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Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Part 3, Chapters 5–6

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 3, Chapters 5–6 of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment.

Crime and Punishment | Part 3, Chapters 5–6 | Summary



Part 3, Chapter 5

Raskolnikov pretends to be lighthearted when he and Razumihin meet Porfiry, the police investigator. He is unpleasantly surprised to find that Porfiry already knows he pawned items with Alyona. Porfiry continues to reveal bit by bit that he knows a lot about Raskolnikov's recent movements. Uncertainty about whether Porfiry knows he went to Alyona's apartment the night before tortures Raskolnikov.

Porfiry brings up an article Raskolnikov wrote about crime, published in Periodical Discourse. The article argues that "the perpetration of a crime is always accompanied by illness." It also includes the theory that extraordinary men have the right to commit crimes, even kill, for the common good: "If such a one is forced for the sake of his idea to step over a corpse or wade through blood, he can, I maintain, find within himself, in his conscience, a sanction for wading through blood." Razumihin is horrified that his friend "sanctions bloodshed in the name of conscience, ... with such fanaticism." Raskolnikov has certainly been very ill himself recently, and Porfiry wonders if Raskolnikov might imagine himself to be this kind of "extraordinary man."

The three men continue to debate the question of whether crime exists or if it is ever justifiable. As Raskolnikov leaves Porfiry asks him to go the police station the next day. He surprises him with a parting question about the painters on the second floor at Alyona's, but Raskolnikov avoids the trap.

Part 3, Chapter 6

Razumihin is outraged that Porfiry suspects Raskolnikov. At first Raskolnikov seems to want to avoid discussing his meeting with Porfiry. But he cleverly dissects Porfiry's methods for Razumihin, secretly admitting to himself that he enjoys going over the details of his crime. Despite this outward confidence, his paranoia takes over, and he rushes home to search for evidence he might have missed.

Later a strange man passes Raskolnikov on the street and whispers "Murderer!" Raskolnikov's mind spins out of control, and he retreats in terror to his room. He realizes he is not an extraordinary man after all because he lacks the courage of his convictions. If he believed what he did was really "not a crime," he would not feel so guilty. Nor does he feel any sense of superiority. In fact, he compares the pawnbroker to a louse, an insect, then claims that he is even "viler and more loathsome" than she. Suddenly changing his mind, he curses her as if she caused his dilemma, saying he "shall never, never forgive the old woman."


Raskolnikov thinks he is clever, but he has met his match. Porfiry sees through him and does not hesitate to challenge him by trying to catch him in a lie. Porfiry is skilled at literary analysis and uses Raskolnikov's article to intuit that he is capable of crime.

Chapter 5 reveals in full Raskolnikov's rationalization for the murder: his "extraordinary man" theory. "I maintain that all great men or even men a little out of the common, that is to say capable of giving some new word, must from their very nature be criminals. ... Otherwise it's hard for them to get out of the common rut." Napoleon is Raskolnikov's epitome of the "extraordinary man." His drive to conquer Europe killed many, but history views him as a brilliant and powerful "leader of men." Ordinary laws do not apply to his extraordinary actions, so the suffering he creates is justified.

Dostoevsky is openly critical of Raskolnikov's theory and continues to chip away at the new morality that Raskolnikov uses to justify the murder to himself. The question arises of "whether there is such a thing as crime." According to socialists, who represent the new morality, all crimes happen for the same reason, to protest social ills. Like Raskolnikov, they believe crime for the greater good is excusable because the end justifies the means.

Razumihin thinks Raskolnikov's theory is simplistic and neglects the role of the "living soul," or human nature, as a motivation for crime. Porfiry believes that criminals are to some extent created by their environment. Both points of view could apply to Raskolnikov. His poverty likely played a part in his crime, but so did his psychology.

Standing in for traditional morality, Porfiry and Razumihin also underscore how reductive and inhumane Raskolnikov's theory really is. Porfiry attacks his argument from numerous angles, asking how someone who believes in God, as Raskolnikov does, could favor such a theory, and questioning the validity of dividing humanity into only two categories. Razumihin finds his theory repulsively violent.

Porfiry's questioning causes Raskolnikov to reach a new low. He realizes that the murder he committed on principle has not made him an extraordinary man. His sense of superiority is no more than a front. In fact, he feels inferior to the pawnbroker he despised. He has fulfilled his own statement that people who think they are extraordinary but are not end up punishing themselves. Despite these realizations Raskolnikov still avoids being fully honest with himself about the crime. As they often have before, his dreams tell him the truth: his crime has not made him extraordinary; it has made him pathetic.

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