It is an exceptionally hot July evening, and a young man is at the bottom of the stairs after having left his garret room. He is thankful not to have met his landlady on the staircase. Though he is “hopelessly in debt” to the woman, he wants to avoid her for other reasons. He is not a coward, nor is he ashamed; however, lately he has been in an irritable, over-strained condition, which has caused him to be completely self-absorbed and isolated. In this state, he dreads meeting anyone at all. He is crushed by poverty and has stopped doing anything of practical importance; rather than have to spend his energy making up excuses, he does his best simply to avoid his landlady.
This evening as he leaves his house, his fears descend on him. He is exceptionally weak, and his ideas are in a tangle because he has not eaten for two days. The Petersburg stench is all around him, and the sights and sounds of this part of town make a picture of “revolting misery.” He smiles at himself for being frightened at trifles when he is contemplating “a thing like that.” He has spent days closeted in his room, thinking about Jack the Giant-killer and wonders if it is that serious and if he is really capable of such a thing. Finally he tells himself it is just a fantasy, something to amuse himself.
He is an exceptionally handsome man, but he is so shabbily dressed that even a man accustomed to shabbiness would have been embarrassed at his appearance tonight. In this part of town, however, nothing is too surprising or out of place. Just as he thinks that, a drunken man laughs and points at his tall round hat, and all is nearly ruined. The man is not ashamed, but a sudden terror strikes him: The slightest trifle can ruin his plan. He must be as inconspicuous as possible if his plan is to work. Trifles matter, and trifles can ruin anything.
He has considered every detail of this hideous plan for the past month, and now he has decided to rehearse the plan as he has dreamed it so many times. He knows exactly how far it is to the house and what he will find when he gets there. Unnoticed, he slips by the men at the door and climbs up the narrow, dark back staircase. Already frightened, he wonders what he would feel if he were really going to do it.
On the fourth floor of the huge house, some movers are emptying an apartment; that is even better, as it leaves only the old woman as a tenant on that floor. With some trepidation, he rings the bell at the old woman’s apartment and waits a long time for her to answer. She is a disgustingly old and yellowed creature, diminutive and distrustful. She recognizes the man and reluctantly allows him to enter her apartment. Raskolnikov re-introduces himself to her, but she remembers him well.
Raskolnikov hands her his father’s watch to pawn, but Alyona Ivanovna says she cannot give him much for it since he already owes interest on the items he pawned last month. He reluctantly accepts her offer and listens carefully as she slips behind the curtain and unlocks what he assumes is a chest of drawers with another strongbox locked inside it. Even as he listens and absorbs every detail around him, Raskolnikov thinks the entire business is degrading. When she hands him the few coins, he discovers he is in no hurry to get away...
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and stammers something about bringing her a silver cigarette case as soon as he gets it back from his friend. Ivanovna is not interested in what might be, and Raskolnikov asks if she is generally alone here while her sister is gone. She ushers him out without answering.
Walking home, Raskolnikov finds his thoughts loathsome; he is extremely agitated. Suddenly struck by thirst, he enters a tavern, though he has never been in one before, and drinks a cold beer. At once his thoughts become more sensible and clear: “[S]imply physical derangement,” he says. Though scornful on the inside, Raskolnikov looks as cheerful as though he has suddenly been set free from a terrible burden. Nevertheless, he has a dim foreboding that this happier frame of mind is not normal.
A boisterous bunch leaves the bar, and it is suddenly quiet except for one drunken man alternating between humming a song and sleeping. Another man in the room looks like a retired government clerk. Sitting by himself and occasionally taking a sip of his drink, this man also appears to be in some state of agitation.