Raskolnikov visits Porfiry at his office; though he realizes he hates him, he knows that he must speak with him immediately. Porfiry greets him casually, and Raskolnikov wishes to speak about the murder without giving himself away. Porfiry, however, begins talking aimlessly and Raskolnikov wonders aloud whether he isn’t trying to lull Raskolnikov into a false sense of security. Porfiry responds that that is a normal police technique, and continue talking aimlessly, though claiming he is not using this very technique of police interrogation.
Porfiry’s method proves ingenious. Raskolnikov is not able to face a continued evasion of the topic at hand—the murders, and Raskolnikov’s roll in them. Porfiry’s carefully-executed misdirection infuriates Raskolnikov and, eventually, causes him to beg Porfiry either to charge him or let him go.
Raskolnikov becomes flustered. He asks that Porfiry either ask him direct questions or let him go. Porfiry acknowledges that he is not following the “form” of a typical interrogation, but instead says that they are having a “free-flowing conversation.” Raskolnikov is agitated and clearly wishes to leave. Porfiry starts speaking hypothetically, referencing Raskolnikov’s theoretical legal knowledge as evidenced by his recent article on ordinary and extraordinary criminals.
The question of form is an interesting one. Here Porfiry’s speech, his “free-flowing conversation,” might be seen as a descriptor of the novel itself, which follows Raskolnikov as he wonders, often aimlessly, through the streets of St. Petersburg.
In this hypothetical discussion, Porfiry wonders aloud whether it isn’t better, if one has a suspect and some evidence against him, to wait until one has “mathematical clarity” of proof against that man. He wonders further, though, whether it isn’t better simply to bother that man, to stay on his trail and get into his mind. Raskolnikov recognizes that Porfiry is speaking about his involvement in the murders, but doing so with such generality that it is difficult to pin down any one statement.
Porfiry ultimately wants Raskolnikov to confess to his crime. In this way, only, will Porfiry receive the “mathematical certainty of proof” he craves. At the moment, his evidence against Raskolnikov is strictly psychological, but he believes he might be able to agitate Raskolnikov sufficiently and force him to blurt out his guilt.
Porfiry begins to make more specific references to Raskolnikov’s behavior, mentioning the fainting incident in the police station and Raskolnikov’s playful “confession” to Zamyotov at the Crystal Palace. Raskolnikov retorts that he knows Porfiry is insinuating he committed the crime. He asks to be charged or let free, but not tormented. Porfiry feigns surprise but goes on to state he knows that Raskolnikov went to see the pawnbroker’s apartment and asked about the blood.
Porfiry finally admits to knowing a great deal about Raskolnikov’s recent behavior. The fainting fit and the conversation with Zamyotov in the tavern seem striking acknowledgments of Raskolnikov’s guilt. And Raskolnikov’s inquiries about “blood” in the old woman’s apartment are even bolder indicators that Raskolnikov has detailed knowledge of the crime that could only come from having committed it.
Porfiry gets Raskolnikov to admit that his actions, including the visit to the apartment after the murder, were not done “in delirium” but were the actions of a sane, rational individual. Raskolnikov even admits his theory that the best way to cover one’s crime is to admit as much as possible in order to avoid suspicion.
Once again, Raskolnikov argues that he is not insane, but rather that he has complete control over his decision-making faculties. Porfiry tricks Raskolnikov into admitting that, whatever crime he committed, he did so with sane mind.
Yet Porfiry insists that he does not suspect Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov does not believe him, and begs Porfiry either to accuse him or let him go. Porfiry says, finally, that he has a surprise for Raskolnikov waiting behind the door. Raskolnikov believes that Porfiry has behind the door witnesses who can attest to his guilt, and he says that he is ready to defend himself against their accusations.
It turns out that Porfiry has met with Raskolnikov because he, Porfiry, has something to reveal, something he believes will cause Raskolnikov to admit to his guilt. Raskolnikov, on the other hand, feels comfortable disputing whatever witness is present, and fighting for his (supposed) innocence.