Published: Oct. 1, 2009 By

[1] Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov’s delirium-filled wanderings about Saint Petersburg and his subsequent encounters with various abused and anonymous young women are necessary catalysts to his eventual self-discovery as well as paradigms for Crime and Punishment.  The recurrence of nameless, poverty-stricken waifs throughout the novel creates an associative structure that forces Raskolnikov to identify with these women. Such identification prompts the self-reflection to which he eventually surrenders as his spiritual epiphany is achieved by the recognition of his female counterparts. The humiliating and victimizing experiences of these women mirror his own desperation and helplessness. Dostoevsky’s presentation of women as victims creates a paradigm of social abuses that illustrate my main argument: Raskolnikov’s struggle is against the feminine elements within himself.  This is not a prescriptive feminist argument but an exploration prompted by Gary Rosenshield’s summation that Dostoevsky “is always testing stereotypes” and as such opens themes such as gender and victimization to questioning (127).

[2] Dostoevsky’s most famous novel, Crime and Punishment (1866), is the story of an impoverished university student who brutally murders an old female pawnbroker, and then quite by accident, her sister as well. Raskolnikov has rationalized his crime with the defense that as he is destined for certain greatness he is doing society a favor by ridding the world of the parasitic moneylender. Once he has their blood on his hands, however, he sinks into illness, depression, and remorse. These feelings are intensified by Raskolnikov’s distress at the news that his sister Dunya has accepted a proposal of marriage in order to save herself, their mother, and him from ruin. Meanwhile, Raskolnikov also befriends the drunkard father of Sonya Marmeladova who explains to him that his daughter has become a prostitute in order to support him, his wife and her children. Sonya’s spiritual purity despite the squalor of her life drives Raskolnikov to confess his crime, after which she follows him to Siberia where he is serving his sentence at the conclusion of the novel.

[3] I frame the context of my argument with several responses to the discussion set forth in Nina Pelikan Straus’s work, Dostoevsky and the Woman Question, specifically her chapter on Crime and Punishment. She explains first of all the binary created with Raskolnikov’s name: “Raskolnikov, whose name meansschism, soon discovers himself as a ‘self created within a split – a being that can only conceptualize itself when it is mirrored back to itself from the position of another’s desire’ [Lacan 5], namely women’s” (22). I postulate that the “schism” indicated therein references the split between the mind and the body as they have been traditionally assigned to masculine and feminine elements respectively, or as Elizabeth Grosz’sVolatile Bodiesexplains, “[t]he mind/body split is frequently correlated with the distinctions between reason and passion, sense and sensibility, outside and inside, self and other, depth and surface, reality and appearance, mechanism and vitalism, transcendence and immanence, temporality and spatiality, psychology and physiology, form and matter, and so on” (3). Grosz continues with a discussion of dualism as instituted by Descartes that assumes that “there are two distinct, mutually exclusive and mutually exhaustive substances, mind and body, each of which inhabits its own self-contained sphere” (6). This type of dualism dominates Raskolnikov’s thinking at the outset of the novel as he denies any relation between himself and what he perceives is “outside” of himself. This split defines the sexual polarities that lead Raskolnikov to both identify with and resent the young women he encounters. While they symbolize the state of St. Petersburg society and the condition of the entire working class, their personal plight parallels that of the young man struggling to come to terms with his world, his self, his desires, and more importantly, his shortcomings. His frustration with all of these experiences, both acknowledged and denied, constructs a fragmented backdrop upon which his rationale for the violent act of murder is based. Straus examines this idea as well, describing the violence towards women as an experience necessary to the “construction of his masculine identity” as he struggles to re-define it (19). That is to say that Raskolnikov denies the female component of his personality. He suppresses that which is socially identified as weak, powerless, victim—or in his case—the powerlessness to keep others from falling victim.

[4] Raskolnikov’s obsession and total dedication to idea, to the mind, is supported at the opening of the novel with the neglect of his body and the physical destitution that characterize his condition. He attempts to live only for the mind, as for him the body carries associations with the abject, as is illustrated in the filthy, subservient and objectified positions of the female characters.  He refuses all association or identification with the body by denying it food, rest and the benefits of decent clothing.

… he was very weak; he had eaten practically nothing for two days. He was so wretchedly dressed that anybody else, however used to them, might have hesitated to go out in daylight in such rags. (Dostoevsky 2)

My response on this point explains how Raskolnikov’s denial of his physical self is an attempt to suppress an identification with the female (not merely in terms of Dunya and Sonya as their parallels are well-evidenced and repeatedly documented) but with the female body as a collective presence in the novel. Raskolnikov denies the inscription of his surroundings, of which femininity is an undeniable part, on himself.

[5] Raskolnikov’s constant contact with female victims causes them to become libidinally cathected parts of Raskolnikov’s own body, of his body image. “Body image” in this context is explained by Grosz as something that is “as much a function of the subject’s psychology and socio-historical context as of anatomy” (79). Describing this relationship and dependence of the body image on its exteriors she elaborates:

The limits or borders of the body image are not fixed by nature or confined to the anatomical ‘container,’ the skin. The body image is extremely fluid and dynamic; its borders, edges, and contours are ‘osmotic’ – they have the remarkable power of incorporating and expelling outside and inside in an ongoing interchange. (79)

[6] Grosz explains that anything coming into contact with the body for an extended period of time is incorporated into the body. This incorporation results from the intrusion of objects or elements into the “zone” that surrounds each body. This zone is “individually, sexually, racially, and culturally variable” (79). While Grosz continues with a discussion of physical objects (such as clothing or jewelry) that affect the body image, I suggest that a constant exposure to the victimized female body has the same effect. Thus for Raskolnikov, the constant contact with street waifs results in a similar incorporation into his body image.

[7] Straus engages with Bakhtin’s readings of Dostoevsky in a feminist argument that postulates Raskolnikov’s dependence upon the voices of other characters in the formation of his own. As such, Raskolnikov’s voice is “constituted by the variously assimilated voices of others” (21). The “others” that Straus refers to are primarily feminine ones: Raskolnikov’s mother, his sister and Sonya. I suggest that his voice is equally influenced by the nameless, voiceless female waifs who pepper the novel. Their stories, or his invention of their likely histories, are just as much a part of his persona as are the stories of those women with whom he has an intimate relation. The fact that his encounters with young victimized girls plague his thoughts and his wanderings supports the central role they play in his thinking. He constantly notices and responds to the situations of women. While Straus successfully argues a new form of masculinity within which a specifically gendered experience is obscured or even effaced, I read an interdependence of masculine and feminine binaries.

Associative Structure and the Streets of St. Petersburg

[8] Crime and Punishment is comprised of a synthesis of events described by internal reflection, episodic encounters, and dreams. This perceptive accounting of events both expands and contracts time as it is illustrated through experience rather than chronology, a narrative technique that preceded later stream-of-consciousness writings (Frank 92-93). In his article, “The Optics of Narration: Visual Composition in Crime and Punishment,” Roger Anderson presents such a shift in narrative focus as a new characteristic of nineteenth century literature. This spatial model became an alternative for the nineteenth-century author by which “to make synoptic sense of human affairs” (78-79). This structure is necessary for assembling the events that illustrate Raskolnikov’s doubling with the anonymous young women of Saint Petersburg. While Dostoevsky’s novel remains realist in nature, the true nature of an individual’s perception of reality is more successfully explored in this fractured manner as actions, perceptions, and realizations often do not occur sequentially. Raskolnikov, for example, needs several encounters to be present in his experience in order for them to make sense and for him to realize their significance. The narrative voice in this manner lends itself to reflect upon Raskolnikov’s “associative memory” as each episode leads to a different experience, and relates to many other episodes of the text (Anderson 88). These episodes fracture the storyline into seemingly tangential experiences which in fact all relate back to Raskolnikov’s own consciousness. Each encounter reflects Raskolnikov’s personal and experiential interpretation of events.

[9] Due to these experiential interpretations, the reader is drawn into Raskolnikov’s musings, visions, dreams and projections, then left to distinguish the real from the projected real. The narration promotes the reader’s disorientation as he/she is drawn in to experience the events of the novel through the subjectivity of the main character. The narrative explores experiences and encounters by following each one out on its tangent, then returns to the starting point again before following the next. The starting point for Raskolnikov is always the streets of St. Petersburg. For example, shortly after reading the letter from his mother informing him of his sister Dunya’s engagement, Raskolnikov takes to the streets, wandering and talking to himself to such an extent that passers-by mistake him for drunk. His mutterings are a monologue that begins by criticizing his mother and any implications of her wording, but then develops into an examination of Dunya’s fiancé, Luzhin. As he questions Luzhin’s motives, he questions Dunya’s reasons for accepting the proposal. This leads Raskolnikov back to thoughts about his own failures and also allows him to make the obvious connection between Dunya’s situation and that of Sonya Marmeladova: “Do you know, Dunechka, that Sonechka’s fate is no whit worse than yours with Mr. Luzhin?” (Dostoevsky 37). He ponders Marmeladov’s situation and even considers suicide, but the weight of all these thoughts overwhelms his emotions and he faints. He regains consciousness only to find himself still on the street and faced with the first wandering waif.

[10] Joseph Frank likens Dostoevsky’s use of the city to that of Balzac and Dickens asserting that for Raskolnikov, the city is a haunting specter of his crime (96-97). As such his constant return to the streets could indicate a compulsion to repetition as he seeks to resolve the break (or schism) between his conscious and unconscious experiences. Raskolnikov returns to the streets following each encounter and each dream episode, allowing an association of the anonymous with his personal experience.

[11] As he wanders the streets of St. Petersburg, Raskolnikov seems lost in areas completely familiar to him and only with much repetition does he become aware of the details of sights and people he has seen a thousand times before but never noticed—this “terra incognita[…] floats free of real time” (Anderson 79). This unknown or undiscovered reality parallels the dreams that haunt several characters as they lend themselves to the rationalization of the dreamer (Peace 38). The novel perpetuates the juxtaposition of the familiar and the unknown always as expressed by Raskolnikov’s experience. Time is secondary to experience in the sorting out of Raskolnikov’s thoughts. Rather, “The process of reading thus becomes more like filling in a mosaic than unrolling a scroll” (Anderson 79). Raskolnikov continues establishing connections between his personal emotional state, the experience of the city, the lives that surround him, and the characters with whom he interacts. These experiences and connections can be imagined not only as the mosaic Anderson describes but also as a web: delicate, intricate, yet specifically and personally constructed. This web provides a framework for the novel and insight into the underlying concerns occupying Raskolnikov’s thoughts and actions. It is these everyday occurrences that reveal the concerns and personal conflicts Raskolnikov struggles with, of which the dramatic and violent act of murder is only a symptom.

[12] In Reading Dostoevsky, Victor Terras describes the three levels of the novel: “that of physical action and spoken discourse, that of the workings of the characters’ minds, and that of the philosophical argument, developed in part explicitly, in part as a subtext” (52). Within this subtext the psychological discussion comes forward since Raskolnikov remains in denial of the associations his mind readily establishes between himself, his misery, and that of others. According to Anderson, Dostoevsky anticipates Freud in many of his explorations as the psychological forces seem to defy the rationale Raskolnikov so carefully establishes and defends in regards to his own actions, for “’What is the life of that stupid, spiteful, consumptive old woman weighed against the common good? No more than the life of a louse or a cockroach’” (Dostoevsky 56). He has even had this rationale published in an article entitled “Concerning Crime” in which he claims that certain “extraordinary individuals” are not subject to the same laws as the “ordinary” (219).

[13] The reader realizes, as does Raskolnikov, that understanding can only be constructed by assembling various seemingly random experiences. The reader is then able to address individual questions such as the relationship of Raskolnikov to the waifs who reappear in vignettes throughout the novel. These women are necessary insertions as Frank observes in regards the novel that, “No detail or event seems casual or irrelevant” (98). The pauses occurring as Raskolnikov invents their histories and speculates their futures argue the significance of these marginal characters. The subjectivity of time is affected by Raskolnikov’s consciousness as Frank specifies how time “contracts and expands freely according to the importance for him [Raskolnikov] of the events being depicted” (103).

[14] Rosalind Marsh states that Dostoevsky uses female characters as a “vehicle for the expression of general truths about the human condition”—I see fit to revise this statement to say that the female characters are a “vehicle for the expression of general truths aboutRaskolnikov’s condition” (16). Michael Katz reinforces this extension in regards to Sonya by stating that while Dostoevsky never permits women to “be the bearers of ideas,” they may serve as “reflections of ideas held by male characters” (36). Gender politics are essential to Raskolnikov’s explorations as Dostoevsky realized that certain actions lend themselves to identification as either masculine or feminine in these male-female struggles and stresses this binary in Raskolnikov’s thinking (Straus 22). The binary is brought to light quite obviously in the content of an article that Raskolnikov refuses to translate entitled, “Woman, Is She a Human Being?” and later in his own exclamation, “’Women!’” followed by his immediate questioning, “’Why did I say “women” like that?’” (Dostoevsky 213). While Marsh asserts the constant description of the female from the point of view of the external, male gaze, she does not discuss the projection of the male self that this objectification creates (3). Raskolnikov tends to deny any qualities that might be designated as “feminine” within his masculine self. I assert however, that this is merely a denial of qualities intrinsic to our humanity—qualities that are not necessarily gender-specific such as empathy or spirituality. This denial also allows for the female object to be exploited, abused, and dismissed. Throughout the course of the novel it is apparent that Raskolnikov is only able to find himself, or to complete himself through an association with the female characters of this book, be it the anonymous waifs, Sonya, or his sister. These women can not and do not deny the realities of life and in return bear society’s ugly burdens. The harshness of reality is embodied in their labors and suffering, as these women are the reality of the realist novel.

Degeneration and the Female Victim

[15] The women who fall victim to poverty and find themselves on the street are often either completely disregarded or scorned by passers-by who blame the women for allowing fate to lead them to the streets. Not surprisingly, the rise of modernity with its subsequent urban overcrowding and increased poverty led to philosophical and scientific investigations of the same. In her work, Suicide as a Cultural Institution in Dostoevsky’s Russia, Irina Paperno discusses the practices of both Russian and Western European studies of the degeneration of culture and its peoples as occurred throughout Europe at this time: “By transferring language used to describe the individual body to the social body, Durkheim literalized Lombroso’s metaphor of degeneration: in Durkheim’s discourse the ‘decay’ of  the body is understood literally, as decomposition of the whole into parts” (39). This moral decay (often aligned with decadence) related to Cesare Lombroso’s studies of degeneration affected the whole cultural body. The breakdown on social and cultural levels was thought to cause individual decay, both moral and physical, often leading such to extremes in the individual as madness and even suicide. This theory is clearly illustrated in the progression of scenes Raskolnikov observes, each one building on the next as he witnesses the degeneration of such a young female “type.” This progressive degeneration reflects his own as he has fallen from university student to murderer, and beyond that, a murderer whose crime proves useless even in regards to his own theorization of it.

[16] Dostoevsky’s awareness of prostitution as a final act of desperation is revealed in Marmeladov’s woe in regards to the life that has befallen Sonya, “’do you think that a poor but honourable girl can earn much by honest labour?’” (14). The reader must then evaluate female condemnation as a matter of context. Sonya embodies the Madonna/whore paradox as she is described at different moments, and in different dress. Most of the women are represented playing roles, as their lives have been reduced to their assignments accordingly. Terras mentions Sonya’s “streetwalker finery,” as well as Katerina Ivanovna’s “playing the role of a lady” (56). Also dressed up and playing a role are the young girl with the organ grinder, and to an extent, Dunya, who poses as fiancée. Necessity has created a space of dichotomous characters who, while pious, are whores, while well-meaning are murderers, and while desperate are ridiculous.

[17] The “type” that reappears throughout the novel is a victim of social circumstance and the abuses of injustice. The anonymity and silence of the female victim supports my premise that the peripheral female characters are intended to be read as products of the city—they are formed by the “outside.” The “outside” that Raskolnikov denies yet is constantly affronted with is made up of an array of female bodies, each body framed by a personal history. His attention is always drawn to female figures on the street, to Dunya, to Sonya, to the likely fate of little Polenka. It is women, some not more than girls, he notices on the street (his only random “male” encounter is with the symbolically emasculated Marmeladov). Such a repetition of figures and their accompanying histories are not to be read as elements that remain separate from Rodion Romanovich. He is deeply affected by them as indicated by both the pauses taken to describe them and by the various emotionally charged fainting spells that follow each episode.

[18] His continuous relationship with the street and the streetwalking that is a regular part of his habits mirror the helplessness and even homelessness of the other characters he encounters on the streets. While he is an observer of the city around him, he is also, and more importantly, a part and product of it. This naturalist aspect assumes the inclusion of both his “inside” and “outside” in the composition of his character. As demonstrated in Stelleman’s article “Raskol’nikov and His Women,” Raskolnikov’s “outside” at the outset of the novel is composed largely of females as she explains the various women present in the first part of the novel, “in his thoughts (planning to kill Alena), in actual presence (his landlady and Nastas’ja), and in the stories he hears (about Sonja, Katerina Ivanovna, Dunja, Pul’cherija, and Lizaveta)” (280). While Raskolnikov denies his interrelation to the female presence about him, they are integral to the division he consciously upholds between himself as “idea,” and others. Stelleman notes, for example, the distinction between Raskolnikov who “claims thinking is work” to Nastasha (to which she responds by laughing in his face) and the work and practical concerns of those around him.

[19] Raskolnikov’s denial of the relation between the human body and the “outside” exacerbates two problematic points: first his insistence on “idea,” and second, his dependence upon others. Hunger, delirium and fever do more than just highlight the significance and importance of the body with its functions and needs, but infantilize him. This parallel of Raskolnikov to a child strengthens his parallel to the female/victim (often child-like if not an actual child) throughout the novel. The violation of Raskolnikov’s ideals and the impossibility of his idealism could be a form of violation to his person, since his mind is his only vehicle for expression and identification—in his eyes. The victimized body, in the form of the raped and abused female/child, is translated by Raskolnikov as a violation of ideals. This violation is of primary interest as “child-rape, the sexual sin against femininity which Dostoevsky considered worse than murder” became a focal element in his later works (Kiremidjian 417). As victim, Raskolnikov relies constantly upon the charity and care-taking of his mother and sister, Nastasha, and even his landlady. In an almost motherly role, his friend Razumikhin feeds him, dresses him and tries to provide him with opportunities. Regardless of whether one reads his constant dependence upon others as infantile or feminine, this quality makes him decidedly (and most importantly) not masculine.

[20] As the novel opens, he sees himself as a completely isolated entity: isolated from the city, from its inhabitants, its victims, and even from his family. He contemplates Dunya’s fate as one separate from his own, despite the fact that Dunya’s situation is always in direct relation to him. His sister has accepted a proposal of marriage in order to save herself and their mother from abject poverty. Raskolnikov receives this news with a confused emotional response of anger, hatred, resentment and sadness. When he cries, it is not for their fate, but for his own and at his own failures:

Almost all the time that Raskolnikov was reading this letter his face was wet with tears, but when he came to the end it was pale and convulsively distorted and a bitter angry smile played over his lips. (Dostoevsky 33)

The confusion of emotions is clear in this passage as he both smiles and cries, is angry and devastated. This letter forces him into a reality he had been in denial of: as a result of his failure and inactivity women have assumed the active role.

[21] When Raskolnikov reads his mother’s letter, his emotions are charged by the recent encounter with Marmeladov and the story of his daughter’s entry into prostitution (an obvious parallel to Dunya’s marriage) (Peace 36). The history of Dunya and their mother can be reduced to the situation of thousands of women in and around the city trying to earn their keep and failing. Raskolnikov’s mother works day and night sewing, one of the most common ways for a woman to earn her living, and Dunya has already spent time in domestic service, the other most common option. Her experience in this service is described accurately as per Engel’s research: “‘With few qualifications and no legal protection, the female domestic often lived in a kind of personal bondage. With a good employer, she may have had a more desirable situation than the factory worker, one that shielded her against the shock of urban life. But frequently her position was far from secure and subject to great abuse’” (Ransel quoted in Engel 29). Raskolnikov is lost in his depression and preoccupied with his sister’s fate when he encounters the first paradigmatic waif. As Raskolnikov’s thoughts are hyper-occupied by the language and implications of the letter, the surrounding streets and persons he encounters are translated by his emotions—the reader is never given an objective view of the scene on the street.

To begin with, she seemed to be very young, no more than a girl, and she was walking through the blazing heat bare-headed and without gloves or parasol, waving her arms about queerly. Her dress was of a thin silken material, but it also looked rather odd; it was not properly fastened, and near the waist at the back, at the top of the skirt, there was a tear, and a great piece of material was hanging loose. A shawl had been flung round her bare neck and hung crooked and lopsided. To crown everything, the girl’s gait was unsteady and she stumbled and even staggered from side to side. The encounter had by now fully engaged Raskolnikov’s attention. He came up with her close to the bench; she went up to it and let herself fall into a corner of it, resting her head against the back and closing her eyes as if overcome with weariness. Looking closely at her, Raskolnikov realized at once that she was quite drunk. It was a strange, sad sight; he even thought he must be mistaken. Before him he saw the small face of a very young girl, of sixteen, or perhaps only fifteen or so, small, pretty, fair-haired; but the face looked swollen and inflamed. The girl seemed to have little understanding of her surroundings; she crossed one leg over the other, displaying more of it than was seemly, and to all appearances hardly realized that she was in the street. (Dostoevsky 39-40)

This young girl has been seduced and raped. While this act has been inflicted upon her, it will regardless serve as a starting point down a long path to ruin, hunger and prostitution as “[a]ccording to the census of 1889, 14.6 percent of registered prostitutes in the Russian empire as a whole said they had been raped at first intercourse… For example, the youngest of the peasant women said that she was ten when she was raped, and the merchant who took her virginity then kept her for three years. The men who raped three other women, all at age fifteen, got them drunk first” (Engel 35).  This girl’s condition provokes both pity and disgust in Raskolnikov, yet for others she is merely an easy target. Following close behind her is a man, “desirous of approaching the girl for some purpose” (Dostoevsky 40).

[22] As Raskolnikov witnesses the scene of the girl and her follower he is unable to deny the relationship between this young female victim and his sister and her upcoming marriage.  By agreeing to accept Luzhin, Dunya has chosen the lesser of two evils, or as Victor Terras draws the comparison, she chooses the “despicable businessman” over the “lecherous murderer” (Terras handbook 106). She tried to save herself from the pursuits of her previous employer, Svidrigailov, and instead has found herself agreeing to marriage in order to avoid poverty. It is clear that Dunya has been encouraged to marry by a logic not dissimilar to Sonya’s entry to prostitution as the sole support for her father’s family. This image clouds Raskolnikov’s vision when he sees the gentleman lingering on the street as Svidrigailov. The downward spiral that begins with the violation this wandering girl has just survived is not an exclusively female fate; Marmeladov serves as a counterpoint to all of the young women as he too cannot escape the cycle into which he has fallen.

[23] The next “type” Raskolnikov encounters is a young girl accompanied by an organ grinder who, “stood before him on the pavement, dressed like a young lady in a crinoline and short mantle, wearing gloves and a straw hat with a flame-coloured feather; all these things were old and worn out” (Dostoevsky 132). The description of her costume suggests the evils of capitalism and its associated impiety. Janet Tucker’s article on the symbolism of clothing remarks, “Expensive, ostentatious jewelry denotes hoarding as well as sexual predation, and tailor-made summer clothing in Russia suggests ostentatious expenditure. Blatant materialism suggests rampant sexuality” (258). This costume also foreshadows the religious epiphany to come as Tucker notes its astounding similarity to the description in Revelation 17: 4 – 5: “‘And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, and held a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT. THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH’” (quoted in Tucker 255). This ostentatious costume carries its own message of sin and debauchery, compounding the message of use, abuse, and substitution that its condition implies. This costume is a product of the “outside.” Raskolnikov’s own self-denial of clothing has been an unconscious resistance to such an obvious exterior marker. At the genesis of his need to commit his crime however is the need for enough money to get through his studies. The reminder of “exterior” necessities signaled by the detailed description of the girl’s clothing and the invested symbolism of such a costume is yet another mirror reminding Raskolnikov of his own suppressed desire for certain material assets.

[24] This costumed young girl is both anonymous and tired. She wears clothing inherited from her also anonymous predecessor. She is reduced to the position of a monkey, an animal attached to the organ grinder for the amusement of the passers-by. She sings for her supper, her tune obviously in relation to the tips being earned as her voice rises and becomes stronger upon Raskolnikov’s presentation of a five-kopek piece. This girl’s position is then made to seem a favorable one as she is quickly dismissed to make way for the contrasting description of tavern women “most of [whom] had black eyes” (Dostoevsky 134). The young girl with the organ grinder is experiencing just one of the many phases of the desperation that her life will lead to. She may have found her way to the organ grinder by an experience similar to that of the girl spoken of above, and is now in transition, awaiting fate’s cruel blow that will lead her further down the depressing path of the beaten women.

[25] If the reader can assume that the two aforementioned girls are intended to be linked by similar histories, the next episode completes the picture of this “type” of life that slowly comes to completion as the episodes are assembled in Raskolnikov’s mind. The pieces of the mosaic continue to enter Raskolnikov’s field of vision as he witnesses the suicide attempt of a young woman who flings herself into a canal right in front of him.

He felt someone standing beside him, on his right, and looked up; it was a tall woman wearing a kerchief on her head, with a long, yellow, hollow-cheeked face and red-rimmed, sunken eyes. She was looking straight at him, but apparently without seeing him. With an abrupt movement she rested her right hand on the parapet, raised her right foot and threw it over the railing, followed it with her left, and flung herself into the canal. (Dostoevsky 144)

She is dragged out of the river, cheered on by the cries of a woman who knows her and wants her to be saved. The reader is then apprised that this is not the woman’s first suicide attempt, “’not long since she tried to hang herself as well’” the woman tells the crowd (Dostoevsky 145). That statement makes it clear that the girl must have some value to others, but even that logic is disappointing. The girl with the multiple suicide attempts may have found herself forced into the street in the same manner as Sonya, but without the same conviction that the help she provides others is worth the abuse and scorn of her daily existence.

[26] I suggest that all of these young women can be read as necessary catalysts to Raskolnikov’s enlightenment, or as Harriet Murav states in “Reading Woman in Dostoevsky,” “To be the condition of discourse or the limit of discourse is not, however, to be a participant in discourse” (40). The various female bodies are sacrificed to the reality of the city streets as Raskolnikov admits, “Of course he understood that Sonya’s position in society was fortuitous, was an accident, although unfortunately not exceptional or isolated” (Dostoevsky 273). The great social vacuum creates an amoral zone where types exist, yet are not allowed the luxury of choice and experience so often glorified in the ideal of realizing mankind’s capacity to exercise reason and free will. The concept of any one “great” act is petty and even ridiculous when viewed on the grand scale of interchangeable types that inhabit Saint Petersburg. Just as any of the young women above may be interchanged with the other, Raskolnikov realizes that he too may be. Raskolnikov has to face the reality that he is one of these types, not great, but rather, a reflection of the victimized females who surround him.

The Woman Within

[27] Raskolnikov acts out against a representative of the most despicable parts of himself making his act of murder a symbolic suicide, “for his two victims represent the two poles within himself: Alyona – tyrannical ruthlessly grasping for herself; Liza – meek, selflessly doing good for others” (Peace 38-39). Kiremidjian interprets the strike to the pawnbroker’s head as an act by which Raskolnikov attempts to release blocked energy from his own head in an unconscious response to the split between his mind and body: “insofar as the deed is reflexive, Raskolnikov is attacking his own head and trying to break through the energy block which has in a sense already killed him by separating his head from his body” (412). The split that has dominated his thinking and course of action remains unresolved as the destruction of a female body is the opposite of what he needs. He deems his victims despicable because of the weak and socially determined feminine qualities he abhors in himself. The extremes represented by Alyona and Lizaveta, as well as the similarities between Sonya and Dunya are far too integral to Raskolnikov’s personality to be quieted by any one act—even one of double homicide. This is only realized too late. It is only after victimizing women much in the same way that his sister and Sonya are victimized that he faces the fact that he too is not free. He is not above society, he has proven nothing other than the fact that desperation has led him to his own debasement. He is lower and more despicable than a streetwalker or moneylender could ever be. The realization of himself as a damaged victim is the first step towards his acceptance and reconciliation.

[28] This important step is part of his confession to Sonya. Raskolnikov’s confession is an emotional outpouring. In light of Raskolnikov’s own insistence on a mind/body split this confession is more so a feminine display of emotion than a recounting of the events and logic that led to his crime. I suggest that Raskolnikov’s crime can be read at this point as a crime of passion. He proves to himself with his outpouring that his body is an integral part of his being and that he is not dominated by reason alone. The complete failure of the break that he sought to complete with the strike to the pawnbroker’s head becomes clear to him when he offers himself to Sonya just before his confession as he falls to the ground before her and kisses her foot (Dostoevsky 272). His moral decay is finally evident to himself as he faces the utter debasement of his crime.

[29] Raskolnikov’s previous investment in the symbolic slowly unravels in the latter portion of the novel. It is near the end of the work that the female bodies fulfill their necessary functions as counterparts to Raskolnikov. The body of the prostitute that he thought so different from himself is the one who prompts his emotional and spiritual epiphany. His sister Dunya assumes an even more assertive role when she defends herself by shooting Svidrigailov. Dunya accomplishes the gesture that Raskolnikov failed to complete. Rather than attack a symbol, Dunya defends herself from a real predator, a truly dark stain in the social fabric. The female body shows a capacity to fight against such victimization as “Dunya’s capacity for a violent act against Svidrigailov undermines the gendered contraries at the heart of Raskolnikov’s fantasy of male freedom and female bondage” (Straus 32).  Straus states that Raskolnikov “links women with ideas of cowardice, limitation, and victimization, and masculinity with power, money, courage, and the capacity to create victims” and continues by describing how Raskolnikov’s “initial gender essentialism” is inverted through various images of beatings (21-22). This inversion is only a temporary step. The binaries of gender essentialism fall into balance when Raskolnikov’s masculine and feminine bodies find their counterparts.

[30] Raskolnikov’s attraction to Sonya and his attachment to Dunya are alliances by which the feminine part of him cannot be severed. He identifies with the “maimed female” which he has fought to deny in himself and blames society for (Straus 28). Each of the characters he comes into contact with represents some part of himself he does not want to face. On the one hand, he sees those aggressive creatures whom he opines the lowest vermin of society, those who unabashedly take advantage of the weaker members: Alyona, Luzhin and Svidrigailov. On the other hand, are the weak, the victims, those whose situations afford them no sense of pride: Lizaveta, Sonya, Dunya, the nameless waifs encountered in his delirious wanderings, and even Marmeladov. Each of these characters provides a separate instance, similar to the individual tiles of a mosaic which, when viewed up close, are a nonsensical arrangement of broken tiles, yet when viewed from a distance allow the eyes and the mind to assemble and make sense of the whole. As an active participant in this struggle it is far more difficult for Raskolnikov to gain the distance necessary for an objective view. His view, and thus rationale, is clouded by the constant contact with these characters and the thoughts that comprise the daily existence of the poverty-ridden neighborhoods through which he paces.

In Crime and Punishment the reader, as well as Raskolnikov, must struggle to draw his own conclusions from a work which mirrors the refractory and contradictory materials of life itself, with their admixture of the absurd, repulsive, and grotesque. (Gibian 981)

[31] These contradictory elements and the lack of opportunity for distance which entrap the characters into their respective destinies limit their choices, and ultimately dash their hope to exercise free will. Rather, there are only two roads for all the characters involved, not just for Raskolnikov: “a bullet through the brain, or Siberia” (Dostoevsky 423). The reduction of the future to these two equally desperate choices illustrates a victory of degeneration and moral decay. Svidrigailov realizes this and chooses suicide. Raskolnikov takes the road to Siberia. When Sonya follows him, she does not go alone. She carries the lives and stories of all of her “helpers,” her complementary female characters, with her (Stelleman 289).

[32] Amidst all of these frustrations and confusions Razumikhin is also a “helper.” Rather than serve as another mirror, Razumikhin has been a foil to the gender binaries that plague Raskolnikov’s philosophies. Razumikhin has embraced both his mind (as a university companion and an engaged scholar) and the needs of the body (displayed in his attentions to the well-being of his fellow man and his clear attraction to Dunya from their first meeting). Perhaps Razumikhin is the model that Raskolnikov needed all along, but could not acknowledge. Indeed, his generosity and concern for Raskolnikov help highlight the binaries that keep Raskolnikov isolated from others. Evidence of Dostoevsky’s awareness of homosexuality offer that possibility as well as further contradict Raskolnikov’s essentialism (Fusso 45). As such, Razumikhin’s instant attraction for Dunya is a simple solution—his attraction to Raskolnikov is safely transferred to Raskolnikova. The epilogue then tells the reader of Dunya’s marriage to Razumikhin. When Razumikhin marries Dunya, he completes the collapse of the male and female sides of Rodion Romanovich. The parallel couplings of Raskolnikov and Sonya, Razumikhin and Dunya provide a broad scope of shattered gender binaries. It is only with an objective view of this final mosaic that Raskolnikov comes to terms with all aspects of himself, and most importantly, the woman within.

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