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Summary: Chapter V

Raskolnikov resolves not to meet with his old friend Razumikhin until after he has committed his awful act, if he ever does commit it. After drinking some brandy, he falls asleep in a grassy area. He dreams of an incident from his childhood in which he witnessed a group of peasants sadistically beating an old mare to death and delighting in their cruelty. In his dream, a young boy cries out against the act and nestles the dead mare’s head in his arms before his father carries him away. Raskolnikov wakes stricken with horror at the act that he is contemplating and again renounces it. On a whim, he walks home through a public market, the Haymarket, where he happens to overhear Lizaveta, the pawnbroker’s sister, say that she will be out of the house the next day at seven. Raskolnikov realizes that such a chance will not present itself again. He walks home terror-stricken, feeling that “all liberty of action and free-will were gone.”

Summary: Chapter VI

The narrator recounts how Raskolnikov first developed the idea to kill Alyona Ivanovna (the first explicit identification of the awful deed that he is contemplating committing). Raskolnikov developed a strong hatred of her the first time he saw her. Soon after, in a bar, he overheard a conversation between a student and an officer in which the student denounced the old woman as a hateful parasite and argued that humanity would be better off if she were killed and her wealth distributed among the poor. These ideas echoed Raskolnikov’s own thoughts, and he was struck by the coincidence of hearing them spoken by someone else. He became sure that it was his destiny to kill the pawnbroker.

The narrative then shifts back to the present. Raskolnikov falls into a deep sleep and doesn’t wake until the following evening. Realizing it is already six o’clock, he hastily makes preparations for the crime, preparing a fake “pledge” to give to Alyona and a loop in his overcoat in which he plans to carry the ax that he will use to commit the murder. Still unsure at first, his resolve increases when he conveniently finds an ax in the caretaker’s shed. He goes to Alyona’s apartment, his intent to commit the crime stronger than ever. At seven-thirty, he is at Alyona’s door, ringing the bell in a deliberately nonchalant manner. Someone inside unlocks the door.

Summary: Chapter VII

The old woman lets the feverish-looking Raskolnikov in. He presents her with a fake cigarette case wrapped with a difficult knot in order to distract her. As she turns away to undo the knot, he reaches for the ax. After several blows, Alyona lies dead on the floor in a bloody heap. Raskolnikov takes her keys and goes to the back room, overcoming an urge to give up and leave. He takes a purse that had hung on her neck but is unable to find more than a few trinkets in the back room. Just then, Lizaveta enters the apartment and is paralyzed with horror at the sight of her dead sister. Raskolnikov kills her with a single blow but then realizes that the door to the apartment has been open the whole time. Terrified and desperate, he washes the blood from his hands and the ax and locks the door. Two strange men come to the door, determined to enter. When they leave for a minute, Raskolnikov manages to escape by hiding in a vacant apartment in which two painters have been working until it is safe to leave the building through the front door. Feverish, Raskolnikov takes a circuitous route home and puts the ax back where he found it before returning to his room.

Analysis: Chapters V–VII

In these chapters, Dostoevsky makes effective use of the literary techniques of suspense, foreshadowing, and coincidence. To build suspense, the author delays the actual commission of the crime with a dream sequence, one more renunciation of the crime, a flashback, and a description of Raskolnikov’s thoughts and preparations for the crime. These postponements also reveal different aspects of Raskolnikov’s character and reasoning, giving the reader a sense of his mental process as he builds up the crime. Nevertheless, much about him remains ambiguous. We still do not understand his real motives for the crime, the reasons for his poverty and isolation from society, and his surprising carelessness before and during the actual execution of the murder. Despite the elements of suspense, there is never much doubt that Raskolnikov will commit the crime, but the nagging question of why haunts the novel until, and even long after, the actual murders.

Read more about Dostoevsky’s use of coincidence in the novel.

Chapter V provides a glimpse of Raskolnikov’s buried capacity for compassion. His disgust at the thought of killing Alyona after he dreams of an incident from his childhood signifies his deep ambivalence about committing murder. One part of him, rational and abstract, thinks that he has every right to do it, while another part, emotional and compassionate, is repulsed by the idea. The gruesome description of the killing of the old mare in his dream also serves to foreshadow the killing of Alyona in the next chapter. The barbaric beating of the mare is described in vivid terms, heightening the emotional tone of the novel and preparing the reader for the horror of the murder. Finally, the compassionate reaction of the young Raskolnikov to the brutal act might be seen as a foreshadowing of Raskolnikov’s ultimate repentance of his crime.

Read more about why Raskolnikov kills the pawnbroker.

Coincidences abound in Crime and Punishment. At this point in the novel, they serve as the plot device by means of which Raskolnikov’s resolve to commit the crime is made firm. His determination results from a chance discovery of a prime opportunity to commit the crime. Though Raskolnikov takes the mention of Lizaveta’s impending absence as a sign that he is meant to commit the murder, it is perhaps more telling as a sign of Raskolnikov’s own personality. Nothing in the world forces him to commit the crime. Instead, he searches the environment around him for excuses and opportunities that allow him to justify the horrible action that he is about to take. It is almost as though, by investing chance events with personal importance, Raskolnikov is trying to avoid his own responsibility for the crime. As coincidences that make the crime increasingly plausible accumulate, he starts to feel that he is losing control over himself and that the forces of fate are taking over. This belief in coincidences as signs of fate is tied to Raskolnikov’s pride: since he believes that he is superior to other human beings, it is only natural for him to feel that circumstances should conspire to make his crime more easily accomplished. Raskolnikov is convinced, or, at least, is trying hard to be convinced, that he is an instrument of fate and that his actions are thus justified.

Read more about how Raskolnikov sees himself as a “superman.”

The fallacy of Raskolnikov’s supposedly rational reasoning behind the crime is that his unplanned murder of Lizaveta destroys all of his justifications. Although Raskolnikov assures himself that he is committing a principled act in doing away with Alyona, the murder of her harmless sister has none of the utilitarian consequences that Raskolnikov believes the death of Alyona will have. Rather, killing Lizaveta is a selfish act that serves only to protect Raskolnikov from arrest. Committed to a path of crime from the moment he first raises the ax against Alyona, Raskolnikov unhesitatingly murders them both.