As Alexei leaves Fyodor’s house, he wonders how things will end between his father, his brother, and “this terrible woman.” He hurries to Katerina Ivanovna’s. It’s seven o’clock when he arrives. Katerina comes with “quick, hurrying steps” and smiles delightedly as she extends her hands to Alexei, who is struck by her beauty and imperiousness. He once told Dmitri that he would be happy with Katerina but “not quietly happy.” Dmitri admits that the problem with women like Katerina is that they stay the same, refusing to “humble themselves before fate.”
Alexei shares everyone else’s view of Grushenka. Here, he reveals his own hypocrisy. As a man who believes in “Christ-like” love, he forgets that Christ also managed to love a woman of ill-repute—Mary Magdalene. Katerina, however, fares no better in Alexei’s eyes because she seems too proud and strong-willed—supposed flaws in women. No woman in the novel is viewed entirely positively.
Soon after giving this opinion, Alexei felt ashamed for speaking so authoritatively about Katerina Ivanovna. Now, he notices that she seems excited. She tells Alexei that she’s been waiting for him. She asks him what Dmitri sent him to tell her. Alexei repeats that Dmitri says that he bows to her and “that he will never come again.”
Alexei isn’t usually judgmental, but he speaks authoritatively about Katerina because her pride and self-assurance offend him. He’s too young to be aware of this or to understand his insecurity around women.
Katerina Ivanovna interprets that Dmitri’s emphasis on the word “bow” means that his decision to leave her isn’t a reasoned one but an impulsive one. She assumes that he’s in despair and that she can still save him. She asks Alexei if Dmitri said anything about three thousand roubles. Alexei says that Dmitri mentioned it, and that this sum may be what’s “killing him most of all.” Katerina says that last week she learned how much Dmitri needs money. She wishes that he would understand how much she wants to help him. As she speaks, tears flow from her eyes.
Katerina is reading too much into Dmitri’s words because she doesn’t want to accept that he’s breaking up with her. She’s devoted to Dmitri. Though it’s never clear that she loves him (really, they hardly know each other), she seems enamored with his suffering and how his suffering can both give her purpose and make her look noble and worthy in others’ eyes.
Alexei tells Katerina Ivanovna about the scene that just took place between Dmitri and Fyodor. Alexei is sure that Dmitri has gone to “that woman” (Grushenka). Katerina nervously says that Dmitri won’t marry Grushenka, and that their relationship is only one of passion. She describes Grushenka as “an angel,” which surprises Alexei. Just then, she calls out to Agrafena Alexandrovna—Grushenka’s proper name. Grushenka arrives, “laughing and joyful.” Alexei is struck by her beauty and, particularly, by the “childlike, openhearted expression” on her face.
Ivan and Alexei seldom refer to Grushenka by either her proper name or nickname, but rather indirectly, as though distancing themselves from her by refusing to acknowledge her existence. Grushenka is a foil for Katerina, both because of her reputation and social station as well as their contrasting manners. While Katerina is portrayed as aloof and intimidating, Grushenka is warm and girlish.
Katerina Ivanovna tells Alexei about an officer, now a widower, whom Grushenka has always loved. Katerina says that he will return and Grushenka, who’s supposedly been unhappy for five years, will be happy again. When Grushenka was tormented over her soldier, it was Samsonov, the merchant, who saved her. Katerina then kisses Grushenka’s plump hand three times. Grushenka seems to be embarrassed by this flattery, and says that Katerina may not fully understand Grushenka who may, in fact, have “a wicked heart.” She remarks that she charmed Dmitri “only to laugh at him.”
Katerina is hoping that, now that the officer is free, Grushenka can distract herself with him and leave Dmitri alone. It’s unclear how Samsonov “saved” Grushenka, though the reader knows that he became her patron and that she had to convince him to liberate her. This suggests that Grushenka was either Samsonov’s “kept woman” who was given an allowance, or that she was an industrious prostitute and he was her pimp.
Katerina Ivanovna says that Grushenka can now save Dmitri, and Grushenka gave her word that she would do so. Grushenka says that she never gave her word. Katerina turns “a bit pale” over this reversal, while Grushenka goes on to explain how “fickle” she is. She liked Dmitri once for nearly a whole hour, she says, and she could like him again. She takes Katerina’s hand, “as if in reverence,” and offers to kiss it. She says that maybe she’ll want to be Katerina’s “slave,” doing all she can to please her. She compliments Katerina’s “impossible beauty.” Grushenka slowly raises Katerina’s hand to her lips, then hesitates before deciding not to kiss it. She says that Katerina can go forward remembering that she kissed Grushenka’s hand while Grushenka refused to kiss hers.
The reader never knows if Grushenka actually gave her word to Katerina or if the latter presumed so, because the narrator doesn’t make us privy to this part of the conversation. However, with Grushenka, it wouldn’t matter anyway, because she’s “fickle.” Grushenka seems to enjoy playing into others’ prejudices about her, as well as prejudices about women, and using them to her advantage. She always retains the right to choose. When she manipulates others, it’s through her ability to use their weaknesses against them.
Katerina Ivanovna is stunned by Grushenka’s disrespect, calls her a “slut,” and orders her out of the house. Grushenka reminds Katerina that she, too, once went to a gentleman “at dusk to get money,” thereby reminding her of her offer to Dmitri. Katerina cries out and nearly leaps at Grushenka, but Alexei holds her back. Katerina’s aunts rush in, along with the maid. Grushenka prepares to leave and asks Alexei to come with her. Katerina is mortified by Dmitri having told Grushenka their secret and calls him “a scoundrel.” She then asks Alexei to return the next day. As he leaves, the maid gives Alexei a letter from Madame Khokhlakov.
Katerina shifts from thinking Grushenka an “angel”—that is, when Grushenka agrees to do what Katerina wants—to now perceiving her as a “slut” for her willingness to change her mind. Grushenka demonstrates to Katerina that she owes her nothing. When Katerina tries to remind Grushenka of her poor reputation, Grushenka reminds her that she, too, was once desperate enough to offer her body for money.