Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Course Hero, "Crime and Punishment Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed July 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Crime-and-Punishment/.

Crime and Punishment | Symbols

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Garret

Raskolnikov's garret represents his poverty, as well as his alienation, arrogance, and claustrophobic state of mind. The tiny fifth-floor room is messy and cramped; he cannot stand up straight in it or stride across it. It has little light or air. The room's location at the top of the house also represents the heights from which he views nearly everything and everyone around him, looking down in contempt at others. His self-imposed isolation in the room allows him to plot obsessively the murders he commits.

Cross

A symbol of Christianity, Christ's death, and salvation, the cross represents both faith and suffering. Displaying the cross can be a sincere or hollow gesture. Alyona's faith is hollow. She wears two crosses but lacks any Christian compassion. Raskolnikov uses the sign of the cross to trick her into believing his tightly wrapped package is a more valuable object to pawn, distracting her with greed and providing him the opportunity to kill her. Nikolay, the house painter, trades his cross for a drink, symbolically rejecting his religion before he tries to commit suicide. Sonia gives Raskolnikov a cross before he confesses, symbolizing both the burden of their shared suffering and the redemption promised by surrendering to faith. By accepting Sonia's cross, Raskolnikov begins the process of acknowledging his burden of responsibility and accepting the suffering of his punishment.

Napoleon

Rising to power in the wake of the French Revolution, Napoleon conquered most of Europe and achieved the title of emperor in the service of personal ambition. Although his military campaigns killed hundreds of thousands, he was regarded through most of the 19th century as a great leader. Raskolnikov uses him as a prime example of the "extraordinary man" who is so brilliant and daring he has the right to shed blood. Raskolnikov's crime is an attempt to be this kind of man, but he conveniently forgets the crimes of which Napoleon was guilty and the exile in which he spent his final years.

Lazarus

In a story from the New Testament of the Bible, Christ brings Lazarus back to life after he has been dead for days. Sonia reads the story to Raskolnikov on his first visit to her room. The two main excerpts she reads focus on Lazarus's sister's declaration of faith in Christ as the son of God, an important prerequisite to raising Lazarus from the dead. Raskolnikov is fascinated by this story, bringing it up more than once—even declaring his literal belief in it to Porfiry, despite wavering on religion in general. The story of Lazarus promises new life through faith.

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