A young, impoverished former student, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, leaves his very small apartment in St. Petersburg, Russia, and walks outside. It is July and very hot. He does not wish to see his landlord, to whom he owes months of unpaid rent, but he no longer fears her—he simply does not wish to be bothered by her questions. He has stopped caring for his appearances and goes around in rags, often talking to himself on the street. He acknowledges aloud that he has a “fantasy” he is contemplating putting into action.
Raskolnikov’s poverty and psychological situation are introduced. He has so little money he can barely afford to eat—certainly he can no longer afford his university tuition. It is not clear whether his tendency toward privacy, obsession, and anxiety predated his money troubles or developed as a result of them—both seem to get worse as time goes on.
Near the Haymarket, a poor neighborhood and gathering-place for prostitutes, a drunk man yells at Raskolnikov about his hat, which is so broken and dented as to be noticeable. Raskolnikov remarks to himself that small details like the hat could cause his whole “plan” to fail. Raskolnikov knows exactly how many steps (730) it takes to get to a particular house, the destination for the day’s “trial.”
The first mention of “the plan,” which will result in the murder of the pawnbroker and her innocent sister Lizaveta. A peculiarity of Raskolnikov’s psychological state is here revealed: he is so obsessive as to know how many steps he must take to reach his destination, yet he forgets obvious things, like the hat which could cause him to be noticed during the crime.
Raskolnikov enters the apartment house, where many lower-middle class people live, and walks to the fourth floor; there, a German official is moving out, meaning the old woman, whom Raskolnikov is going to see, will be soon be the sole tenant on her floor. Raskolnikov rings and is questioned by the old woman, who opens the door slightly but, seeing others moving out of the German’s apartment, is reassured of her safety. She lets him inside. Raskolnikov introduces himself and the old woman replies that she remembers his visit the previous month.
The pawnbroker appears to be wary of all her customers, and she seems also to recognize the difficulty of Raskolnikov’s situation. What is less clear is the pawnbroker’s own personality. She is called a “louse” by many of her customers, for she pays very little for pawned items, but she appears simply to be an old, frail woman concerned with her own safety in her apartment.
They walk further into the apartment, and Raskolnikov observes the spare, clean furnishings, which he believes are maintained by a woman named Lizaveta. Raskolnikov announces he has something to pawn with the old woman, whose name is Alyona Ivanovna; she is a pawnbroker, thus explaining Raskolnikov’s previous visit, when he pawned a ring for two roubles.
The rings were given to Raskolnikov by his sister Dunya; the watch was his father's. These objects are indicators of his family and their love for Raskolnikov—in fact, throughout the novel, Dunya, his mother Pulcheria, and his friend Razumikhin appear willing to go to great lengths to help Raskolnikov, even when he does not seek assistance.
Now he offers his father’s watch, which Alyona believes is worth a rouble and a half, minus interest accrued on the ring. Raskolnikov is angered but accepts her low offer. Before he leaves, Raskolnikov says he will have something else to pawn soon: a cigarette case. He also asks whether Lizaveta, Alyona’s sister, lives with her and is around often; Alyona brushes the question off distrustfully.
Raskolnikov grows nervous and enquires rather awkwardly about Lizaveta. Although he feels he has planned out the crime painstakingly, it becomes apparent, both here and later, that he becomes nervous at the thought of killing—he cannot be as ruthless as he desires to be.
Overcome by anguish and horror at his plans, Raskolnikov leaves the apartment. He decides to enter a tavern, which he never does, and drink to ease his hunger. He gulps down a beer and feels much better. Looking around the tavern, he spots two drinkers and one other man, a retired official, sitting quietly and separately.
Although Raskolnikov mutters to himself, walks around Petersburg aimlessly, and sleeps in public on occasion, he barely drinks. His troubles with madness derive from other causes, not from a dependence on alcohol.