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Crime and Punishment

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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How does Dostoevsky use literary techniques in part I, chapter 1 of Crime and Punishment to portray Raskolnikov's relationship to his setting and his sense of not belonging?

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In chapter one of Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky uses the literary device of point of view to allow the reader to see Raskolnikov's incompatibility with his setting. His use of a third-person omniscient narrator gives readers an insight into Raskolnikov's superior physical appearance and education, which make him view his surroundings and its citizens as repulsive, thus highlighting his character traits of pride and arrogance.

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In chapter one, Dostoevsky uses a third-person omniscient narrator to achieve the dual purposes of helping the reader understand the characterization of Raskolnikov and the setting in which he lives. Although Raskolnikov's poverty and desperation seem to fit in with the destitution and uncleanliness of the setting, which is described as having an "insufferable stench" where "dust [is] all about," the narrator relays vital information concerning Raskolnikov's physical appearance and inner thoughts that help the reader infer he perceives himself superior to the people and environment that surround him. The narrator hints that part of what separates Raskolnikov from his environment is his physical attractiveness. The reader is made aware of the fact that Raskolnikov is "exceptionally handsome," even though he is wearing rags due to his poverty.

However, the narrator also emphasizes Raskolnikov's feelings of separation from society by disclosing Raskolnikov's inner thoughts. As a result, the reader is given insight into Raskolnikov's inner sense of pride and arrogance. For example, he considers himself above the "trivial irrelevant gossip" of his landlady and the unrefined setting of the town and the people in it. The third-person omniscient narrator reinforces Raskolnikov’s trait of self-righteousness when he mentions that Raskolnikov walks through the streets with "an expression of the profoundest disgust" and that the sight of the people and town create feelings in him of "bitterness.” He also reveals that Raskolnikov was a former student, which also makes him seem out of place in an environment filled with working-class people who are mostly uneducated. Finally, the narrator mentions that when Raskolnikov decides to stop in for a drink at a local tavern, he initially scorns it. He relays that this is Raskolnikov’s first entrance into a tavern, leading the reader to infer that Raskolnikov finds the immorality and degenerate behavior of the tavern's inhabitants despicable.

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