Space In Crime And Punishment

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An author's descriptions of space can illuminate more about a story than just the setting and tone. In Crime and Punishment (1866), Fyodor Dostoevsky fills St. Petersburg with richly described buildings, streets, weather, and people which lend to the dark, melancholy tone of the novel and help the reader visualize the setting. As Figes writes, “Petersburg defied the natural order,” its artificiality morphing the Russian people toward a more European way of life. However, “even the Nevsky, the most European of [Tsar Peter’s] avenues, was undone by a ‘Russian’ crookedness,” an organic dent in the armor of the purposefully streamlined, inorganic design of the city. Thus, Dostoevsky’s descriptions of setting and character reveal a use of space…show more content…
He uses descriptions of spaces in St. Petersburg to morph protagonist Raskolnikov’s mind and his surroundings into an indistinguishable amalgamation of confusion and claustrophobia, showing the Westernized city’s stifling effect on the internal workings of a traditional Russian man bombarded by new ideas. Dostoevsky focuses on St. Petersburg on the scale of individual rooms as opposed to full cityscapes. This use of space is most evident in his repeated descriptions of the cramped living quarters which act as barriers to Raskolnikov’s achievement of his full potential. At many points in the novel, Raskolnikov appears stuck in his own mind as well as in his physical space. The first description of his living-quarters immediately conveys this feeling of entrapment: “His closet was located just under the roof of a tall, five-storied house, and was more like a cupboard than a room.” Dostoevsky repeatedly refers to Raskolnikov’s apartment as a closet or other such small enclosure. As others learn of his crime, and guilt closes in on Raskolnikov’s conscience, his dwelling shrinks in proportion. For example, after Dunya receives a letter from Svidrigailov, Raskolnikov becomes paranoid that she…show more content…
Petersburg is a labyrinthine city whose streets mirror the maze-like jumble of thoughts ever-present in Raskolnikov’s mind and work to remove his sense of free will. Whenever Raskolnikov leaves a small space, such as his apartment, or someone else’s apartment building, he loses the ability to navigate from one place to another in an ordinary fashion of his own free will. His feet take him places he does not consciously intend to go. For example, Dostoevsky writes, as Raskolnikov walks home through the Haymarket as opposed to by a more direct route, “it had happened to him dozens of times that he would return home without remembering what streets he had taken.” The streets, like the new utilitarian ideas, are inorganic and have a tendency to discombobulate the pedestrian protagonist. Raskolnikov’s ability or inability to navigate through St. Petersburg directly correlates with his present mental stability. When he feels confident and clear-minded, he walks from location to location exactly as he intends and the rambling streets do not impede him. The opposite is true when he feels out of control. In another instance, Raskolnikov makes the semi-conscious decision to avoid going to the police station: “having reached his first turn, he stopped, thought, went down the side street, and made a detour through two more streets — perhaps without any purpose, or perhaps to delay for at least another minute and gain time.” Here, the turns and alleys of St.
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