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FREE Barron's Booknotes-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free
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After several chapters (and days) of being passive, Raskolnikov reasserts himself. Still weak and dizzy, he feels he must leave his repulsive room. When he is alone and calm again, he dresses in his new clothes, pockets the remaining twenty-five roubles from his mother, and leaves his room.

Nothing has changed in the city, although he has felt an enormous transformation in himself since the murders. He is desperate to resolve the conflicting feelings that plague him. He feels he can no longer live an unresolved life. But he has no idea how to go about changing things and cannot bear to think about it. You might decide he really hasn't changed very much, despite what he thinks.

The beggars, drunks, and prostitutes he passes in the street depress him, but he grasps at one insight: that people prefer to live under the most dreadful circumstances rather than to die. This thought recurs to him many times in the days that follow; you might say it's what keeps him alive.

Entering a tavern in order to find the newspaper accounts of the murder, Raskolnikov finds himself-again by coincidence-with Zametov, the police clerk. Far from trying to disguise his fascination with the murder story, Raskolnikov flaunts his interest in it. What seems even more self- destructive is that he taunts Zametov until the clerk says what is on the reader's mind: "Either you are mad, or...."

How else can you explain what Raskolnikov is doing? He uses words like confess and reminds Zametov that he fainted when the murder was discussed in the police station. Many critics have suggested he does this because he wants to be caught. They think he is unable to deal with his own sense of guilt and uncertainty. Others think that he is testing himself and tormenting Zametov for his own amusement. Either way, this is a critical conversation. You will discover later that Raskolnikov's behavior in the tavern is one of the reasons Porfiry Petrovich is so sure he's the killer.

Crime is the topic of conversation. What better subject for a police clerk and a killer? At last Raskolnikov has an opportunity to express his ideas on how crimes can be committed effectively. And it gives Zametov a chance to talk about the mistakes that were made at the murder of the pawnbroker. Again, Raskolnikov seems to be taking crazy risks, as he explains what he would have done: bury the money he had stolen.

Pushing even further, he asks, "What if it was I who killed the old woman and Lizaveta?" It is hard to tell which of them is more upset by the conversation; Raskolnikov seems the less flustered. For some readers his behavior is evidence that he's mentally unbalanced-mad, as Zametov would say.


You can't be sure what Zametov is thinking during his conversation with Raskolnikov. Because the reader knows the identity of the murderer from the start, it is hard to tell how much either Zametov or Razumikhin has figured out at any given time. That's one of the ways Dostoevsky builds suspense.

Leaving the tavern, Raskolnikov runs into Razumikhin. His friend is genuinely, deeply concerned about him, but Raskolnikov responds by being incredibly rude. He insists he is sane, responsible, and unwilling to bother with other people. By the time he finishes with his attack, he is furiously angry, "raving madly and choking with rage."

Razumikhin's anger at this treatment is justified. The fact that he will not allow himself to be abused affirms him as a strong and appealing character. But because he is a good friend, his anger dissolves into concern. He encourages Raskolnikov to forget the unpleasantness between them and come to his party.

Refusing, Raskolnikov leaves. After a fruitless attempt to follow him, Razumikhin goes back to Zametov to find out what has happened. Don't underestimate the importance of Razumikhin's affection for Raskolnikov. One of the things that contributes to our feeling that Raskolnikov has good qualities despite his actions is that people whom we admire love him. In a complex novel, the reaction of others to a character is critical to your ability to make a judgment yourself.

As Raskolnikov walks on, he gets weaker and weaker. He feels that he is about to faint again, when he is startled by a woman jumping into the canal in an apparent suicide attempt. He is torn between a desire to end his problems and an urgency to live. The suicidal woman seems to have made her choice. But before she can drown, she is pulled from the water by a passing policeman.

Raskolnikov's emotions are in such turmoil that this incident has an enormous impact on him. Should he commit suicide? Should he go to the police station and confess? Rather than doing either, he returns to the scene of the pawnbroker's murder, for "an irresistible and inexplicable desire drew him on." The murder remains the central focus of his conscious and subconscious life.

If his behavior with Zametov seemed self-incriminating and mad, it is mild compared to the way he acts at the scene of the crime. He wants to know where the blood is, despite the fact that the apartment is being redecorated. He's astonished not to find the corpses and disapproves of the new wallpaper. He rings the bell, three times. When the workmen press him for his identity, he tells them to come to the police station, that he will tell them there.

He acts even more bizarre with the crowd gathered at the gate, identifying himself by name and taunting them about their suspicions of him. What possible motive can he have in behaving this way? Are we to think that he's gone off the deep end? Once more he escapes. But, ask yourself, how often can this happen before he's arrested?

With every intention of going to the police, Raskolnikov leaves the scene, but his attention is distracted by a large crowd, full of shouts and flashing fights.

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FREE Barron's Booknotes-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free

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