It is early July in St. Petersburg, and very hot. A good-looking young man who is nearly destitute and greatly in debt to his landlady manages to slip out of the house unnoticed. He is relieved, not because he is a coward by nature but because he has been irritable and tense for some time and dreads meeting anyone at all, let alone his landlady.
The young man thinks to himself in a rapidly rambling fashion about some unknown deed which he seems torn about committing. On the one hand, he wants to do it, but on the other he tries to convince himself that he is merely toying with the idea and isn't serious about pursuing it into action.
The youth is revolted by the heat and stench of his surroundings, but loses himself in his thoughts, which sometimes become muddled as he has not eaten much in two days. He is roused from his reverie by a drunk shouting an insult about his hat. Suddenly afraid, he clutches his hat, and mutters feverishly to himself that the hat is too conspicuous and can be "noticed . . . and remembered" as evidence.
He approaches a house, where he is to "make a trial of his undertaking" (i.e. the unknown deed preying on his mind). He climbs up the back stairs to the fourth floor, noting that one of the tenants on that floor is moving out, so that "for a while only the old woman's apartment will be left occupied. That's good . . . just in case . . .," he thinks before ringing the bell.
The door is answered by a suspicious sixty-year-old woman, who mistrustfully lets him in.
The young man introduces himself as "Raskolnikov, a student," who had been to her a month ago. The woman remembers him, and lets him come into another room. With his characteristic hyper-awareness, Raskolnikov notes every detail of the spotless room and its furniture.
It turns out that this old lady, Alyona Ivanovna, is a pawnbroker, and Raskolnikov had gone to her a month ago with a ring of his father's. His pledge has expired, but he begs her to be patient and presents her with an old watch. He asks four roubles; she offers one and a half with interest paid in advance. Raskolnikov is angered, but he has no other way, and recalling his original purpose of a "trial," he reluctantly accepts her offer.
He watches Alyona Ivanovna get out her keys and go into another room. As he waits, he listens and figures out what she is doingopening the top drawer, with which key, etc. She returns with his money, having deducted the interest from not only the current pledge but the previous one as well, so he gets only one rouble 15 kopecks.
Raskolnikov doesn't argue, and takes the money, then mumbles something about bringing her a nice silver cigarette case later. As he walks out, he asks casually whether she stays at home alone, without her sister, but is answered with a suspicious question only. He leaves as quickly as he can, feeling disturbed, and his agitation increases until, in the middle of the street, he bursts out incredulously about his contemplation of "such horror," which has been dogging his thoughts for a month.
This outburst does nothing to relieve him, however, and weaves down the street unevenly until he returns to his senses near a tavern. He immediately enters, suddenly realizing how faint he is from hunger and thirst.
Once he drinks a cold beer, he feels relieved, and starts to think more rationally, trying to tell himself that he only needed some nourishment and that there is really nothing to worry about. However, he does sense a dim foreboding that his cheerfulness is just as morbid as his previous state.
There are not many people in the tavern: a tradesman, his friendwho has dozed off and awakens every so often to sing some maudlin tuneand someone who looks like a retired official and appears agitated.
This chapter introduces us to Raskolnikov, our protagonist, who is clearly troubled by something. His inner monologue is deftly interwoven with his observations to simultaneously plunge us immediately into his paranoia while only revealing the nature of the crisis very gradually. By the end of the chapter, we still do not know what it is that is troubling Raskolnikov; but we are aware that it must be some crime involving the pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna, given Raskolnikov's characterization of this visit as a "trial" and his acute and intense observation of every detail of the visit.
Dostoevsky's detailed description immerses the reader into a world of bleak poverty. It does not take long to determine that Raskolnikov is poor; but when we are led through the burning, stinking streets, among drunks and prostitutes, we see that his environment is just as poor as he is. His clothes are described as "rags" and he has not eaten enough in two days. The setting reinforces the young man's near-destitution.
Yet Raskolnikov does present something of a contrast. Even in appearance, he is called "remarkably good-looking, taller than average" and distinguished from the general population by his beauty. Not only is he physically something of an Adonis, through our glimpses into his thoughts we can tell that he is a thinker. We know he is a student, but his endless dwelling on "that" (the unknown crime) reveals a deep thinker, used to unfolding and contemplating the inner philosophies of complex problems. Right now, he is mired in a problemof which the nature is not yet understoodwhich has preoccupied him for months to the point where he no longer attends to his affairs.
A theme of mistrust runs through this chapter, setting the stage for things to come while giving a sense of the hostility of Raskolnikov's surroundings. The pawnbroker mistrusts Raskolnikov despite the fact that she has seen him before; one gets the sense that she mistrusts everyone, clients or otherwise. The tradesman in the tavern mistrusts his drunken friend, who keeps bursting into song; this suspicion of happiness suggests the downtroddenness of life in St. Petersburg, where everyone is so gloomy that any instance of joy is looked upon with narrowed eyes. It is somewhat ironic that the one man who achieves the desired effect of drinking alcoholnamely, pleasant oblivionis regarded with hostility. Even Raskolnikov mistrusts his own cheerfulness once he has had a beer, sensing vaguely that it is just as morbid as his agitated paranoia.
Although he has been avoiding people for the past month, Raskolnikov feels suddenly drawn to be with them, and actually enjoys sitting in the tavern despite its dirty dinginess. He feels a keen interest in the retired official, who apparently feels a similar interest, since he keeps looking at Raskolnikov with the evident desire to strike up a conversation. He is ragged in appearance, and seems agitated.
Finally he addresses Raskolnikov directly, introducing himself as Marmeladov, a titular councillor. He asks Raskolnikov whether he is in the civil service as well; the young man, surprised at the direct address and at Marmeladov's strangely ornate speech, replies that he is a student. Delighted, and clearly drunk, Marmeladov sits himself with Raskolnikov and starts to talk about his life.
He is a self-proclaimed drunk, berating himself while yet not changing his ways; a certain Mr. Lebezyatnikov had beaten Marmeladov's wife a month ago and he had done nothing about it; his daughter has prostituted herself to provide money for the family, because of his incompetence. Those in the tavern listen mockingly, laughing at him; but he only increases his dignity as they do so.
As he babbles on, a picture of his miserable existence begins to emerge. His wife, Katerina Ivanovna, drags him about by the hair (of which he seems almost proud) and is ill while having to care for their three small children. A widow, she had consented to marry him "weeping and sobbing and wringing her hands," and he had not touched alcohol for an entire year; but upon losing his job he turned to the bottle. Since then the family had moved around and Marmeladov had obtained a position and lost it through drinking. Sonya, his daughter from a previous marriage, had had minimal education (though she appears intelligent); unfortunately she had not been able to earn much money through her handiwork. Finally Katerina Ivanovna, upset and ill, had bullied Sonya into prostituting herself. Shortly thereafter, Sonya was no longer allowed to live in the apartment with her family, and had to rent a room from a tailor named Kapernaumov.
Marmeladov had then gone to beg a job from one Ivan Afanasyevich (apparently a higher official), and had obtained one. The family rejoiced and prepared him with a uniform and good food; and he had brought home his salary of 23 roubles 40 kopecks six days ago, causing his wife much joy. Marmeladov himself had indulged in sweet dreams of success and happiness. But the very next evening, he had stolen the money and spent it all on drink, thereby losing everything. He had run away from home, but had even gone back to Sonya to ask her for money for drink.
Amidst laughter and derision, Marmeladov declares he deserves no pity, but that all along he has only sought sorrow, not joy. He then goes off on a long impassioned speech about how the Lord will forgive his whole family on Judgement Day. The words temporarily impress his hearers, but they are soon laughing and mocking him again.
Marmeladov asks Raskolnikov to take him back home to his wife. Raskolnikov does so, leading him into his miserably poor room, where Katerina Ivanovna paces almost deliriously, wasted from consumption as well as worry.
When she sees Marmeladov, she drags him inside by his hair, wailing loudly and berating him for drinking up all the money while his children go hungry. She kicks Raskolnikov out, assuming him to be a drinking partner of her husband's; he is only too glad to hasten out, as neighbors are starting to peek in and laugh at the scene. Amalia Lippewechsel, the landlady, barges in at last and shouts at the Marmeladovs to clear out by the next day.
As he leaves, Raskolnikov digs up all the change he has and lays it unobserved on the windowsill. Within minutes, he is questioning his own act and wants to get it back, but he knows he can't and wouldn't take it anyway. He reflects on how the family is using Sonya for money.
Religion, which permeates all of Dostoevsky's works, is given a heavy introduction in this chapter. Marmeladov's speeches are peppered with incessant Biblical references, but so is his life. He calls Sonya his "only-begotten daughter"a literally true title since he has no children with Katerina Ivanovna, but also an obvious reference to Christ as God the Father's "only-begotten son." Sonya lives with the Kapernaumovs, whose name seems too similar to that of the Biblical Capernaum (a city of Galilee where Jesus spent a lot of time) to be coincidential.
Marmeladov resembles some sort of degraded Christ-figure. He talks about crucifixion: "I ought to be crucified, crucified on a cross, and not pitied!" He also goes to great lengths to assure his hearers that he seeks only sorrow and enjoys suffering. Yet this comes across as merely an excuse with which he attempts to justify his destructive behavior, rather than the sort of suffering which absolves sins. Rather than suffering to right wrongse.g., working hard to feed and clothe his family, giving up alcohol, etc.he is suffering as the result of persisting in wrongdoing. In short, he is not saving anyone, as is abundantly clear by the wretched condition of both his family and his personal dignity. In fact, he desperately needs saving himself.
Sonya, of course, is the true savior here. Her tragic story is the first instance of a theme which will recur again and again throughout the novel: that of women saving men. Sonya has been forced into dishonor by her own family, through the utter ineptitude of her father. As Raskolnikov reflects bitterly at the end of the chapter, her family (or perhaps more appropriately, her father) "wept a bit and got accustomed" to living off of Sonya's disgrace; "Man gets accustomed to everything, the scoundrel!" Through her sufferingnot only of public dishonor but personal loss as wellshe keeps her family clothed and fed, not well, but better than her father can.
Dostoevsky adroitly uses Marmeladov as a vehicle for social commentary as well as textual themes. Marmeladov, for instance, respectfully quotes Mr. Lebezyatnikov as saying, "In our time compassion is even forbidden by science, as is already happening in England..." This comment reflects Dostoevsky's rejection of Western ideas, a theme which, like religion, informs much of his later and greater works. Dostoevsky became convinced that Western social models and theories could not successfully be applied to Russian society, which required its own special spiritual and practical methods. His sly jab at the dehumanization brought about by "political economy" and other such sciences is even more poignant amidst the gross poverty of Raskolnikov's world.
Once again, poverty and the degradation of the soul are highlighted, this time in the person of Marmeladov. His search for pity and compassion stands out, but as seen earlier, people are too mistrustful of one another to do anything but mock and mistrust.
Raskolnikov awakens the next day feeling unrested, and angrily looks around his tiny, shabby room.
Nastasya, the landlady's cook and only servant, wakes him up by shouting at him. Though her conversation is slighting, she is kind enough to bring him some of her own tea and offer him leftovers from the previous day's meal (his landlady has stopped sending up his dinners because he is behind in his rent). As Raskolnikov eats, Nastasya prattles on about how his landlady is going to report him to the police for not paying his rent but refusing to vacate, and upbraids him for not doing anything. He replies that he does work. She asks what kind of work, and he replies that he thinks, which response sends her into gales of laughter.
After some further uncomfortable exchange, she remembers that she has a letter for him, and gives it to him. Seeing that it is from his mother, he orders Nastasya to leave, and after lingering adoringly on it, he opens it up.
Clearly, his mother has been having troubles and has been unable to send her son any money, though she wished to in order to help him continue his studies. Now, however, she feels she has good news, and proceeds to tell the following story:
Dunya, Raskolnikov's sister, had been working as a governess in the home of the Svidrigailovs, where she suffered a fair amount of rudeness and discourtesy from Mr. Svidrigailov. As it turned out, he had been attracted to her, and at last he propositioned her. Naturally, Dunya refused, but Svidrigailov persisted in pursuing her.
Unfortunately for Dunya, Marfa Petrovna, the lady of the house, overheard her husband and Dunya in the garden one day, and confronted them with the assumption that Dunya was at fault. Marfa Petrovna slapped Dunya and kicked her out, sending her back home in an open peasant cart in the rain. She then proceeded to stain Dunya's reputation all over town, making life very difficult for the girl and her mother.
At last, Svidrigailov stepped in and showed his wife a letter Dunya had written to him while she had been at their house, reproaching him for his behavior and refusing to meet with him. This, in addition to the word of the servants in the Svidrigailov household, served to vindicate Dunya.
Marfa Petrovna, shamed and convinced, then proceeded to right the wrongs she had inflicted, going to remarkable and perhaps unnecessary lengths to restore Dunya's reputation (notably by copying the letter Dunya had written and going from house to house reading it for several days). Dunya was given job offers and the whole town began treating her with respect, and one Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin, a distant relative of Marfa Petrovna, proposed to her. After a sleepless night of pacing and prayer, Dunya accepted him.
This gentleman, 45 years old, well-off and respectable, does not love Dunya, as is clear, but the marriage will be one of convenience to both parties. He currently is on his way to Petersburg, and the hope is expressed that he might be able to get Raskolnikov a job. Dunya has been making future plans on the expectation that her influence will help her family to better themselves, although apparently Luzhin has not asked her mother to stay with them.
Finally his mother writes that she and Dunya will be going to Petersburg very soon, and are excited about seeing Raskolnikov, though the trip will cost them as Luzhin is not paying for the trip but only for the transport of their luggage.
Raskolnikov lays his head down and thinks for a long while, but starts to feel confined and jumps up and goes out. He heads for Vasilievsky Island, talking to himself so that he appears drunk to passersby.
The theme of women sacrificing themselves to save the men they love is expanded in this chapter with the story of Dunya, Raskolnikov's sister. At first she sacrificed her salary for him, virtually enslaving herself to the Svidrigailovs until she could pay back the 100 rouble advance she had obtained from them. The greater sacrifice, however, is of herself as she plans to marry Luzhin in the hopes that the match will materially better her family's circumstances.
Despite the optimism of the mother's letter, Dunya knows (as would anyone reading between the all-too-clear lines) that Luzhin is a conceited, stingy snob. She, as her mother writes, paced all night and prayed before finally making the decision to accept this man. Dunya knows Luzhin's character and does not love him, and she is perfectly aware that he does not love hershe is simply making the sacrifice for Raskolnikov's sake.
It is surprising, however, that Dunya should assume that Luzhin would give any money or employment to her brother. She plans on using her influence with him; but already Luzhin has proved that he has no interest in helping her family financiallyhe did not even offer to pay their way to Petersburg, though he is part of the reason they are going, and clearly he has no intent to invite his future mother-in-law to live with him and Dunya. This apparent blindness on Dunya's part seems a refinement of her mother's tendency to gloss everything and hope for the best.
The cruelty of Russian society is once more brought in with the story of Marfa Petrovna. Enraged by a seduction she assumes to be on Dunya's part, she sets about to demolish Dunya's honor and credibility as completely as she can. Dunya is fortunate that the truth comes to her aid, and Dostoevsky makes the most of it via a sort of hyperbole of action: Marfa Petrovna makes copies of Dunya's letter, and runs around to people's houses reading it, "and for each reading people even gathered who had heard the letter several times already, in their own homes and in their friends' as well." The author is poking fun at both Marfa Petrovna and the society in which she moves.
Underlying this, however, is a grave contrast. People are given to extremes of behavior, and while they can be excessively kind to those they admire and love, they can be brutally cruel to those they see as dishonored.
Raskolnikov has been disturbed by his mother's letter, but he knows one thing: that the marriage of his sister with Mr. Luzhin will not take place as long as he lives!
He can see right through his mother's optimistic writing and his sister's acts. Luzhin is clearly a miser, arrogant, condescending to his future wife's family; and Dunya is clearly everything good, strong and noble. Obviously she is marrying him ("selling herself," as Raskolnikov puts it) for the sake of her brother and mother. Raskolnikov even knows that it is he, above their mother, for whom such a sacrifice is being made. He equates Dunya's sacrifice with Sonya's. Passionately, he rejects the sacrifice.
Suddenly, however, he pulls himself up short. How, he asks himself, is he going to stop it? What can he do? He has no way of finishing his studies to find a position to make money and prevent the necessity of such a marriage. Money is needed immediately.
Raskolnikov has tortured himself with these questions before, and now even takes a sick delight in them. But the letter suddenly blinds him with the realization that "at least something" must be done now. And that "something" is the unnamed deed which has been tormenting him for the past month.
He searches for a bench, feeling like he needs to sit down. He then notices a woman walking before him, and something about her strikes him as strange. He examines her to try and figure out what it is. She is young, and her clothes are untidy and need mending; and as she walks she reels unsteadily. They reach a bench. She collapses on it and closes her eyes. Raskolnikov looks at her closely and realizes that she is drunk; it is strange because she appears only 16 years old and quite pretty.
As he stands perplexed in front of her, he notices a gentleman a short ways away who is eyeing the girl and clearly wishes to approach her with certain intentions. The man is impatiently waiting for Raskolnikov to leave.
Suddenly Raskolnikov gets very angry and is possessed by the desire to insult the man. He does so (calling him "Svidrigailov," a name which suggested a sketchy character) and they get into a fight. A policeman breaks up the fight.
He is a kindly-looking man, and Raskolnikov seizes him and shows him the girl. He explains that she doesn't look like a prostitute, but more as if she has been made drunk and then raped. Indignantly he tells the policeman how the dandy evidently wishes to use this girl as well, and entreats his help in saving her from such a man.
The policeman agrees to help, and tries to get the girl to tell him where she lives. Raskolnikov gives him 20 kopecks to hire a coachman to take her home. The girl, however, doesn't answer satisfactorily, and after a while, gets up and totters off down the street. The dandy follows on the other side of the street, and the policeman takes off to prevent him having his way with her.
Suddenly Raskolnikov shouts at the policeman to forget it, what does it matter to him? The policeman is befuddled, but assumes Raskolnikov is mad or drunk, and ignores him.
Raskolnikov irritably asks himself why he bothered to get involved, losing 20 kopecks in the process. But he sits down on the bench and thinks compassionately about the poor girl's likely fate.
He abruptly wonders where he had been heading when he left his flat, and realizes that he had been automatically on his way to see Razumikhin, one of his only friends from university. Razumikhin, too, has had to leave university, but is attempting to straighten things out so he can continue.
Prostitution threads itself through this chapter in a variety of ways. Raskolnikov quite aptly equates Dunya's imminent marriage with Sonya's prostitution. The drunken girl presents the issue as well. First, after Raskolnikov has left the scene, he reflects that this girl may end up as part of the "certain percentage" of the population which would, according to social science, end up as prostitutes. The reference here is to work published by Europeans attempting to determine whether given percentages of the population were naturally inclined to end up as criminals or prostitutes. Raskolnikov's bitter comment on the use of scientific terms to dilute the impact of such misery again demonstrates Dostoevsky's rejection of Western scientific ideals as too cold or inhuman. But the girl also presents a disturbing ambiguity: is she already a prostitute or has she been ravaged as Raskolnikov conjectures?
Raskolnikov's personal schism, which we have already glimpsed, comes through very clearly in this chapter. He is always questioning himself and reversing his previous decisions, e.g. stopping Dunya's wedding, or preventing the abuse of the drunken girl. In fact, the root of his name, "raskolot," means "to split," and all we have seen of him so far indicates that he is appropriately named: he acts almost as though he holds two personalities within one body, one indolent, cruel and disturbed, and one kind, sensitive and emotional.
The policeman is the first thoroughly kind man we have seen in this novel (we have seen kind women, such as Dunya and Sonya). Perhaps stirred by fatherly impulses, he addresses the situation of the drunken girl with positive action, and notably, he is not a whit deterred by Raskolnikov's sudden retraction of support. It should be noted that Raskolnikov himself is, at heart, kindhe has flashes of nobility, such as when he leaves the money in his pocket for the suffering Marmeladovsbut he gets tripped up by his own feverish mental circles too frequently to follow through.
Razumikhin, the second kind man who is hinted at but not yet seen, appears almost the polar opposite to Raskolnikovsociable, cheerful, self-supporting and extremely motivated. A telling sentence states, "Razumikhin was also remarkable in that no setbacks ever confounded him, and no bad circumstances seemed able to crush him." Raskolnikov, on the other hand, is completely confounded by setbacks, has lapsed into depression, monomania, and other forms of ill-health, and is crushed both by poverty and by the idea that has been preying on his mind for a month. The contrast between the two seems to preclude any sort of friendship between them, but Razumikhin is exactly the type of person to elicit companionship from anyone, even the forbiddingly unsociable Raskolnikov.