Sonia in Crime and Punishment and Gretchen in Faust
Sonia from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (C & P) and Margaret (Gretchen) from Goethe’s Faust are the leading female characters in the works they are portrayed in. Aside from this obvious connection, Sonia and Gretchen have a variety of characteristics in common. Both girls are portrayed in ways that serve as representations of innocence, purity, and faithfulness. Parallels can also be seen in Sonia and Gretchen’s love for Raskolnikov and Faust, respectively, and the way their relationships develop. Similarities between the two characters can be found in their socio-economic statuses, their personalities, certain physical characteristics, their faith, and their sins.
Sonia and Gretchen are both peasants. Their families have no affluence, trade, or sustainable business - both girls come from economically unfavorable situations. A relevant similarity between the girls that highlights this fact lies in Sonia and Gretchen’s living quarters. Both girls have plain and simple rooms, lacking in much furniture or decoration (D 28, 278), (G VIII). As a result of their low statuses, both Sonia and Gretchen have to work hard to contribute to their households. However, Sonia’s situation is more drastic then Gretchen’s and requires ‘dishonest’ labor. Marmeladov, Sonia’s father, asks Raskolnikov, “Do you suppose that a respectable poor girl can earn much by honest work”…“[Sonia] has had no education” (D 26). Sonia’s father is useless and pathetic, leaving his wife and children un-provided for. As Marmeladov wastes the last of Sonia’s earnings on a beer, he wonders if his children have been fed, “for if Sonia has not taken them food... I don't know what's happened!” (D 26-8). In order to sustain her emaciated family, Sonia has no choice but to resort to prostitution. Lebeziatnikov logically defends Sonia’s actions, "she was quite right…that was her asset, so to speak, her capital which she had a perfect right to dispose of" (D 319). Sonia’s action was a last resort to ease the suffering. The suffering of prostitution is better than the suffering of starvation. Gretchen, on the other hand, simply participated in household labor, “we have no maid: I do the knitting, sewing, sweeping, the cooking, early work and late…to keep expenses down” (G X). Gretchen is burdened with responsibilities in order to help sustain the household, albeit not ones as desperate as those that Sonia must resort to.
The humility which is characteristic of Sonia and Gretchen goes hand-in-hand with their socio-economic statuses. Both girls seem to have very little confidence; this often leads to their embarrassment and overt, almost childish, bashfulness. They often cast their eyes down to the ground when they are uncomfortable or embarrassed (D 212), (G VII). Gretchen is self-consciousness; she can’t understand how someone as gallant as Faust could be attracted to her (G XIII). Sonia too, shows extreme discomfort in the presence of Raskolnikov’s mother and sister, “an honor! Why, I'm... dishonorable.... Ah, why did you say that?" (D 283) – Here, Sonia expresses discomfort about Raskolnikov’s description of her to Dounia, because Sonia believes herself to be unworthy of such high praise.
Aside from the many connections that the two girls share in character and personality, Sonia and Gretchen also share noteworthy physical characteristics; these characteristics are typical of “good girls” – Pale, smooth skin, fair hair, and petite graceful features. Both C & P and Faust are saturated with similar descriptions of the like. In C & P, Sonia is referred to as being “a gentle creature with a soft voice…fair hair and such a pale, thin little face…with wonderful blue eyes” (D 26-7). Gretchen is portrayed is also portrayed as graceful and fair, with pale skin and “virtuous and pure” features (G VII).
Many interesting comparisons arise between Sonia and...