Summary and Analysis
Raskolnikov remembers that Lizaveta has the appointment with the tradespeople because she acts as a go-between for impoverished families forced to sell their goods. He then remembers that he had the address of Alyona Ivanovna from a fellow student and even before he went to see her he had "felt an irresistible dislike for her."
While he is thinking about how obnoxious the pawnbroker is, he overhears a conversation between two young officers who had recently had business with her; they were enumerating all of her horrible flaws. Alyona Ivanovna is spiteful, cranky, and hateful. She charges an exorbitant usurious, interest rate (five to seven percent), is sadistic, and beats her half sister, Lizaveta Ivanovna. She greedily forecloses if one is even one day late, causing poor people to lose valuable property.
Raskolnikov hears the two officers justifying a proposition that the old woman was a detriment to society because actively causes harm and destroys the lives of innocent people by her usury. On the other hand, a person could kill her and use the money to save "scores of families. . .from beggary, from decay, from ruin and corruption." Would not thousands of good deeds wipe out one small transgression? The supposition ends when one of the officers asks the other: "Would you kill the old woman with your own hands?" Both agree that they would not, and that is the end of it.
After recalling this conversation, Raskolnikov begins to make preparations by sewing a noose into his overcoat and wrapping the pledge securely. He goes to steal the axe, but Nastasya, the servant, is sitting in the door. He takes an axe from the porter. These preparations delay him and it is 7:30 p.m. before he reaches the pawnbroker's. As he arrives, he notes that there is an empty flat under the pawnbroker's and workers are in there painting it. He climbs to Alyona Ivanovna's flat and rings the doorbell several times before she opens the door.
The conversation Raskolnikov overheard six weeks ago is central to his justification for murdering such a person as Alyona Ivanovna. This conversation occurred at the same time that Raskolnikov was independently considering the same ideas. These ideas are not Raskolnikov's, nor Dostoevsky's, nor those of the two officers: Instead they are a synthesis of the German philosopher, Hegel (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1770-1830).
The thesis of Hegelianism that applies here is an altruistic one in that (1) the old pawnbroker is an active, "harmful thing" and her murder will remove blight upon society. (2) This old pawnbroker has actually been involved in evil matters. (3) Her considerable money, rather than being wasted in a monastery on useless prayers for her horrible soul, can be used to save multiple families from destitution. (4) The person who murders her can then use the money and devote himself "to the service of humanity and the good of all." Therefore, "one tiny crime would be wiped out by thousands of good deeds." The Hegelian antithesis is very simple; that is, who will do the actual killing? If no one is willing to perform this murder, then "there's no justice about it."
Even though Raskolnikov had already been considering these ideas some six weeks ago, he has concerned himself only with the general outlines of his plan and has not worked out details. Therefore, his difficulty later occurs because he "put off trifling details, until he could believe in it all." Thus, he is forced to commit the murder before he has completely resolved all the details.
Raskolnikov's thoughts about crime and psychology reveal his theory that the failure of any crime lies not so much in the impossibility of concealing the crime, as in the criminal himself. "Every criminal, at the moment of the crime, is subject to a collapse of will-power and reason. . . ." Thus, later, Raskolnikov, after murdering Alyona, has a failure of will when he leaves the apartment door wide open, allowing Lizaveta to enter and forcing Raskolnikov to kill her also, and when he arrives at the pawnbroker's a half an hour late.
Finally, the reader should keep in mind that painters are in the flat below; and later Raskolnikov will faint at the smell of paint. There is also an interminably long ringing sound of the bell — a sound that returns to him in his illness.