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Symbolism in Crime and Punishment

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As one of the most prolific writers of the 19th century, Fyodor Dostoevsky incorporates a number of complex symbols into his writing, each of which has the ability to represent a number of deep political, social, and religious issues. In Crime and Punishment, the number of symbols might be limited, but their meaning is equally profound. Symbolism in Crime and  PunishmentTwo of the most notable symbols in Crime and Punishment are:

  1. The city of St. Petersburg
  2. The cross given to Raskolnikov
  3. The color red

The clearest symbol in the novel is that of the city of St. Petersburg. As Dostoevsky describes the city, it is dirty, crowded, and crime-ridden. The most inhumane of behaviors are on display for all to see, including rampant drunkenness, domestic violence, and extreme poverty. This chaos is symbolic of the mental state of the main character, Raskolnikov. As he is transitioning from a delirious state to one of confession and redemption, one can only hope the city itself will undergo a similar transformation. While history has taught us of the reformed nature of Russian society in this period of time, the reader of this novel is left waiting to see if the decay and disorder rights itself, as in the main character’s experiences.

While the city of St. Petersburg is a large symbol that comes to represent a wide swatch of the story, there is an equally important symbol in a small item: the cross given to Raskolnikov before he goes to confession. As with any usage of this symbol, the cross is a reference to redemption, given by Jesus Christ for those who believed in him and taken advantage of by the main character of the novel when he reaches out for confession. The hope that he can redeem himself with a host of personal changes is something the reader can only imagine, just as the redemption of the city of St. Petersburg is something the reader can only hope for.

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