Porfiry Petrovich, the eccentric magistrate investigating the pawnbroker’s murder, is large in stature and presence. He cultivates a kind of eccentricity almost as if to disguise his shrewdness. For example, Razumikhin describes how Petrovich dominates conversation at a party by arguing passionately for an opinion he doesn’t agree with in order to expose its flaws. Considering that the argument at hand was whether crime truly exists, Petrovich’s chaotic lying here actually appears to be a mission of restoring order to Razumikhin’s friends, who are largely young students. He approaches his pursuit of Raskolnikov in much the same way, toying with him in a manner that Raskolnikov compares to a cat playing with a mouse. According to Petrovich’s psychological approach to criminal investigation, all he needs to do is drop hints that he knows the truth and the criminal will torment himself into confessing. Although this method does not ultimately convince Raskolnikov to confess, Petrovich clearly understands Raskolnikov’s mind better than Raskolnikov himself. Their conversations thus are psychologically tense, as Petrovich calmly talks Raskolnikov into corners that he must scramble out of, aware of how guilty he looks.

Ostensibly the reason for Petrovich’s hesitation to arrest Raskolnikov is a lack of actual evidence. However, his desire for Raskolnikov to confess appears to stem more from a desire to rehabilitate him. Petrovich assures Raskolnikov that his confession would be a mitigating factor in his sentencing. Though this promise feels like another of Petrovich’s mind games, in the epilogue we learn that he does indeed keep it. Thus, we can take it at his word when Petrovich dismisses the moral agnosticism of Raskolnikov’s article as “youthful incorruptible pride.” He also says Raskolnikov has a “heart unhinged by theories.” Implicit in these comments is a criticism of the radical thinkers of the time as immature at best and even corrupting, underscoring the novel’s skepticism of philosophical movements like nihilism. While Petrovich’s dismissal of these ideas as coming from Raskolnikov’s youth and inexperience may seem condescending, it also means that he believes Raskolnikov can grow out of them and be redeemed. Therefore, although he’s a magistrate, Petrovich isn’t lying when he says he’s not questioning Raskolnikov like an examining lawyer. Rather, he acts more as a moral guide, encouraging Raskolnikov’s redemption.