Raskolnikov finds that he now wishes to be in the company of others. For the past month, he has spurned all company. He glances at the retired official, who appears ready to talk to him. The man has a face “swollen from drink” and is ill-shaved and dirty. He begins speaking to Raskolnikov, introducing himself as Marmeladov, a low-ranking civil servant. Raskolnikov begins explaining that he is a student, only to break off and experience “an irritable feeling of loathing.”
Raskolnikov grows angry at the mention of his university studies, which have been interrupted by his extreme poverty. It is revealed later in the novel that Raskolnikov had very few friends at university—only Razumikhin, who also studied in impoverished circumstances—took the trouble to befriend Raskolnikov, despite his prickliness.
Marmeladov speaks eagerly. He says that poverty is not a vice, but total poverty, destitution, is indeed one. He also admits to having slept on the banks of the Neva the past five nights. The tavern’s owner and a worker laugh at Marmeladov, egging him on with questions about his life. Marmeladov begins a long, confused discussion of his problems: his wife, Katerina Ivanovna, was recently beaten by a man named Lebezyatnikov, whom Marmeladov had asked, in vain, for a loan. Marmeladov tells Raskolnikov that Katerina is of higher birth, the daughter of an officer, and describes himself as but a “brute.” Katerina is suffering from consumption (tuberculosis), but Marmeladov has spent all the family’s money on drink.
Marmeladov is, in many ways, a foil for Raskolnikov. Although the cause of his madness is drink, not isolation and poverty, he feels that nothing in his life can go right, and that it is his fate to suffer. Marmeladov here introduces Katerina, his wife, who will be left alone to support the family after Marmeladov’s death, and who will succumb to madness herself. In one of the novel’s many coincidences, Lebezyatnikov will reappear as the roommate of Luzhin, Dunya’s fiancé.
Marmeladov explains his problems more specifically, feeling that Raskolnikov is a “sorrowful” man and therefore might understand. Katerina was educated in a school for nobles and received a “certificate of merit” for her studies. This inherent nobility, according to Marmeladov, explains why she would not tolerate Lebezyatnikov’s “rudeness,” which Marmeladov does not describe further. Her recent comments to Lebezyatnikov caused him to beat her. Marmeladov goes on: he met Katerina when she was widowed with three children; her first husband, an officer, had gambling debts and died during a court proceeding. Marmeladov was also a widower with a fourteen-year-old daughter. He married Katerina and swore off drinking for one year.
Katerina makes reference throughout the novel to her high birth. Wealth in the novel is not always measured in cash—just as frequently it is gauged by the circumstances of one’s social life, or the necessity for one to work. Katerina relies upon her father’s nobility, and the comfortable circumstances under which she was raised, in order to maintain her sanity before and after Marmeladov’s death. Even in moments of deepest despair, Katerina does not abandon her insistence that she is of noble birth and “too good” for poverty.
But Marmeladov later lost his job and began drinking again. Over the next year and a half he found work intermittently and continued drinking, only to arrive in Petersburg, find a job, and lose it once more. He, Katerina, and the three young children live at Fyodorovna Lippewechsel’s house. Marmeladov then speaks of his daughter from his first marriage, Sonya, whom he tried to educate in her youth, before the family ran out of money.
Marmeladov seems constitutionally incapable of sobriety. His alcoholism is the cause of his family’s poverty, and it forces Sonya to abandon her own studies—much as Raskolnikov is later forced to abandon his. Sonya is forced to work in order to support the family while Katerina cares for the younger children.
Earlier Katerina complained that Sonya, old enough to work, was not contributing to the family’s welfare. Marmeladov tells of one night, when Sonya finally went out to work and returned after eight, presumably having prostituted herself for thirty roubles, which she gave to Katerina. Katerina accepted the money and kissed Sonya’s feet as Sonya wept in bed.
Sonya’s prostitution is necessary to provide for Marmeladov’s family. It becomes a source of consternation for Marmeladov and, later, for Raskolnikov, who believes his sister’s desire to marry Luzhin for money to also be a form of prostitution, only one that is more socially acceptable.
Sonya is forced to carry a “yellow pass,” indicating she is a prostitute. Marmeladov then reveals the source of the quarrel between Katerina and Lebezyatnikov. At first, Lebezyatnikov attempted to solicit Sonya, but he thought better of it and reported that it would not be honorable to live in the same apartment–house as a prostitute. Katerina took issue with this comment and spoke to Lebezyatnikov, who beat her. Sonya was therefore kicked out of the building; she now lives with a tailor Kapernaumov and his family, who are all “tongue-tied,” – sufferers of speech impediments.
Lebezyatnikov is later revealed to be a proponent of the “new” liberal beliefs, which include a strong desire for feminine equality in public and private affairs. His desire to solicit Sonya underscores the hypocrisy of his outlook: he believes in women’s equality but nevertheless believes it is acceptable to solicit a prostitute and beat a woman who opposes him.
Marmeladov went to his supervisor after Sonya’s dismissal and begged for one more chance at his job, which he was granted. Marmeladov’s new job changed the family dynamic entirely. Katerina, who formerly only loathed her husband, began cooking him more elaborate meals and mending his clothes. Sonya even visited him, but at night only, so as not to arouse suspicion. Katerina even became friendly again with the landlady, Amalia Fyodorovna, and told her, falsely, of Marmeladov’s important position at the office. Six days previous to his conversation with Raskolnikov, Marmeladov brought home his first salary, and his family situation seemed secure.
Marmeladov’s apparent change of fortune seems especially cruel considering his death later in the novel. Raskolnikov, too, experiences several moments when he appears to be “in the clear”—unsuspected of the murder, and positioned to begin life anew. Marmeladov and Raskolnikov cannot escape their fates because they have given themselves over to immorality: Marmeladov to drunkenness, Raskolnikov to murder.
But Marmeladov’s alcoholism proved too much. He stole his salary from Katerina’s trunk and, for the past five days has been inebriated and sleeping outside. He even asked Sonya for a little extra money for a final bottle, which she gave him. Marmeladov drinks the last of that bottle before Raskolnikov and goes on a long rant, claiming that, though he does not deserve pity, he will nonetheless be forgiven by God, as will Sonya; he will be welcomed into heaven along with other sinners and fools.
Another scene of coincidence, as Raskolnikov will later steal goods from the pawnbroker’s trunk after he murders her. Marmeladov believes that God will forgive all sins: this, too, is repeated to Raskolnikov later on, by Dunya and by Sonya, both of whom encourage him to repent for his crimes and beg forgiveness of God.
After Marmeladov’s speech, Raskolnikov agrees to accompany him home. Marmeladov’s family lives in a subdivided corner of Amalia Lippewechsel’s fourth-floor apartment, and their living-space is cramped and filled with garbage and rags. Katerina, who is rather young but haggard and sickly in appearance, notices Raskolnikov and Marmeladov in the doorway and begins screaming at her husband, asking if he really took all the money, and dragging him by the hair into the main room. Marmeladov, being dragged, claims that his punishment “is a delight to him.”
Marmeladov claims to love his punishment—in some sense accepting suffering makes him feel that he is repenting for his crime. This is another instance of foreshadowing: although Raskolnikov is unrepentant even when he is sent to Siberia after his confession, he begins, under Sonya’s supervision and the influence of her love, to understand that his period of incarceration will lead to a better life. Unfortunately Marmeladov does not live long enough to experience such a transformation for himself.
Frau Lippewechsel arrives, announcing the family must leave the apartment immediately. Raskolnikov leaves unnoticed and places a handful of money from his own pocket on a windowsill. On his way out he regrets giving this money away but realizes he cannot take it back. He also comments to himself that man will become accustomed to even the lowliest of circumstances.
This is one of many times in the novel that Katerina’s landlady demands the family clear out of the apartment. Raskolnikov gives away money to many characters throughout the book, showing that he does not value it despite needing it desperately, and therefore that he is not motivated to murder for reasons of money.