An Analysis of Descriptive Techniques in Crime and Punishment, a Novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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In the novel Crime and Punishment, the Russian author Feodor Dostoevsky implements certain narrative techniques which aid greatly in accurately portraying the lives, surroundings, physical characteristics and hardships of protagonist Rodya Raskolnikov, as well as the rest of the lower class in St. Petersburg where the story is set. In addition to simply depicting the bustle of the Russian suburbs, Dostoevsky will often insert select words which serve the purpose of further indicating the tone of the passage or a specific mood that he is trying to convey. Dostoevsky also has a unique style of melding the meanings of character names with the natures and behaviors of their corresponding characters. Dostoevsky often does not overtly indicate thorough description the psychological characteristics of some characters. Instead, the reader is left to infer this from the meaning of the character’s name. These narrative styles appear immediately at the beginning of the novel and continue throughout the novel.

The first chapter of the novel begins with the following paragraph: “Towards the end of a sultry afternoon early July a young man came out of his little room in Stolyarny Lane and turned slowly and somewhat irresolutely in the direction of Kamenny Bridge” (1). The narrator includes descriptive words such as “sultry” and “irresolutely”. The word “sultry” appoints a rather somber tone to the entire paragraph, as well as accurately portrays the current weather in the populated city setting at this point in time. Meanwhile, the word “irresolutely”, referring to the protagonist Raskolnikov, is the first indication of his indecisive nature, as well as his general self-unawareness. Dostoevsky uses these single profound adjectives to elicit the dreary and lackluster feel in the opening scene of the novel.

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When one deconstructs the names of characters in the novel such as Raskolnikov and Razumikhin, one finds that their names have definite meanings. Dostoevsky intended for these meanings to correlate directly with the traits of their corresponding characters. For example, the prefix “raskol” from the name of the protagonist Raskolnikov, when translated into Russian, translates into a schism or split. Likewise, the reader sees that Raskolnikov exhibits highly ambiguous actions and behavior which indicate his mental instability and indecisiveness, or even that he has split personalities. An example of Raskolnikov’s ambiguity appears in Chapter IV of Part I when Raskolnikov encounters an elderly man following, and possibly attempting to rape a drunken young woman. Raskolnikov finds a policeman and offers him a sum of money for his help in subduing the old man. Soon after, Raskolnikov suddenly urges for the policeman not to help the situation saying, “‘Stop! What is it to you? Drop it! Let him amuse himself!’ (he pointed at the gentleman). ‘What business it is of yours?'” (42). Just before this passage, Raskolnikov acts upon a desire to help and prevent a potentially tragic situation. However, his highly indecisive attitude forces his willingness to help to abruptly cease.

Another example of Dostoevsky’s use of hidden meaning within character names is the meaning of the name Razumikhin. The name Razumikhin translates roughly into reason and good sense. Likewise, the character Razumikhin demonstrates good judgment when helping his dear friend Raskolnikov when some people begin to gain some suspicion that he may be guilty of committing the murder if Alyona Ivanovna. When the maid Nastasya and the doctor Zossimov begin to make inquisitive comments pertaining to the old woman’s murder, Ruzimikhin, knowing that Raskolnikov is guilty of the murder, suggests some things to divert their suspicion away from Raskolnikov. Because of Razumikhin’s quick thinking and good logic, he is able to keep Raskolnikov from being suspected of the murder for the time being.

While Dostoevsky uses a number of useful and clever narrative techniques, his methods of portraying dialogue are questionable. He often does not specify which character is speaking. Instead, he leaves the reader to infer from the context of the dialogue which character is speaking. Although it can be argued that this narrative method more realistically simulates conversation, it produces some issues with analyzing the text.

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An Analysis of Descriptive Techniques in Crime and Punishment, a Novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. (2023, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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