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Crime and Punishment

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Part 1, Chapter 4 Summary

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His mother’s letter was torturous for Raskolnikov. As he walks the streets like a crazy, drunken man, he determines one thing: Even if they think it is all arranged, his sister will not marry Luzhin. He understands what this man must be like by his mother’s use of seems: He seems kind, he seems sensible, and he seems impressive. The reason his mother says she will not go to live with her daughter and her new husband is that she knows Luzhin does not want her. Furthermore, Raskolnikov is incensed that this man is sending a cart for the women’s luggage but allows the women themselves to ride in a crude peasant cart at their own expense. His mother tries to soften the realities, but Raskolnikov perceives the truth and will not allow his sister to ruin her life for his sake.

The burden is heavy for Raskolnikov because he understands and loves his sister. She is a strong young woman who can (in fact, already has) endured some horrible things, things she would never tolerate on her own behalf but is willing to endure for another. Dounia adores him, and Raskolnikov knows that she is willing to endure a loveless, parsimonious, and probably even cruel marriage for his benefit. She sees this move as something she must do in order to promote Raskolnikov’s career and secure his future happiness. Dounia would never sell her soul for her own benefit and comfort, but she is willing to sell herself for his.

It is clear to Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov that he is the central figure in this drama, and though his mother has doubts, she is willing to sacrifice her daughter for her adored firstborn. As he walks and thinks, Raskolnikov makes the comparison between Sonia, the young girl forced to sell herself to support her family, and Dounia, who is willing to endure a lifetime of misery for his sake. He concludes that he will not allow either his mother or his sister to make this sacrifice, as long as he is alive to stop it.

He suddenly stops walking and asks himself what he can realistically do to stop the marriage, since he has been living on their money and accomplishing nothing with his life. Raskolnikov tortures himself with these thoughts, finding a kind of enjoyment in them. In truth, these are old thoughts; this present anguish began long, long ago and has coalesced and grown strong until he now wonders if he should continue living and what it means when there is “absolutely nowhere to turn.”

Suddenly his thought from yesterday rushes to his mind, causing a hammering in his head and darkness in his eyes. What seemed like a dream now seems real, and Raskolnikov must find a place to sit down and think. His attention is gradually drawn to a strange woman walking about twenty paces ahead of him. She is quite young, walking bareheaded without a parasol in the oppressive heat; she is also “waving her arms about in an absurd way.” Her light, silky dress is not worn correctly, and it is ripped and torn in several places. She is walking unsteadily, stumbling and staggering from side to side. Raskolnikov reaches her just as she drops to a bench and closes her eyes in apparent exhaustion.

A closer look reveals that the girl, only fifteen or sixteen years old, is completely drunk, apparently unaware of where she is or what she is doing. Raskolnikov is unwilling to leave her here, but he is perplexed about what to do. The street is virtually deserted,...

(This entire section contains 1175 words.)

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except for a gentleman standing about fifteen paces away, looking as if he, too, would have approached the girl but for reasons of his own. The gentleman looks angrily at Raskolnikov and waits impatiently for the man he sees dressed in rags to finally leave. The gentleman is rather a dandy, and Raskolnikov has a sudden urge to insult this foppish man somehow. He leaves the girl for a moment and walks toward the stranger.

Raskolnikov yells at the man to leave, and the astonished, scowling gentleman shakes his cane at his assailant. Just as Raskolnikov rushes the man, fists flailing, he is seized from behind. A policeman stands between the two men. The officer appears to be a straightforward sort, and Raskolnikov takes him to the girl and tells him of his suspicion: that the girl was induced to drink by a man and then taken advantage of, that she was dressed inexpertly by a man, and the man he was about to fight is to blame. The policeman considers what he sees and hears and, being a good judge of character, determines the gentleman is no gentleman.

The officer tries to rouse the girl and asks where she lives, but she is incoherent. Raskolnikov takes some coins from his pocket and offers to pay for a cab; the policeman says he will take her, but they still have no address. Raskolnikov is sure the officer must think it strange to see a man in rags with coins to spare, but they both agree that the girl’s treatment has been shameful. An outraged Raskolnikov points out that the gentleman is not giving up on getting the girl, though he has moved about ten paces away.

Suddenly the girl begins walking in the direction from which she came, mumbling that “they” will not let her alone. On the other side of the street, the gentleman follows her progress. Suddenly a feeling of revulsion comes upon Raskolnikov, and he shouts at the policeman, asking why he does not just let the dandy have the girl. The officer is confused by the question; he dismisses Raskolnikov as a madman and follows the girl.

Wondering why he had felt the need to interfere, Raskolnikov feels wretched. His thoughts go to the awful things that happen to so many girls every year, knowing there is a certain percentage of them who will have such a fate as this young girl--or worse. It is easy to think of percentages, but he wonders how he would feel if Dounia were abused.

Raskolnikov finally remembers he was going to see Razumihin, one of his university comrades. It is surprising that Raskolnikov has any friends, for he is consistently aloof and distant, uninvolved in any activities; his colleagues respect his work ethic but do not like his haughty demeanor. Razumihin is the kind of fellow everyone likes, simple and unassuming. He is an outrageous character, possessing prodigious strength and often carrying pranks too far. Within his character, however, lies great dignity; he is poor but makes his way by his own hard work. Razumihin also has had to drop out of school temporarily, but he is saving to go back to his studies. Raskolnikov does not even know his address. Several months ago, Raskolnikov saw Razumihin on the street and, embarrassed, tried to avoid him; his friend did see him but politely refrained from speaking to him. 


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