Analysis Pages

Symbols in Crime and Punishment

The Haymarket: This location serves as a recurring symbol throughout the novel. The Haymarket is a seedy location in St. Petersburg, filled with taverns, cheap vendors, and citizens of ill-repute. Raskolnikov, Sonya, and, later on Svidrigailov, all conduct business or have meetings here. The market serves as a meeting place for many of the major events within the novel. It seems to have an almost supernatural pull as Raskolnikov unintentionally finds himself there multiple times. This suggests that the Haymarket is a symbol for the tension between fate and freewill present throughout the novel. Furthermore, the chaos, criminality, and disorder of the Haymarket serve as an external representation for the struggles that Raskolnikov faces.

Yellow: The color yellow serves as a recurring symbol for corruption throughout the novel. Dostoevsky uses this color as an adjective for everything from people, to possessions, to the general atmosphere: the drunk at the inn is “yellow with age”; Sonya’s yellow passport represents her transition to prostitution; the pawnbroker’s room is bathed in yellow light while Raskolnikov looks at what he has done.

Symbols Examples in Crime and Punishment:

Part I - Chapter I

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"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.

"drap de dames..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

"a woman's shawl" [French]: This green shawl has significance in the story of Marmeladov's family, with Sonia using it to cover herself on the first night she returned from prostituting herself.

"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.

"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.

"Sofya Semyonovna has been forced to take a yellow ticket..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

Marmeladov's daughter, Sofya (Sonia) Semyonovna no longer lives with the rest of the family since the landlady, Leppeveschel, evicted her upon learning the girl had resorted to prostitution. Sonia did this in part due to the advice of Marmeladov's second wife, Katerina Ivanovna, and Sonia continues to sacrifice her own body for the sake of Marmeladov's family. We soon learn that Sonia now rents a room from a man named Kapernaumov.

"a yellowish glass filled with yellow water..."   (Part II - Chapter I)

Recall how Dostoevsky has been using the color yellow throughout the novel. Even though the water in St. Petersburg during this time came primarily from rivers and canals and would have a yellowish hue, the use of the color here has a direct connection to Raskolnikov fainting from hearing the police discuss the crime. The yellow glass and water offered to him are subtle reminders of the moral decay and guilt that he is succumbing to.

"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.

"Yes…I'm covered with blood..."   (Part II - Chapter VII)

This is the second time that Raskolnikov has had blood on him. In both instances, the blood symbolized different things. Whereas the blood of the pawnbroker symbolizes his corruption and sin, the blood of Marmeladov represents a kind of transition towards redemption because of Raskolnikov's willingness to sacrifice his own money for the sake of Marmeladov's family.

"The service was over...."   (Part II - Chapter VII)

Marmeladov's death and the small ceremony with the priest serve as a pivotal moment in Raskolnikov's story. The symbolism of Marmeladov's blood alludes to the blood that Jesus Christ shared with his disciples as an act of communion. This moment with Marmeladov and his family is an opportunity for Raskolnikov to experience communion and seek forgiveness for his crimes and purpose for his life.

"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.

"He tried to scream and woke up...."   (Part III - Chapter VI)

This is the third symbolic dream that Raskolnikov has had in the story. Here, he tries to repeatedly kill the pawnbroker to prove that he is extraordinary. The laughter and her inability to die in the dream symbolically demonstrate his impotence and how the pawnbroker has become a kind of embodiment of his conscience. Additionally, the laughter shows how Raskolnikov's actions are connected to others--he does not exist in a moral vacuum--which further demonstrates how "ordinary" he is. He has become a prisoner of his own mind, unable to be freed from his guilt.

"yellow..."   (Part IV - Chapter IV)

Dostoevsky's symbol for sin and corruption, the color yellow again appears in the story--this time, in Sonia's apartment. Considering her profession as a prostitute, the color yellow here reminds readers of the sinfulness of her work.

"the certificate of merit..."   (Part V - Chapter V)

Marmeladov first mentioned this certificate earlier in the story, and its mysterious reappearance here serves as a reminder of Katerina Ivanovna's former life.

"a yellow note..."   (Part VI - Chapter III)

While this was the color of certain rouble notes at the time, the choice of a yellow note is deliberate on Dostoevsky's part. Yellow has symbolized corruption and sin throughout the novel, and in this moment, we see how it is directly associated with Svidrigaïlov, his money, and his choices. Dostoevsky likely does this to further suggest that we mistrust Svidrigaïlov's intentions.

"yellow..."   (Part VI - Chapter VI)

The way Dostoevsky sets this word apart with two em dashes further emphasizes the general state of decay and corruption in the room. Yellow has pervaded much of the story, and in this moment, Svidrigailov finds himself completely surrounded by it, which readers will find creates a direct association with his character and yellow's representation of sin.

"There was a roar of laughter...."   (Part VI - Chapter VIII)

Raskolnikov recalls Sonia's words and falls to the earth in the Haymarket. However, he is unable to confess, and the people think that he is simply a drunk. The Haymarket represents moral degradation in this moment despite Raskolnikov's desire to go confess and "come clean" about his crime.

"the family shawl...."   (Part VI - Chapter VIII)

The green shawl has appeared at several key points in the story, making it an important symbol associated with suffering: Sonia wore it after her first night of prostitution; Katerina Ivanovna wore it before seeking justice when her family is evicted from their home; she wore it when her children were begging on the street; and with Katerina Ivanovna's death, the shawl passed to Sonia.

"I have come for your cross, Sonia...."   (Part VI - Chapter VIII)

The small, Christian cross that Sonia has symbolizes his willingness to confess the crime. However, notice that Raskolnikov appears to be doing it because he feels he cannot avoid the authorities anymore rather than confessing to God so that he can begin the process of redemption.

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