Raskolnikov is in fact ill, perhaps from overwork and the new climate and conditions. He wonders to himself what will become of him when he is released—he will only be 32 at that time, since he was sentenced to eight years’ hard labor, but he is not sure he wants to rejoin the outside world. He believes, after much thought, that the true nature of his crime is not that he committed it, but rather that he was too weak not to confess.
Even after his imprisonment, Raskolnikov believes that his crime was not in itself an immoral act, but that his inability to “step over” into the realm of great individuals represented a fundamental weakness, thus causing his confession and his punishment in Siberia. This un-Christian attitude toward his guilt is soon to be revised, through interaction with Sonya.
In prison he lives quietly and mostly keeps to himself. He is taken for Godless by some of the fellow prisoners, but they love Sonya, whom they consider a saint, and eventually grow to tolerate Raskolnikov. When he is in the sick-room, recovering, he has a dream that a new plague has entered Europe from Asia, and that it causes whole nations to rise up and fight one another, to destroy each other, until a new, pure generation is able to live on earth.
The last of Raskolnikov’s dreams. This one has a decidedly science-fiction air about it: the plague sweeping the earth will leave only those who possess a kind of moral strength. This is not unlike Raskolnikov’s earlier thesis on “ordinary” and “strong” individuals. It seems that the strong will inherit the earth after this particular plague.
Raskolnikov hears that Sonya is sick and worries about her health, but it is only a passing cold. He recovers fully and goes back to work in the camp. One day, he is seated outside, enjoying the view of nature, when Sonya sits next to him suddenly. Raskolnikov has a moment of clarity and falls at Sonya’s feet, weeping and acknowledging his love for her.
This is the first time that Raskolnikov has explicitly acknowledged his debt to Sonya, and his desire to live with her in a relationship not unlike marriage. It is not clear what brings on this conversion, other than a true, unflinching appreciation for all the help that Sonya has given him since the commission of the crime.
He recognizes the manner in which Sonya loves him—that indeed she lives entirely for him—and this has given him strength to be “new risen.” In the barracks that night he falls asleep with the newfound assurance that all will be all right, that he will rehabilitate and leave the prison camp a better man. He takes out the New Testament from under his pillow, which was given him by Sonya and from which he had her read him the story of Lazarus.
A final reference to Lazarus. Here, the story takes on a new meaning: Raskolnikov, after coming to recognize Sonya’s love for him, is like a man having risen from the dead. Thus Raskolnikov’s conversion is both a Lazarus story and a story of one man’s turn toward Christian teaching. In observing his own “re-birth” into goodness, Raskolnikov comes to believe there is some hope for himself and for Sonya, after the prison sentence is over, and this hope emerges not from being extraordinary but from accepting the extraordinary—not from being Jesus but from being Lazarus, and finding strength in the very things he previously saw as weak: dependence on others, appreciation for the world, dependence on love.
He thinks that his confinement of seven years is, in truth, not so long. The narrator reveals that Raskolnikov’s rehabilitation will take some time, and that it will in fact be quite difficult. But that is the subject for another novel, and the narrator concludes the present story with this fleeting reference to Sonya and Raskolnikov’s future happiness.
Dostoevsky appears to leave the door open for a sequel, which was never written. Whatever trials and tribulations Sonya and Raskolnikov undergo in the Siberian prison colony remain unrealized in the mind of the reader, who must be content only with the beginnings of Raskolnikov’s term of punishment.