Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1048
Though he generally avoids crowds, even more so of late, Raskolnikov suddenly has a desire to be with other people. Something new is happening inside him, and with it comes a thirst for company. After a month of his own wretchedness, he is glad to be somewhere else—even in this awful tavern.
Often a chance meeting with a stranger is interesting even before it happens, and that is the impression Raskolnikov has about the man who appears to be a retired government clerk sitting some distance away from him. Afterwards, he will recall this feeling, even calling it a presentiment. Though he clearly disdains everyone else in the room, the middle-aged man is staring persistently at Raskolnikov, as if he wants to engage in a conversation. His face is yellowish-green from too much drinking, but his eyes are glittering with something like madness.
The man is dirty and unkempt, a fitting patron for this tavern, yet there is a slight air of respectability about him, too. He rumples his hair and drops his head dejectedly into his hands as he sits at the sticky table. Finally he looks directly at Raskolnikov and asks him if he would like to engage in a conversation. His unexpectedly grandiloquent vocabulary and style surprise Raskolnikov, as does being addressed so directly. Just as a moment before he was in the mood for conversation, now Raskolnikov feels his habitual aversion to being approached by strangers.
The drunken man introduces himself as Marmeladov as he staggers over to Raskolnikov’s table. When asked, the younger man introduces himself as a student, and the older man boasts of spending the last five nights on a hay barge; Raskolnikov has no trouble believing it, for the man is filthy and covered in bits of hay. Marmeladov rants about the nobility of poverty as opposed to beggary, and as he speaks, the other people in the room begin to gather near to hear the “funny fellow” speak.
He eloquently laments the troubles he has had, including the facts that his moneylender beat up Marmeladov’s wife because she spoke disrespectfully to him and that his daughter has a yellow passport. All his troubles are shameful, but the men at the bar already know his story. He asks Raskolnikov to tell him honestly if he can deny that Marmeladov seems to be a pig, but Raskolnikov does not answer. The drunken orator goes on to talk about the true nobility of his wife; though she has consistently abused him, she is a lady but he is a pig. The men gathered around him snigger at the picture Marmeladov paints of his pitiful life.
His wife, Katerina Ivanovna, has had much to endure, he tells them. He has stolen her stockings and other personal possessions in order to buy drink, and she has become consumptive as she is forced to live in a cold home and care for their three children. The more Marmeladov drinks, the sharper his guilt—so he drinks more in order to suffer twice as much.
Katerina Ivanovna is a noblewoman who left her family for a military man who became a gambler and died, leaving her with three young children. Marmeladov, a widower with a fourteen-year-old daughter, Sonia, was stationed in the remote area where Ivanovna was eking out a living, and they married. Sonia was not educated, and Ivanovna treated the girl with great disrespect, saying she ate more than she was worth, causing her own children to starve. Eventually she shamed the girl into prostitution in order to help provide for her family, but once Sonia had...
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debased herself, Katerina Ivanovna was grateful.
As a consequence of Sonia’s profession, she was given a yellow card and was not allowed to live in her family’s building, where "a girl like that” would damage the others’ reputations. She moved in with a tailor and his family, all of whom lived in one room above the shop. She sneaks home at night to comfort Katerina Ivanovna and bring what money she can. Marmeladov had begged for his old position in the service, promising to behave himself this time, and there was much rejoicing when he told his family he would once again be bringing home a salary.
That was all five weeks ago, and Marmeladov was treated like a king in his own home for the first time. Raskolnikov remembers the man’s five nights spent in the hay and feels a “sick sensation.” Five days ago, Marmeladov stole the remainder of the money from his wife’s locked box and asked his daughter for more after he had drunk that away. He is repentant for what he has done and what Sonia has had to do to help support her family.
After enduring much taunting and jeering, Marmeladov wants to leave the tavern; Raskolnikov goes with him, and the man is “more and more overcome by dismay and confusion” as they near his house. He cries that he is not afraid of being struck by his wife; he is afraid of the look in her eyes and the crying of his hungry children.
His home is spartan and tiny, more of a walkway into other people’s rooms, and Raskolnikov recognizes Katerina Ivanovna immediately. She is tall and graceful, though terribly emaciated. She seems about thirty years old to him, a strange wife for the drunken man next to him. The children are gaunt and crying. Marmeladov drops to his knees at the doorway and pushes Raskolnikov forward.
When she sees Marmeladov, Katerina Ivanovna screams at him and begins searching him for money. She finds nothing and shouts at him that he has even sold his fine clothes for more money to drink away; then she turns on Raskolnikov and accuses him of drinking with her husband, screaming at him to go away. As he walks hurriedly away, he hears the landlady telling Katerina Ivanovna they must leave, and he leaves the few coins in his pocket on the window sill. On the stairway he regrets the action but does not go back. He mocks the man and his family until he wonders if he is wrong, if the man is not actually a scoundrel and all men are actually good.