Symbols in Crime and Punishment
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.