Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Sonia (Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov)
Sonia has an intense life. She's forced into prostitution at seventeen or eighteen, then falls in love with a killer (Raskolnikov) and moves all the way across the country to be with him while he does time for the crime, never forgetting her trusted New Testament or her faith in humanity.
Unlike some characters, we don't really see inside her head. She's often characterized by shyness, nervousness, confusion, and the like – just what we would expect considering her age, what with all the stress she's going through with her father and stepmother going completely down the tubes, and her brother and sisters' futures to consider. Plus, she hardly ever eats – after feeding her family and paying the rent, she can hardly afford it. She's constantly making sacrifices, and it seems like everybody wants a piece of her – not that she ever complains.
Like Raskolnikov, she's multifaceted, though with Sonia one has to dig a bit deeper to uncover her secrets. But, once we start digging, we see incredible strength, powers of persuasion, and "natural" growth. Here are some of the results of our dig, which we hope you enjoy.
In the same way that Raskolnikov can hardly be mentioned in a sentence without the word "murderer," Sonia will be forever remembered for her career in prostitution. So let's look at it. Did she really have to do it? Could she have gone to school? Did she have other options? Her name means "wisdom" – but how wise is she?
First of all, her stepmother, Katerina, forces her to go into that line of work. She either has to bring in some quick cash or disappear. Katerina, as we know, will sooner beat you up than look at you. As for disappearing, Sonia wouldn't do it, because she doesn't want to abandon her family. Plus, disappearing takes money. If she had enough money to disappear, then she'd probably have enough money to avoid prostitution.
As far as school goes, anything is possible, but it was hard enough for men to go, let alone impoverished women. Jobs were scarce, especially for women, and she might well have been exploited in other lines of work as well. Remember, Katerina sent Sonia to the street in the first place because a corrupt client wouldn't pay her for a sewing job.
Maybe she could have stolen, but that would be dangerous, and definitely – as we saw in the "hundred rouble note" scene – against her principles. By choosing prostitution, she avoided breaking the law as well. That's what all the "yellow ticket" business is about. As long as a prostitute registered with the police and carried her "yellow ticket," she wasn't out of bounds with the law, though society is a different matter.
As soon as she becomes a prostitute, the community looks down on her, except for Andrey Semyonovitch. He claims that prostitution is only disgraceful in a corrupt society and, even then, not to him. In a society like the one he and his buddies imagine, prostitution will fill, honorably, the necessary (though not perverse) needs of a community. It should be noted that, while Andrey Semyonovitch might be in love with Sonia, he doesn't ever take advantage of her and really wants to help her. He gives her books to read, saves her from Luzhin's accusations, and helps her care for Katerina.
Sonia looks on Raskolnikov as her savior at first, and kind of expects him to be nice to her when he sees her in private. Think of all that sighing and moaning and fantasizing, and the way he defended her to Luzhin and to his mother. He was even super-nice to her little sister Polenka. We expected a kiss or something at least. But nope, he lectures her about her lifestyle. We take that back. He kisses her feet. It freaks her out, but when he leaves, she fantasizes about it. He also begs her to run away with him to save the children, though he doesn't really have a plan.
But he does have her interest at heart. It hurts him to see her doing what she doesn't want to do (being a prostitute), and he really is afraid Polenka will be next. But he could be a little nicer about it. If Sonia went on a talk show and described her relationship (before Raskolnikov begins to treat her well) what do you think the reactions of the audience members and the host would be?
Sonia is also a testimony to human forgiveness and compassion. She sees the good in Raskolnikov as stronger than the bad. And she waits. Maybe she wouldn't have put up with it forever. When the two are in Siberia, there are signs she's starting to drift away from him.
In Siberia all the prisoners and townspeople love her, a point of fact that puzzles Raskolnikov. At this time, he can't see what everybody else sees – Sonia is awesome. The fact that she is valued by the community in Siberia actually opens Raskolnikov's eyes a little. He starts to see Sonia in a new light and even misses her when she isn't around. In a sense, he finally forgives her for being a prostitute and accepts her as a human being. He begins to treat her the way she has treated him all along.We find it interesting that, when around Raskolnikov, Sonia seems to find a stronger voice than she does around others. She tells him to cool it when he says mean things, and won't let him get by with confusing human beings with lice. She actually doesn't do anything he says, unless she agrees with it. Would he have turned himself in if she hadn't followed him to the police station? What would have happened to him? What would have happened to her? Sonia gambles on Raskolnikov and wins a new life – with freedom, love, and happiness.