Thursday, February 23, 2012

Role of Clothing in Crime and Punishment

I've been struck with Dostoevsky's clothing descriptions throughout the novel. At times when he introduces a new character I feel as though I get a better feeling for what they are wearing than what physical features they possess. For example, a huge part of what I know about Luzhin is rooted in the first description I get of him which focuses on his nice clothing (resembling a dandy) and particularly his purple gloves. Therefore, while I don't have a very clear picture in my head about what he looks like physically, whenever he is part of the book I remember the purple gloves, which then signifies decadence and narcissism, which capture much of how I feel about Luzhin.

In paying so much attention to clothing, I consider Dostoevsky to be doing a couple of things. First of all, Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment clearly presents issues of class and poverty, of which clothing can be a direct reflection. Secondly, I think that Dostoevsky is also exploring the relationship between an individual and society, which is a larger theme of the book with several manifestations. Particularly in relation to Raskilnikov's theory of extraordinary and ordinary people. Being extraordinary or ordinary, for Raskilnikov, has nothing to do with social status or outward social legitimization, but is an inward and individual characteristic. Similarly, Dostoevsky appears to glorify destitution in some ways. Those characters with stronger character are the poorer, less well dressed characters on the whole.

Mostly, I just get the sense that Dostoevsky's attention to dress is not coincidental, but is a major aspect of his overall project in the novel.

Have any of you also noticed Dostoevsky's attention to clothing? Do you see other connections or larger implications between his description of clothing and themes of the novel?

1 comment:

  1. I think you're right about a lot of what you say regarding Dostoevsky's use of clothing. However I'm also remembering the earliest description we get of Raskolnikov where he's wandering around St. Petersburg in rags and a Zimmerman top hat. Though the shabbiness of his dress in this scene on one level seems to simply indicate his irrational state of mind, I also think the juxtaposition of the top hat and the rags is supposed reflect Raskolnikov's schismatic personality, and, to a lesser extent his vanity. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think Raskolnikov puts on the Zimmerman hat in the first place because he believes himself to be extraordinary and wants to dress to convey this to those around him, even though he later takes off his hat because he feels it's too conspicuous.