Essay, Research Paper: Crime And Punishment

Literature: Arthur Miller

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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 is trying to provide for her family, accepts a job in the
Svidrigailov household. With one hundred rubles as an advance on her salary,
Dunia intends on sending sixty to her brother Rodion. In time, Mr. Svidrigailov
advances on Dunia with a faзade perpetrating "a number of jokes and
discourtesies at her expense," all the while, concealing a "motive for
his deplorable behavior" and a deep passion for Dunia (41). When Martha
Petrovna, Mr. Svidrigailov's wife, heard him "proposition Dunia directly,
shamelessly, promising her all sorts of things" (41), she,
"misinterpreting . . . blamed Dunia for everything" (42). Insulted by
both husband and wife, Dunia becomes the scandal of the town as Martha Petrovna
blackens her name, spreading the story even throughout the whole district. Even
though both husband and wife acknowledge their injustices towards Dunia, their
endeavors to rectify their offenses only serve to cause Dunia more grief. Along
with Martha Petrovna's venture to vindicate Dunia's name comes the marriage
proposal to Martha Petrovna's distance relative Peter Petrovich Luzhin, a court
councilor. Even though Luzhin appears to be "an extremely worthy man"
during the first few meetings between him and Dunia (44), he desires a woman
"who would consider him all her life as her savior, would admire, submit
to, and venerate him" (302). With vainglorious intentions, Luzhin looks at
Dunia as a woman who "would be slavishly grateful to him all her life
because he was heroic, and she would belittle herself reverently before him,
while he enjoyed complete and unlimited power over her" (302). Rodion's
determined apprehension towards Luzhin finally convinces Dunia that "he was
such a despicable man," and she "turn[s] pale and frown[s] as she
remember[s]" the marriage that might have taken place (303). Dunia avoids
the enormous calamity of going through with the marriage plans with Luzhin;
nevertheless, she stills find herself entwined in another trap of an aggressor
when she encounters Svidrigailov once again in St. Petersburg. Svidrigailov
believes that Dunia may be bought with money; he even approaches Rodion, her
brother, and offers him ten thousand rubles. Although Raskolnikov refuses for
Svidrigailov to simply approach her, Dunia allows herself to be talked into
going to his apartment by Svidrigailov. "He led Avdotia Romanovna back to
his own living room and asked her to sit down," and "the isolated
location of Svidrigailov's apartment [strikes] her at last" (471).
Svidrigailov divulges Dunia's brother's secret about murdering the pawnbroker,
Alyona Ivanova, and her sister, Lizaveta Ivanovna, then he traps Dunia in his
apartment. Advancing at her with taunts of submissive rape and controlling the
fate of loved ones in her life, he leaves Dunia with only one choice,
"suddenly, she [draws] a revolver from her pocket, cock[s] it" (477).
Although "the bullet [only] graze[s] his hair" and misses Svidrigailov,
Dunia finally resolves not to be a victim anymore and puts her fate into her own
hands by attempting to shoot Svidrigailov. Dostoyevsky portrays Sonia and Dunia
as two women limited in resources, setting them in a position that makes them
vulnerable. Providing for their families dominates above all other goals each
might have set for herself. Even though their poverty allows them to become
victims, it also gives them courage to escape from victimization. Although they
face adversity and obstacles, Sonia and Dunia, both, overcome these tribulations
with love as a savior. Ironically, Sonia, who only feels the touch of lust as a
prostitute, finds Rodion whose heart is also tainted. Dunia who only knows of
the obsession of Svidrigailov finds Razumihin, Rodion's friend.
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