else.” This is also a psychological realisation of his self hatred and contempt, I quote:

“I wanted to murder for my own sake, for my self alone!… It wasn’t to help my mother…I didn’t do the murder to gain wealth and power… Did I murder the old woman?  I murdered myself, not her!… crushed myself once and for all, forever”

Another aspect of Raskolnikov’s behavior is  that it is crammed with manifestations of infantile dependence; this is no surprise, and can be used as another example of how the mother did not let him develop full indepedence due to her narcissistic tendencies of reliance and self interest. Raskolnikov expects others to take care of him and when they  fail to do so, he, in another Freudian perspective performs: regression, he does not eat, or change his clothes, or seek out the company of  others. After all, his very presence in St. Petersburg is caused by his mother and sister.

  • Napoleonic theory of superiority (which is also something his mother gave of slight influence)
  • Projection of his hatred 
  • Denial of his own insecurities and dependance
  • Emotional transference 
  • Contempt and self hatred formulated by a narcissistic mother and causing emotional deprivation
  • & finally, Financial insecurity 

all motivate the death drive within Raskolnikov and thus cause the two murders which he commits, you could also say that the death of Natalya and the letter from his mother act as fundamental catalysts to this entire emotional and psychological process of disintegration.


2 thoughts on “Dostoevsky and Freud: Psychology of Raskolnikov | Crime and Punishment

  1. I can’t say to what substantive degree the Protagonist’s mother played into his decision to commit murder, perhaps it did to an extent, but his individual motivations for it were more pronounced in terms of their relation to his time and place. It’s more a psychological state brought on by the egoism and atomization of modern culture and his need to affirm his own individual power as a product of it. He had a Nietzschean plight to want to overcome his modern marginalized existence thought an extreme act of will.


  2. You are so awesome! I do not think I have read through something like this before. So wonderful to find somebody with some unique thoughts on this issue. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This site is something that is needed on the web, someone with a bit of originality!


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