Before he reaches Razumihkin's place, Raskolnikov changes his mind but promises that he will go the "the day after, when that is over and done with," but then in despair he wonders if it will really happen. It frightens him so much that he goes into a tavern and has a glass of vodka. Since he was unaccustomed to alcohol, he walks unsteadily to a park and immediately goes to sleep.
He dreams that he is back in his childhood, seven years old, and as he is walking with his father, he sees a drunken peasant trying to make his old horse pull a heavy wagon full of people. When the crowd laughs at him and the ridiculous spectacle, the peasant gets angry and begins beating the old, feeble horse. He beats so ferociously that others join in the "fun." Finally they begin to use crowbars and iron shafts. The old horse at first tries to resist, but soon it falls down dead. The boy in the dream, feeling great compassion for the stricken and dead mare, throws his arms around the beast and kisses it. All through the dream the peasant owner is screaming that the mare was his and he had a right to do whatever he wanted to with her.
Upon awakening from the dream, Raskolnikov renounces that "accursed dream of mine" and wonders in horror: "Is it possible that I really shall take an axe and strike her on the head, smash open her skull. . . God, is it possible?" He then ". . .renounces this accursed fantasy of mine" because he will never summon up enough resolution to do it.
However, as he walks through the Hay Market, he overhears a conversation between tradespeople and Lizaveta Ivanovna, the half sister to the old pawnbroker, that on the next night "at seven o'clock in the evening the old woman would be at home alone."
All through these early scenes Raskolnikov is somewhat feverish. Throughout the crime, he is not himself, and his irrational acts can be accredited to his illness. Ultimately, criminal theories suggest that the criminal is often sick when the crime is committed, and this theory will be used to alleviate Raskolnikov's guilt.
When Raskolnikov goes to sleep in the park, Dostoevsky lets us know that "A sick man's dreams are often extraordinarily distinct and vivid and extremely life-like. A scene may be composed of the most unnatural and incongruous elements, but the setting and the presentation are so plausible, the details so subtle, so unexpected, so artistically in harmony with the whole picture, that the dreamer could not invent them for himself in his waking state. Such morbid dreams always make a strong impression on the dreamer's already disturbed and excited nerves, and are remembered for a long time."
Thus, Dostoevsky is announcing to the reader that Raskolnikov's dream now and later will have special meaning to him and thus all the dreams are symbolic in one way or another.
When Raskolnikov awakens, he wonders if he can actually "take an axe. . .split her skull open. . .tread in the sticky warm blood. . .[and] hide." He ends by renouncing "that accursed dream of mine," thus symbolically rejecting his plan to murder Alyona Ivanovna. In the dream, Raskolnikov shows his dual nature at work. He is both the peasant Mikolka who cruelly beats the horse to death and also the boy who feels great compassion for the suffering horse. Thus, the waking Raskolnikov rejects the Mikolka aspect of his nature by renouncing the dream.
Other ideas developed later are present in the dream. The idea of property being the responsibility of the owner is touched upon. This relates to the pawnbroker's immense amount of property and the right to dispense with it as she pleases; even if she "wastes" it on monks chanting prayers for the dead, it is nevertheless her property. The idea of the innocent suffering as the horse must suffer is implicit. The horse has been interpreted as being "mother Russia" since later when Raskolnikov confesses, Sonya tells him to bow down and kiss the earth of mother Russia that he has defiled.
After the dream, the overheard conversation reveals that Lizaveta will be absent at 7:00 the next night. This forces Raskolnikov to consider it a perfect opportunity to commit the crime. Later Raskolnikov will attempt to justify the idea of the crime and maintain only that he executed it before the idea was completely formulated. But at this point, the destitute poverty, the emotional letter from his mother, and the favorable circumstance of Alyona Ivanovna's being alone will combine to push the actual act into immediate execution.