Economic Gender in Crime and Punishment

Brian R. Johnson, University of Wisconsin - Madison

From his writings in The Diary of a Writer, we know that Dostoevsky was concerned with what he viewed as the disintegration of the family, what he termed the “sluchainoe semeistvo.” Undoubtedly, these concerns should be present in his works. This presentation undertakes to expose the presence of this concern in the novel Crime and Punishment by examining the alignment and realignment of familial and economic gender roles within the novel. Specifically this presentation will focus on the economic burden placed on a family with an absent father figure.

In Crime and Punishment, both the Marmeladov family and the Raskolnikov family suffer from an absent father. Marmeladov has abandoned his post as father through drink. The natural father in the Raskolnikov family is dead, but, through the symbol of the watch, Dostoevsky designates Raskolnikov in the role of father. Yet Raskolnikov abandons his role, refusing to earn bread for himself or for his family. In turn, by abandoning their roles as father, these men have become economic burdens on their families. In these cases the daughter resolves the economic burden. Dunya considers a self-sacrificial marriage with Luzhin to support the family. Sonia prostitutes herself to support her family. In effect, these daughters are taking over the vacant role of father by economically supporting the family unit.

This “rearrangement” of gender and family roles is not confined to the two families mentioned here. Such “rearrangements” are present in other family systems in Crime and Punishment and prevalent throughout Dostoevsky’s works, from Poor Folk to The Brothers Karamazov. Examining family gender systems in Dostoevsky, and especially the rearrangement of roles therein, broadens our understanding of Dostoevsky’s perception on gender and familial roles and the changing nature of the family amidst the urbanization and industrialization of Dostoevsky’s Russia.