In Crime and Punishment, the overwhelming stench of poverty sets the story for depression and disaster. The setting is Haymarket square, where Raskolnikov, the protagonist, lives in a wretched and “insufferable” slum of St. Petersburg, Russia. The living conditions in the town are absolutely appalling. Hot, suffocating summer air and drunken crowds are only backgrounds to the overwhelming number of criminals roaming the streets with violence and abuse. Their presence cannot go unnoticed, as “types so queer were to be seen in the streets that no figure, however queer, would have caused surprise” (Dostoyevsky 3).
This atmosphere sets the tone for the inescapable crime and poverty in the novel, which cannot even be dismissed once inside. Dostoyevsky is able to portray the rooms in his novel in detail as he lived in a cramped room such as the ones he illustrates. Raskolnikov’s room “was a tiny cupboard of a room about six paces in length. It had a poverty-stricken appearance with its dusty yellow paper peeling off the walls” (28). The obvious condition of his room elaborates on the blunt truth of extreme poverty. There is no capability of the Haymarket’s to be ignored. Dostoyevsky’s description of the square is a huge distraction for Raskolnikov, the atmosphere “[working] painfully upon the young man’s already overwrought nerves” (2).
Raskolnikov tends to wander around the town as “the thought of going home suddenly filled him with intense loathing” (55), preferring to be anywhere than in his tight cramped room. The setting in the novel gets significantly more hazy after Raskolnikov commits the murder.
Reveling in the fact that he barely got away with murdering two people, he frantically and unsuccessfully tries to justify his actions to maintain control, slipping into oblivion. Writhing on his sofa, he only wakes up when Nastasya, the housekeeper or when the “fearful, despairing cries rose shrilly from the streets under his window after two o’clock” (91).
Throughout most of the novel, Raskolnikov stays scattered, disoriented, constantly “ill; he was in a feverish state, sometimes hallucinating sometimes half conscious” (130). His emotional and physical state easily slip under the radar as it is easy to believe his illness is from his unsafe surroundings and horrendous living conditions. The frantic confusion helps the reader understand Raskolnikov’s extreme uneasiness and incapability comprehending his surroundings of what’s around him.