Crime and Punishment


Many great literary works emerge from a writer's experiences. Through The Crucible, Arthur Miller unleashes his fears and disdain towards the wrongful accusations of McCarthyism. Not only does Ernest Hemmingway present the horrors he witnessed in World War I in his novel, A Fair Well to Arms, he also addresses his disillusionment of war and that of the expatriates. Another writer who brings his experiences into the pages of a book is Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Faced with adversity and chronic financial problems, he lived as a struggling writer in St. Petersburg, a city stricken with poverty. Dostoyevsky's novel, Crime and Punishment, ingeniously illustrates the blatant destitution that plagued the city of St. Petersburg in nineteenth century. Throughout Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky reveals how this destitution victimizes two main female characters, Sofia Semionovna Marmeladov and Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov. In a poverty stricken St. Petersburg, many drunkards scourge the local taverns to satiate their desolation. One such out-of-work government clerk, Zakharych Semyon Marmeladov, lingers in the taverns relinquishing every penny to alcohol. Marmeladov's inability to maintain a job causes his family to live as indigents. The lack of money essentially leaves Sofia Semionovna, the daughter of Marmeladov, in a vulnerable position. Although Sonia is an "honorable girl . . .[she] has no special talents" (Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky [New York: Penguin Group, 1968] 27). With no steady income flowing into the family's pockets, Sonia's three younger stepsiblings cry of hunger. In response to the cries, Katherine Ivanovna, Sonia's stepmother, introduces the idea of harlotry to Sonia. Consequently, Sonia "puts on her cape and kerchief and leaves the apartment" (28). As she re-enters later, she "walk[s] straight up to Katherine Ivanovna, and quietly put[s] thirty rubles on the table" (28). In order to quiet "the weeping of [the] hungry children," Sonia turns to a life of prostitution as a means of supporting her family (28). After tainting her body, "she [does] not utter a word[;] she [does] not even look" (28). "She [hides] her head and face in [a wool shawl] and [lies] down on the bed with her face to the wall" (28). Poverty leads her to corrupt her innocence and victimizes her by stripping her of her "treasure" (28). Not only does poverty rob Sonia of her purity, it also robs her of her family when she has to "register as a prostitute and carry the yellow ticket" (28). Since she carries the yellow ticket, the Marmeladovs' landlady no longer permits her to live in the building, and Sonia, ultimately, resides in an apartment which she shares with "the poorest kind of people" (29). Her marker restricts her from visiting her family at any given time, and "it's mostly after dark . . . Sonia comes to [them]" (29). Even though Mr. Lebeziatnikov, a tenant in the Marmeladovs' apartment building, attempts to "get at Sonia himself," he later reproaches himself and asks, "How can a man as enlightened as myself live in the same rooms with the likes of that?" (29). In the same likeness, Peter Petrovich Luzhin, a corporate lawyer, indulges Sonia with lectures of hand kisses and the French workers' associations and proclaims that he "like[s] the girl a lot . . . [and] no one [treats] her more politely and considerably than [he does], or [has] greater respect for her dignity" (360), yet, he accuses her later at her father's funeral feast of stealing "a government-accredited band note of the value of one hundred rubles" (381). He even boldly states "that a man of [his] experience would not have taken the risk of accusing [Sonia] so directly if [he] were not quite convinced" of her guilt (381). Although Luzhin declares that "it was poverty that drove Sofia Semionovna to this," Katherine Ivanovna laments on Sonia's behalf and begins explaining how "she [only] took a yellow ticket because the children were wasting away from hunger-she sold herself for us" (385). Only when Andrey Semionovich Lebeziatnikov, Luzhin's roommate, defends Sonia do her cries hold any credence over that of the experienced man. Though Sonia becomes a prostitute to support her family, the stigma attached to the profession still clings to her, and she is shunned despite her noble intentions. Similarly, Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov, Rodion Romanovna Raskolnikov's sister, also faces victimization on account of her penury. Dunia, another woman in Crime and Punishment who