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Porfiry prefers to taken an entirely different approach. When Raskolnikov ends his explanation by saying that in his mind men have equal rights "until we have built the New Jerusalem...," Porfiry asks if he believes in the New Jerusalem, in God, in Lazarus. This introduction of religious themes seems out of place, but it is not. Belief in Lazarus, in particular, which means belief in the miracle of the dead returning to life, in the Christian idea of resurrection, is crucial to the resolution of Raskolnikov's crime, and of the novel.
But having asked the question, Porfiry makes another leap. This time he asks, in a mocking tone, how you can tell an extraordinary person from anybody else. Raskolnikov chooses to ignore the mockery and answer the question. It is no problem, he insists, because anyone who acts as if he is extraordinary and isn't is no threat. He will punish himself.
Raskolnikov picks up Porfiry's mocking tone, but the chief difference between the debaters is that he is deadly serious, while Porfiry is not. To torment him a little more, Porfiry suggests a practical application of the theory. What if someone did commit a crime? But Raskolnikov is not to be outdone. Society has methods, like exile and prison, he says, to deal with criminals. And if they get caught, it serves them right.
Porfiry presses further: What about the criminal's conscience? Raskolnikov responds that a man who has a conscience will suffer if he believes he's done wrong. If he feels pity for his victim, he will suffer. Further, he says that truly great men experience great sorrow as a consequence of their actions.
But it is the final question that is the most pointed. Porfiry asks if Raskolnikov considers himself an extraordinary man, and Raskolnikov responds, "Very likely." Their dialogue is tense. "Doesn't that tempt you to crime?" the investigator asks. "If I had done so, then of course I should not tell you," the murderer answers.
Razumikhin, who has listened in disbelief to the entire interview, is depressed, sensing that there is more to Raskolnikov's illness than he had ever imagined.
But Porfiry isn't finished. Trying to trick the weary Raskolnikov, he asks if he had seen the painters the night he was at the pawnbroker's. But of course they were there only the night of the murder. Razumikhin catches him in this trick, and points it out in a surly tone. He and Raskolnikov leave, gloomy and depressed.
This astounding interview is important not only for the provocative ideas it presents and the insight it gives us into Raskolnikov's mind, but also as the beginning of Porfiry's strategy to trap Raskolnikov into confessing. You may find yourself returning to this scene to prepare for essay questions or to gather ideas for a writing assignment.