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Literary Devices in Crime and Punishment

In addition to metaphors, similes, and others, one of the more notable literary devices that Dostoevsky employs is the use of an omniscient, third-person point of view. While readers are largely limited to Raskolnikov’s inner thoughts, this use of perspective provides readers with intimate perspective on the relationships between Raskolnikov and others, emphasizing both the internal and external conflicts he faces.

Literary Devices Examples in Crime and Punishment:

Part I - Chapter I

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"he thought, with an odd smile..."   (Part I - Chapter I)

Dostoevsky utilizes an omniscient perspective, and we get special access to the thoughts of several of the characters in the story. These view points provide an intimate relationship between the readers and several of the main characters, most notably Raskolnikov.

"yellow with age..."   (Part I - Chapter I)

The color yellow has strong symbolic significance and meaning throughout this story that Dostoevsky continually builds on. In this instance, the description of the old woman portrays a very mean spirited, dirty woman, whose skin has yellowed with age, suggesting that she is not only unhealthy, but she is also spiritually corrupted. Also notice the soon-to-come description of her room.

"like a cupboard than a room...."   (Part I - Chapter I)

The use of this simile (a figure of speech comparing two unlike things and often introduced by like or as) helps provide a better understanding of how small the young man's room actually is.

"Image of the Beast and with his mark..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

The "Image of the Beast" is an allusion to the Book of Revelations and refers to the sign of the antichrist in the Christian religion. Being made in this image, as opposed to in God's image, suggests that the person possesses sinful qualities and is undeserving of Heaven's reward of life after death.

"wax before the face of the Lord; even as wax melteth!..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

This line is an allusion to the Biblical book of Psalms 68:2. Marmeladov uses this reference to emphasize the good qualities of Ivan Afanasyvitch, who, as we shortly learn, was willing to financially assist Marmeladov--hence the praise of his character.

"yellow passport..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

The implication here is that his daughter engages in prostitution and that this yellow "passport" is a yellow-colored document that serves as an alternative form of identification and also allows her to legally work as a prostitute. Notice here the association between yellow, which Dostoevsky uses to denote contamination, age, decay, etc., and prostitution.

"Sonia wants pomatum too,..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

Raskolnikov recalls what Marmeladov told him earlier about Sonia needing certain things--like shoes, dresses, and hair gel--for her job as a prostitute. Raskolnikov recalls this as he processes the story he's heard and the actions he's witnessed. The continuing conversation Raskolnikov has with himself is characteristic of the stream-of-consciousness point of view that Dostoevsky uses for his main character.

"yellow..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

Notice how Dostoevsky continues to include the color yellow in descriptions of people and objects. Marmeladov's face is yellow, and his daughter's ticket and passports are yellow. All of these represent the author's use of yellow as a color of impurity or corruption.

"even ascribed it to presentiment...."   (Part I - Chapter II)

Raskolnikov thinks about this impression later as a presentiment, a sign or feeling, that something is going to happen. Dostoevsky uses this line to indicate to the readers the importance of this meeting between Raskolnikov and not-yet-named clerk.

"HE WAKED UP LATE next day after a broken sleep...."   (Part I - Chapter III)

While we have yet to encounter the reason for it, guilt becomes the most important theme in the novel. Notice how sleep, particularly Raskolnikov's lack of sleep, is used by Dostoevsky to show the impact of guilt on the human conscience.

"R—...."   (Part I - Chapter III)

Another example of censorship in the 19th century included using an — (em dash) to strike out the names of specific locations. This was done to avoid potential libel against cities or areas in publications.

"like a tortoise in its shell..."   (Part I - Chapter III)

The purpose of this simile is to not only inform the readers that Raskolnikov has retreated away from everyone physically, but that he has also begun to do so mentally. This latter retreat in particular has helped to develop the crime he is contemplating as well as his antisocial behavior.

"As though it had been lying in wait for him on purpose!..."   (Part I - Chapter V)

By "Later on..." at the start of this paragraph, Dostoevsky relates the thoughts that Raskolnikov has much later in his life regarding this moment in time. He realizes that there was no reason for him to go home through the Hay Market, and he somewhat attributes this choice to it being predestined for him. This creates a sense of foreboding, as if the crime he intends to commit is outside of his control.

"At that instant the sunlight fell on his left boot..."   (Part II - Chapter I)

Recall how Dostoevsky has used the color yellow in the novel. Sunlight is traditionally represented as a yellow ray, and in this moment it shines on the evidence of his crime to show Raskolnikov his sin and corruption.

"Are you afraid of having let out some secret?..."   (Part II - Chapter III)

This question directly addresses Raskolnikov's fears: that in his delirium, he partially confessed to the murder. This statement is an example of dramatic irony because Razumihin doesn't grasp the meaning of this question, but Raskolnikov and the audience do.

"Why, because everything fits too well..."   (Part II - Chapter IV)

Zossimov's words are an example of dramatic irony. He states that Razumihin's theory can't be the truth because it's too melodramatic, or sensationalized. However, the two of them don't know that what Razumihin is saying is the actual truth.

"I am telling you Dushkin's story...."   (Part II - Chapter IV)

Razumihin feels obligated to interject here and state that when he says "I" he is speaking for Dushkin and not himself. Dostoevsky likely included this detail to show that those listening to Razumihin's story might have been a little confused about who was speaking to whom.

"I dare say when it came to deeds you'd make a slip...."   (Part II - Chapter VI)

Zametov's statement here is an example of dramatic irony. Readers know that Raskolnikov completely messed up the murder of the pawnbroker; however, Zametov is unaware of Raskolnikov's murder and the truth of this statement. Notice how Raskolnikov takes this quite personally.

"the three fishes that are the foundation of the world..."   (Part III - Chapter I)

In conjunction with “thrice accursed yesterday” in the first paragraph of the next chapter, Dostoevsky seems to be alluding to the Trinity, the religious symbol that groups God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Groupings of three are common throughout literature and in Crime and Punishment.

"Dounia wondered...."   (Part III - Chapter III)

Readers may have noticed that with the arrival of Raskolnikov's family, Dostoevsky has expanded his powers of narration to include their thoughts in addition to Raskolnikov's. This strategy allows him to more fully explore the issues that this family is dealing with in trying to understand their current situation.

"What next, you fiend!..."   (Part III - Chapter IV)

Razumihin is likely embarrassed about Raskonikov noticing his feelings for Dounia. Raskolnikov is sarcastically teasing and taunting Razumihin for a specific purpose, and we know that it's not in good fun based on how upset Razumihin gets at Raskolnikov's "playful" suggestions.

"What a simple-hearted fool he is!..."   (Part III - Chapter IV)

Despite the quotation marks, this is not said out loud. Dostoevsky has Raskolnikov engage in internal monologue as well as dialogue with Razumihin so that readers will learn more about how gullible Raskolnikov considers Razumihin to be.

"But perhaps it was Raskolnikov's fancy, for it all lasted but a moment...."   (Part III - Chapter V)

The description of Porfiry's facial expressions above are either being related to us through Raskolnikov's point of view or through Dostoevsky as an omniscient narrator. However, Dostoevsky deliberates uses this ambiguity to make it unclear for the readers to know if Porfiry actually does have knowledge of Raskolnikov's crime at this point, which adds to the tension of the scene.

"WHEN HE REMEMBERED the scene afterwards..."   (Part IV - Chapter VI)

Notice how Dostoevsky starts this chapter. He manipulates time to give the impression that Raskolnikov only remembered what happened later after the fact. This gives readers the impression that Raskolnikov was not in a healthy state of mind during these events, and he was only able to understand what happened later.

"in fact played my part not badly...."   (Part VI - Chapter IV)

This is a good example of an understatement. Svidrigaïlov means to say that he played the role perfectly, but instead he uses a more humbling construction to try and make his behavior seem less impressive. He appears to place great emphasis on proper behavior despite being a sinful and lustful man.

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