He realizes, on entering, that he must tell Sonya he has murdered Lizaveta. Sonya thanks him for defending her earlier, at the feast, and Raskolnikov goes on to ask a strange hypothetical question: would Sonya kill Luzhin in order to prevent his activities and spare Katerina and her family? Sonya replies that it is better not to kill, despite the consequences. He says he knew Sonya would answer this way, and he becomes quiet, adding he has come to ask forgiveness.
Raskolnikov attempts to justify his murder to Sonya before he admits to it. He argues that, in some circumstances, it is better to kill one person than to allow many people to suffer. But Sonya, invoking Christian teachings, says that to kill is always wrong, even if the killing would save others. She argues, in essence (and without realizing it) that killing cannot make one extraordinary. Raskolnikov knows that he must confess the truth.
Raskolnikov repeats his desire to tell Sonya who murdered Lizaveta. He says that the murderer aimed to kill and rob the pawnbroker and only murdered Lizaveta owing to her unexpected arrival. Sonya puts together that Raskolnikov is the killer and is appalled. She asks Raskolnikov “what he has done to himself.”
At last, a confession. Sonya’s first concern is for the state of Raskolnikov’s soul. Raskolnikov argues that he did not mean to kill Lizaveta, but did so because he was afraid she would inform on him.
Sonya promises to follow Raskolnikov wherever he goes. When Raskolnikov begins to explain why he killed the pawnbroker, Sonya wishes to justify his robbery owing to Raskolnikov’s poverty and hunger. But Raskolnikov admits that his reasons for killing are far more complex and difficult to explain. He now wonders why he has confided in Sonya in the first place.
Sonya attempts to make excuses for Raskolnikov: he killed because he was hungry, or he was not in his right mind. But Raskolnikov knows that this does not explain everything—if it did, he would have used some of the money he had stolen to improve his physical circumstances.
Raskolnikov explains his new thoughts regarding the murder, namely, that he is not a Napoleon after all, because he has “shrunk away from” his deed after the fact, and refuses to “step over” into a new society whose rules he is capable of determining. Raskolnikov tries again, explaining that his family was in dire financial circumstances and he was upset at not being able to attend university any longer. Sonya realizes, however, that Raskolnikov might be mad, and that his reasons for killing might be unknowable.
Raskolnikov once again articulates the life philosophy that lies at the heart of the murders. He killed in order to see if it would be possible for him to create a “new set of laws” and to overstep the bounds of civil society. Because he becomes frightened after this instance of “overstepping,” however, Raskolnikov is not an “extraordinary man” after all.
Raskolnikov explains once more this theory of power, of extraordinary individuals, in a final attempt to justify his murder, or at least clarify why he has done it. Sonya refuses his justifications and argues that Raskolnikov has simply committed a crime against man and against God. All that he can do, as a consequence, is “accept suffering and redeem himself by it.”
Sonya does not agree with Raskolnikov’s assertions. To her, Raskolnikov has quite simply sinned. The upshot is: he may be forgiven for his sin, if he confesses earnestly and in public, and if he serves his punishment, whatever it may be.
Raskolnikov counters that he would confess only to men on earth, the police, and not to God, and be punished by those same men. In addition, he claims, governments are allowed to kill en masse and are not punished. He claims the evidence the police have against him is “two-sided,” meaning it is only “psychology” and does not include facts pertaining to his guilt. He asks, however, if Sonya will visit him if he goes to jail. Sonya says yes. Sonya offers Raskolnikov a cross, which Raskolnikov says he will put on later, when, according to Sonya, he is ready for his redemption. Suddenly, Lebezyatnikov enters.
Raskolnikov makes an interesting, if flawed, argument: it is justifiable for governments to kill many humans at once (in wartime, for example), but Raskolnikov’s murder of one person is considered a crime. Of course, if Raskolnikov’s reasoning were applied to all humans, then murder could never be prohibited. Sonya wishes only to allow Raskolnikov to redeem himself, and promises to help him however she can. In a sense, Sonya and Raskolnikov are now “a family.”