Importance of St. Petersburg in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment
Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment explores the dangerous effects of St. Petersburg, a malignant city, on the psyche of the impoverished student Raskolnikov. In this novel, Petersburg is more than just a backdrop. The city plays a central role in the development of the characters and the actions that they take. Raskolnikov survives in one of the cramped, dark spaces that are characteristic of Petersburg. These spaces are like coffins; they suffocate Raskolnikov's mind. St. Petersburg creates a grotesque environment in which Raskolnikov can not only create the "Overman Theory," but he can also carry it out by murdering a pawnbroker in cold blood, then justify his actions with the belief that society will be better off without her. Raskolnikov finds no relief outside of his cramped room; the Petersburg climate is just as oppressive to the psyche as the cramped space of Raskolnikov’s room. Not only is the outside air dangerous; it forces him to find relief in the devil’s tavern. While wandering the infernal streets of St. Petersburg, Raskolnikov enters the devil’s realm in the form of Petersburg taverns. These are evil places, where treacherous ideas of robbery and murder circulate. Raskolnikov overhears the twisted idea to kill the pawnbroker inside one of these infested taverns.
The malignant nature of the spaces in Petersburg allows Raskolnikov to embrace the Overman Theory and the Arithmetic of Morality. Raskolnikov justifies killing the pawnbroker because he concludes that it is rational, just, and pure arithmetic. One person must die so that the lives of numerous others may be saved. The Arithmetic of Morality appears logical to Raskolnikov because it seems that if given the choice between saving one man and saving a hundred, you would choose to save the hundred. According to the Overman Theory, extraordinary people have the responsibility to transgress the laws of society to bring about a greater good. Raskolnikov applies the Arithmetic of Morality to the Overman Theory, and he concludes that an extraordinary person is the one who should save the hundred people, even if he has to commit murder in the process. Raskolnikov’s cramped, isolated spaces allow him to not only accept these theories as true, but he is able to take them a step further in believing that he is one of these extraordinary people. The spaces that Raskolnikov inhabits close in on him; the physical spaces restrict his body. This tears apart his psyche. Just as he cannot escape the grotesque spaces in Petersburg to find solitude, Raskolnikov’s ideas continue to bounce around in his mind until he has thought about them so much that they make sense. The ideas become so distorted in this process that it is possible for Raskolnikov to convince himself that he is an Overman, an extraordinary person. This implies that in the greater interest of society he is obligated to commit murder.