Sonya timidly enters Raskolnikov’s room, interrupting the conversation among Raskolnikov, Pulcheria Alexandrovna, Dunya, and Razumikhin. She bashfully invites Raskolnikov to Marmeladov’s funeral and the memorial dinner that Katerina has planned to follow it. She is astonished at Raskolnikov’s apparent poverty. Dunya and Pulcheria Alexandrovna politely leave. Raskolnikov tells Razumikhin that he had pawned a valuable watch to Alyona Ivanovna and would like it back. He asks Razumikhin if he should speak to Porfiry Petrovich, the magistrate in charge of the case and a relative of Razumikhin’s, about the missing items. Razumikhin replies that he should. Raskolnikov agrees to go visit the Marmeladovs the next day, and all three leave. As Sonya walks back to her room, a strange, middle-aged man (Svidrigailov) follows her; it turns out that he lives in the room next to hers. Meanwhile, Razumikhin and Raskolnikov go to Porfiry Petrovich’s house. Along the way, Raskolnikov teases Razumikhin about his attraction to Dunya, laughing loudly and trying to appear at ease. He secretly wonders whether Porfiry has heard of his visit the previous day to the scene of the crime and contemplates confessing.
Razumikhin is somewhat embarrassed by Raskolnikov, who bursts out laughing at him as they enter Porfiry’s house. Raskolnikov tries to appear calm and confident before Porfiry, but the forced laughter comes off strangely. He becomes even more uneasy when he notices Zamyotov’s presence. Razumikhin then makes things even worse by mentioning Raskolnikov’s obvious distress at the mere mention of the murder case. Raskolnikov imagines that Porfiry is suspicious of him and nearly loses his cool when Porfiry mentions that Raskolnikov was the only one of the pawnbroker’s clients not to come for his things immediately after the murder. Raskolnikov becomes very excited discussing his delirious wanderings of the night before. He starts to feel as though Porfiry is playing games with him. The men enter a discussion on crime, and Porfiry mentions an article that Raskolnikov had written, “On Crime,” which, unbeknownst to Raskolnikov, had been published two months earlier. In the article, he argued that certain men were above the general run of humanity, and, as such, they have a right to commit murder. Porfiry coaxes Raskolnikov into elaborating on this thesis. Razumikhin finds it difficult to believe that his friend holds such a view. Just before Raskolnikov leaves, Porfiry asks him if he saw any painters at work in the building on his last visit to Alyona’s, two days before the crime. Raskolnikov recognizes the trap, recalling that there were painters there on the day of the murder but not two days before, and says no.
The old woman was a mistake perhaps, but . . . it wasn’t a human being I killed, it was a principle!See Important Quotations Explained
Razumikhin argues with Raskolnikov about whether or not the police suspect him of the murders. Raskolnikov believes that they do; Razumikhin counters that if they did suspect him, they would never have engaged him so openly in a discussion of crime. But Razumikhin eventually admits that he, too, got the impression that the police suspected Raskolnikov. The two try to analyze Porfiry Petrovich’s methods, arguing over whether his final question was a trap. Raskolnikov declares that it was and that he escaped it with his answer. The two reach Raskolnikov’s house, where the porter tells them that a man has just been inquiring after Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov overtakes the man in the street. “Murderer,” the man calls to him, giving him a cold look but no further explanation. Raskolnikov returns to his room and feverishly wonders about the stranger’s accusation and Porfiry’s suspicions. He tries to convince himself that Alyona’s life was worthless. Yet he also questions his own motives for the crime and whether he actually is the sort of extraordinary “superman” that he had written about in his article. That night, he has a nightmare in which he tries to murder the pawnbroker; instead of dying, however, she laughs. He wakes to find a stranger in his room.
In these chapters, Raskolnikov’s interior conflict intensifies. He is faced with the dual task of avoiding the suspicion of Porfiry Petrovich and dealing with his own emotional turmoil. His difficulty in controlling himself at Porfiry’s home and his strange dream at the end of Part III demonstrate that he is just barely avoiding a complete breakdown. The ongoing struggle between his desire to avoid suspicion and his compulsion to confess leads him to act erratically, sometimes trying to appear healthy and innocent and other times boldly risking discovery.
Raskolnikov’s article “On Crime” clues the reader in to some of the rationale for committing the murder. Introducing the theme of Raskolnikov’s idea of a “superman,” the article argues that certain extraordinary people are above the masses of humanity and so have the right to violate moral codes, for instance, by committing murder. Razumikhin’s strongly moral character reveals itself in his immediate rejection of this notion. Porfiry Petrovich, however, takes great interest in the idea—not because he agrees with it, but because he sees it as a piece of psychological evidence pointing to Raskolnikov’s guilt. The discussion takes place on an intellectual plane, but the fact that Raskolnikov has actually followed through with his idea and that Porfiry suspects him of it lends the otherwise abstract discussion a tense immediacy. The conversation serves to illustrate the enormous gap between talking about violating moral boundaries and actually doing so. Interestingly, Raskolnikov’s inner turmoil belies the superiority and righteousness with which his ideal “superman” is supposed to commit crimes.
The ideas that Raskolnikov expresses in his article have strong ties to nihilism, a philosophical position developed in Russia in the 1850s and 1860s. Nihilism rejected the traditional bonds of family and society as well as emotional and aesthetic concerns in favor of a strict materialism promoting the idea that there is no mind or soul outside of the physical world. A central tenet of nihilism was utilitarianism—the idea that actions are moral insofar as they work toward the greatest possible happiness for the largest number of people. As is made clear in this section, Raskolnikov’s justifications for murdering Alyona are strongly utilitarian and nihilist.
Raskolnikov’s nightmare reflects not so much his feelings of guilt as his fear that he doesn’t actually measure up to his theoretical “superman”—and that his actions, therefore, have no justification. Even before Raskolnikov has his nightmare, the stranger’s simple, direct labeling of him as “[m]urderer” makes the grandiose identity that he had created for himself begin to crumble. The defense that he mounts against this deconstruction of his assumed identity constitutes a counterattack on the debased identity that the stranger has imposed on him. In devaluing Alyona’s life, Raskolnikov seeks to mitigate the criminality of the murder by emphasizing his own worth and her worthlessness. In his nightmare, however, he cannot pretend that he acted as a “superman” in killing Alyona. Indeed, the nightmare forces him to confront his mediocrity; that Alyona laughs at him when he tries to kill her reveals to him his impotency and inadequacy.
The suspense mounts in these chapters, especially with the introduction of the strange man who follows Sonya in Chapter IV and then appears in Raskolnikov’s doorway at the end of Chapter VI. The more strangers that enter Raskolnikov’s life, the more complicated his situation gets. Each time he pushes them away, he is, in part, trying to keep himself separate from the humanity that he disdains and maintain the abstract, lonely position from which he originally formulates his plan of killing Alyona. The entrance into the drama of the stranger, who we later find out is Svidrigailov, threatens Raskolnikov’s sense of his role and thrusts him one step closer toward reengagement with society, whether he likes it or not.