On his way to see Sonya, Raskolnikov wonders if it is absolutely necessary to tell Sonya who killed Lizaveta. When she meets him, she had indeed been waiting for him and she pleads that he not talk to her the way he did yesterday — "there is enough misery in the world." But Raskolnikov ignores her plea and immediately reminds her of the things that he had said yesterday.
Over her protests, Raskolnikov asks her a hypothetical question — that is, between Luzhin and Katerina, which one should be allowed to go on living? Should Luzhin live and continue committing acts of evil and hate crimes and causing the imprisonment of people like Sonya and the deaths of Katerina and the children? Or should Katerina Ivanovna go on living? "How do you decide? Which of them should die?" Sonya refuses to answer saying "I can't know God's intentions? Why do you ask such questions that have no answer? Who am I to judge who shall live and who shall not?" As Raskolnikov asks these difficult questions, Sonya realizes his suffering and asks what is troubling him.
Raskolnikov reminds Sonya that he had promised to tell her today who killed Lizaveta. To Sonya's frightened response, he first asks her to guess and then tells her to "take a good look at me." Somehow the dreadful knowledge is communicated to Sonya and all of her suffering suddenly becomes magnified. She shrinks from Raskolnikov. Recovering immediately, she flings herself on her knees in front of him, crying out: "What have you done, what have you done to yourself?. . . .There is no one, no one unhappier than you in the whole world."
A sudden feeling of tenderness floods Rodya's heart and softens it, and he asks Sonya: "Do not forsake me." and she vows she will "Never, forsake you, nowhere! . . . I will follow you wherever you go. . . I will even follow you to prison." At the mention of prison or Siberia, Raskolnikov recoils, and his haughty attitude returns.
When Sonya asks him how he could bring himself to do such a thing, Raskolnikov offers explanations ranging from his poverty to his Ubermensch theory. Each of his reasons is rejected so that Raskolnikov never successfully explains his crime. After many attempts to explain the crime, he turns to Sonya and asks "tell me what to do now?" She requests him "Go at once, this very minute, stand at the cross-roads, bow down, first kiss the earth which you have defiled [desecrated] and then bow down to the whole world and say to all men aloud, 'I am a murderer!'"
When Rodya questions this, she tells him again: "Accept suffering and achieve atonement through it." Rodya hedges still and asks Sonya if she will come and visit him in prison, and as she affirms that she will, she offers him the cypress-wood cross that was once Lizaveta's. He reaches for it, but decides it would be better if he accepted it later, and Sonya agrees: "When you accept your suffering, you shall put it on."
At this crucial moment, Lebezyatnikov rushes into the room.
The idea of "suffering" becomes uppermost at this point. It is as if Sonya has not suffered enough, Raskolnikov deliberately increases her suffering first by pointing out that Katerina and the children are now homeless. Then after he has seen the very depth of her suffering, he then prepares her for his confession of the murder.
By way of preparation for his confession, or more important, his assuaging his own guilt or complicity, he asks Sonya the hypothetical question of whether Luzhin or Katerina should live. Sonya bases her refusal to answer upon her reliance on Divine Providence: "How can I know the will of God?" Hence, she simply will not entertain such an idea.
After many attempts and thoughts of confession (at least ten times) Raskolnikov almost makes an open confession, but he cannot yet formulate his crime into words. He can only hint and then say "Take a good look." Now and all through this chapter, Sonya is aware that Raskolnikov is suffering tremendously and his suffering increases hers. She is aware that the suffering is a path to expiation and redemption.
After the confession, Sonya promises that she will follow him to Siberia. This is not just an idle promise; she takes part of Raskolnikov's suffering upon herself. As soon as Sonya mentions Siberia, Raskolnikov again attempts to explain, rationalize, or justify the murders. He rejects each attempt as soon as he offers it. As pointed out earlier, he was forced by circumstances to commit the murder before his theory was completely formulated. Now as he attempts to explain it, he realizes how incomplete it really was. This realization is seen in the fact that as soon as he offers a reason, he then rejects it with the words: "No, No, that wasn't it." This is repeated so often that it functions as a thematic motif throughout the scene.
His reasons for the murder include: it was merely for plunder, he wanted to be a type of Napoleon, he needed money to keep himself in school without being a burden to his mother, he killed only a louse, he was being vain and mad, and he wanted to see if he had the daring to do it.
Sonya's advice to Raskolnikov is to suffer and expiate his sin, "to go at once, this very minute, stand at the cross-roads" and confess. Raskolnikov rejects this because he fears the laughter of men who would call him a coward and a fool — a coward because he couldn't live by his ideas, and a fool because he would follow the advice of a prostitute. Sonya also wants him to wear the wooden cross, but he rejects it until a later date because he was not quite prepared to acknowledge completely his crime.
A mystery in this chapter is where and when did Sonya get Lizaveta's cypress cross?