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Preoccupied with his need to tell Sonia who killed Lizaveta, and with his fears for the future, Raskolnikov follows her home. Her greeting makes it clear that she has been expecting him.
When she hears that Katerina Ivanovna has been evicted, her first impulse is to go to her. But Raskolnikov persuades her to stay-in part because he needs her himself, and in part because her willingness to suffer for others, despite her experience with Luzhin, drives him crazy.
He poses a hypothetical question. Suppose she could decide if a person were to live or die. What would she do? But Sonia has no patience for things that are not real, and she is upset that Raskolnikov seems to be trying to trap or torment her again.
For once, he yields to her objection and admits that what he really has come for is her forgiveness. For a moment an irrational flash of hatred-like his hatred for his family-fills him, but he sees the love in her face and all his anger vanishes. He knows that he must confess. The moment has all the tension of the moment of the murder: the beating heart, pale face, and speechless lips.
His torment is clear to her, and she tries to comfort him. But he impatiently insists that he has come to tell her who killed Lizaveta.
Insisting that killing Lizaveta was an accident, that the killer had not meant to harm her, Raskolnikov makes Sonia look at him until the dreadful truth dawns on her.
Fighting desperately within herself to deny what she now knows, Sonia finally throws herself on her knees before the tortured Raskolnikov. "What have you done to yourself?" she implores, holding him tight.
He can't believe her reaction. How could she kiss someone like him? But her pity is genuine and honest. Pathetically, almost childishly, he asks if she will forsake him. But Sonia will follow him anywhere, even to prison.
A critical difference between Raskolnikov and Sonia comes out in this disjointed conversation. She is distressed that he did not come to her before the crime. Clearly she thinks she could have kept him from it. But for Raskolnikov, this was the only way. Without the crime, he never would have come to Sonia at all.
The more Sonia thinks about the murder, the more perplexed she is. How could he have done such a thing? She wonders if he was robbing to help his mother, but Raskolnikov finds it impossible to explain his motives. Her confusion grows. How could a man who gave away his own money to strangers be a robber?
He admits that he doesn't know how much money he stole. That only makes her more baffled. And it is no wonder, for as Raskolnikov talks he doesn't make his points very clearly. He asks again if she will stick by him, and admits that he has asked her to join him in his suffering because he is unable to bear it alone. He craves reassurance.
At last he is able to say that he killed because he wanted to be a Napoleon. But of course Sonia has no way of knowing what he means. Raskolnikov explains his anguish that the only test he could put himself to was such a meaningless one. But it was his only chance, he explains. When Sonia finds this explanation difficult to understand, he offers a vastly different one. He killed for the money so that he would not have to take any more from his poor mother, he says. And he admits that killing the old woman was "wrong."
Yet a moment later he insists he killed a louse, not a human being. When Sonia disputes that, he says the most honest thing of all: he doesn't know what the truth is anymore. He had many reasons, but he has no words to express them.
When he tries again, he suggests that he is evil, vile, vindictive... a whole chain of terrible qualities. And perhaps he is even a little crazy, he admits. He could have stuck it out at the university and found jobs to support himself, he realizes. But he isolated himself, and in his isolation resolved that the only people who mattered were those who dared to be masterful. Power exists only for those who will take it. He killed because he wanted to dare, to have the courage to be a great man, he claims.
Sonia is appalled. He has done the work of the devil, she says. But for Raskolnikov that is too easy an answer. He insists that he murdered for himself, to test whether he had the right to be a great man. But he has failed. He really is only a louse. And that is why he has come to Sonia.
He pleads with her to tell him what to do, but when she insists that he confess to the police, he is thunderstruck. Her belief is that he must suffer and atone, but he refuses.
Suddenly, he has a new thought. Perhaps he really is a man after all. Maybe he has just been too hard on himself. Maybe there is still fight left in him. He won't give up. He knows they have no evidence. Even if they arrest him, he will prevail. But the grief Sonia feels for him is a weight on his soul, for he senses the responsibility that her love imposes on him. Is he better or worse off than he was when he came?
She asks him to wear her cross, but he is not ready yet. Sonia is confident that the time will come when he will ask for it and they will pray together. There is good reason to think she is right, for hasn't Raskolnikov changed enormously because of his contact with her? But on the other hand, having to explain himself seems to have given him new courage. Something must shift the balance.
Just then Lebezyatnikov comes to the door.