Summary and Analysis Part 3: Chapter 5


Raskolnikov enters Porfiry's place trying to conceal his laughter. He is surprised to see Zametov, the chief clerk of the police department. He is then introduced to Porfiry. He tells his host of his official business: He had left Alyona Ivanovna some small items not of much value, to which he attached great sentimental value, particularly a watch left him by his father. Porfiry announced that he had indeed been expecting Raskolnikov, since everyone else who had pledges with the old pawnbroker had already made their claims.

Porfiry lets Raskolnikov know that he knew all about his pledges and they had been wrapped up carefully by the old pawnbroker and dated with his name on them. Porfiry subtly lets Raskolnikov know that he is aware of Raskolnikov's sickness, of his meeting with Zametov, and of his presence at Marmeladov's death. All these revelations disturb him, and he thinks to himself that Porfiry is playing with him, "like a cat plays with a mouse." He momentarily thinks of confessing the whole truth, especially since he feels that the police already know everything.

A discussion of the relationship of crime to one's environment ensues, which leads to Porfiry's announcement that he has read Raskolnikov's article on crime, which had appeared in a prominent magazine two months ago. Everyone, including Raskolnikov, is surprised that the article has indeed been published. Porfiry then asks Raskolnikov to explain parts of his theory in more detail, which he undertakes to do.

The essence of Raskolnikov's theory about crime as he presents it involves the duties and obligations of a class of people classified as the "ordinary people" as contrasted to the "extraordinary people." He outlines that (1) the perpetration of a crime is always accompanied by illness. Either the illness causes a person to commit the crime or else committing the crime causes one to become ill. (2) All men are divided into "ordinary" and "extraordinary." (3) Ordinary men have to live in submission and have no right to transgress the law because they are ordinary. (4) On the contrary, the extraordinary man has the right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way because he is extraordinary. That is not an official legal right but an inner right to decide in his own conscience whether to overstep the law or any obstacle that stands in the way of the practical fulfillment of his idea. (5) All great men would (or should) have the right to eliminate a few men in order to make their discoveries known to the benefit of all humanity. (6) All great men capable of giving something new (some "New Word") must not submit to the common law, or if they do, then this is proof that they do not belong among the extraordinary people. Being great means breaking from the common rut of ordinary laws. (7) In conclusion, men are divided into two categories the inferior (or ordinary) who can only reproduce their kind, and the superior "men who have the gift or talent to utter a new word."

After his explanation, Porfiry subtly wonders if Raskolnikov might have thought of himself as being "extraordinary" while composing or formulating this particular theory. Raskolnikov maintains that even if he did think that, he would not tell Porfiry, but he assures him that he does not consider himself to be a Napoleon or a Mahomet. Porfiry wonders then if this superior person would suffer, and Raskolnikov responds that "suffering and pain are always obligatory on those of wide intellect and profound feeling."

After hearing the explanation, Porfiry then returns to the business of the pledges and asks Raskolnikov if he remembers seeing some painters at work there. Raskolnikov feels that there is a trap here somewhere and tells that he cannot recall seeing any painters, but that someone was moving out. Razumihkin reminds Porfiry that the painters were only at work on the day of the murder and that Raskolnikov's last time there was several days before the murder. Porfiry pretends to have been confused and offers Raskolnikov his apologies.


This chapter presents us a full view of the 35-year-old Porfiry, and it is immediately apparent that Raskolnikov has a worthy opponent. For example, in the discussion of Raskolnikov's article on crime, Porfiry wants to know if while he was composing it Raskolnikov didn't consider himself to be an extraordinary person because he has uttered a new word. That is, if Raskolnikov's theory is believed, then he must have considered himself extraordinary, even though he assures Porfiry that he is no Napoleon or Mahomet.

Even though Raskolnikov disclaims his pretensions to being an extraordinary man, nevertheless, what is new, really new and original in his theory (thus possibly making him one of the extraordinary) is that he "sanctions bloodshed in the name of conscience." That is, the great man is obligated to give to the world his new word, and if it means killing a person (or a louse) in order to do so, then the great man must do that.

Porfiry is also very clever when he asks Raskolnikov in a casual, off-handed manner if he by chance saw two painters when he went to the pawnbroker's. This is a trap, and Raskolnikov knows it is because there were no painters on the day he pawned his watch, but there were painters there on the day Alyona was murdered. Raskolnikov is clever enough to discover the trap and thus escape. His perception of this trap again shows the return of his rational powers. Consequently, Porfiry is, as Raskolnikov earlier thought, playing "cat and mouse" games with him.

If there seem to be contradictions in parts of Raskolnikov's theory, such as maintaining that the great will suffer and also later that the great must be above sympathy and dependence on the ordinary, these contradictions are not unintentional on Dostoevsky's part. Instead, it must be emphasized that Raskolnikov at the time of the murder had not worked out his theory in complete detail. The contradictions exist so that later Raskolnikov will have to justify them when he is trying to explain his crime to Sonya.

Pop Quiz!

After his trial, where is Raskolnikov sent?


What does the phrase Ethiop words" mean in Shakespeare's As You Like It?"