Crime & Punishment: Mapping Ambiguity


Raskolnikov’s flat

Sonia’s flat

Police station

Police bureau

other estimated locations

other anomalies

Spatial ambiguities in Crime and Punishment can be divided into three types:
1) Locations for which two or more possible prototypes can be identified (paired/tripled markers in black, brown, and blues);
2) Locations which are unspecified but can be determined from textual or extra-textual details (grey);
3) spatial anomalies, where the topography described in the text is inconsistent with that of the city (red).

Multiple prototypes

Dostoevky frequently uses more than one identifiable prototype for locations in his works, multiplying or fragmenting the characters to distance the text from concrete reality and emphasize that the Petersburg of Crime and Punishment is an imagined, not a real city. This form of multiplication can be interpreted in various ways. For example, the use of multiple possible locations also relates to the concept of space as possibility and chance, as expressed both literally and metaphorically by the crossroads (an important image in the novel), which presents choices and the potential for alternative outcomes.

Spatial connections

When places are described but not specified, but it is frequently possible to work out where they are to a reasonable degree of accuracy from details in the text. but such descriptions frequently have another function, establishing spatial connections between otherwise unconnected characters and situations. In particular, the places associated with Marmeladov – where he lives (12), and where he meets Raskolnikov (9) – are defined in relation to Raskolnikov’s visits to the pawnbroker’s: he meets Marmeladov after his ‘rehearsal’; and he sees the accident and goes to help after his return to the crime scene.
The anomaly indicated by no. 4 – the only real breakdown in topographical logic in the novel – points to another form of spatial connection. In this scene, Svidrigailov, having just stepped out of a carriage on the North side of the canal, approaches the bridge moments later from the South side, where he cannot possibly be. Rather than being an error, it appears that Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov have changed places mid-scene; the spiritual connection between them here takes on a spatial form. When Svidrigailov then repeats part of Raskolnikov’s walk from part 1, over Tuchkov bridge to the Petersburg side, and considers going to Petrovskii Island, where Raskolnikov had his dream of the horse, this spatial connection between them is reiterated.