“Oh, the most ordinary,” and suddenly Porfiry Petrovich looked with obvious irony at him, screwing up his eyes as if he were winking at him.
Petrovich asks Raskolnikov for an official written statement claiming his property, since Raskolnikov didn’t come to collect his belongings after the pawnbroker’s murder. Raskolnikov asks if the statement should be written on ordinary paper. It’s not clear how much Petrovich knows at this point, but his reply emphasizing ordinary for dramatic effect indicates Petrovich puts the request into a less innocent context. He already has deep insight into Raskolnikov’s character. The exchange unnerves Raskolnikov, who now suspects Petrovich knows he is the killer.
There is, if you remember, a suggestion that there are certain persons who can … that is, not precisely are able to, but have a perfect right to commit breaches of morality and crimes, and that the law is not for them.
Petrovich presses Raskolnikov to elaborate his ideas about crime and morality after Petrovich reveals he has read Raskolnikov’s recently published essay on crime. Petrovich’s pointed inquiry causes tension, since Raskolnikov has actually carried out the unsavory ideas presented in the essay. Petrovich’s presence in the novel continually pressures Raskolnikov to reconcile the psychological gap between his ideas and his act.
“Oh, come, don’t we all consider ourselves Napoleons now in Russia?” Porfiry Petrovich said with alarming familiarity.
Petrovich plays with Raskolnikov, who has difficulty controlling himself as Petrovich throws him more and more into inner conflict. Raskolnikov’s essay on crime has already given the highly shrewd Petrovich insight into Raskolnikov’s character. Petrovich knows that Raskolnikov’s ideas rest on the notion that some people are superior to others, and he hits home with his confrontational statement that Raskolnikov would like to think of himself as a Napoleon.
“Who is the murderer?” he repeated, as though unable to believe his ears. “You, Rodion Romanovich! You are the murderer,” he added almost in a whisper, in a voice of genuine conviction.
At this time, Petrovich reveals his conviction of Raskolnikov’s guilt. Although he hasn’t gathered enough hard evidence to arrest Raskolnikov, he has gathered enough insight into Raskolnikov’s character, which has been visibly crumbling every time they talk. Petrovich seems ready to take a gamble on his suspicion, counting on the fact that Raskolnikov feels tormented with guilt. Petrovich’s gamble appears to be successful.
“Ah, don’t disdain life!” Porfiry went on. “You have a great deal of it in front of you.”
Petrovich appears sympathetic to Raskolnikov, despite his crimes. Petrovich knows that Raskolnikov feels racked with guilt, and in his youth has become somewhat misguided by his pronounced intellect. In the end, the world weary Petrovich urges the young impetuous Raskolnikov to honor the gift of life by looking beyond prison.