Grushenka lives in the busiest part of town, near the cathedral square in the home of the merchant Morozov, from whom she rents “a small wooden cottage.” A widow took Grushenka in to please her relative, Samsonov, who is also Grushenka’s patron. Samsonov brought Grushenka to the house about four years ago, when she was a “timid, shy, eighteen-year-old.” Then, she also looked “delicate, thin, pensive, and sad.” There was a rumor that she had been deceived and abandoned by an officer. She’s also rumored to be “from an honorable family” and “the daughter of a retired deacon.” Grushenka is notorious for being “hard to get” and is called “a real Jew” for her business acumen. She emancipates herself from Samsonov, after assuring him of her loyalty.
This description of Grushenka highlights her transformation. When she entered Samsonov’s life, she was very vulnerable. It’s unclear if Grushenka’s transformation is entirely due to the influence of Samsonov—a hard and greedy man—or if it also results from her bitterness over being abandoned by the Polish officer, Pan Mussyalovich. The derisive reference to her business acumen reflects both anti-Semitism and sexism, given how money frees Grushenka.
Grushenka has two servants—one is a very old cook and the other is a twenty-year-old young woman who serves as her maid (Fenya). She lives frugally in her three-room cottage. When Rakitin and Alexei arrive, it’s dusk. The maid answers the door and tells her mistress, “It’s not him, miss, it’s some others, they’re all right.” Grushenka stands up by the sofa and greets Rakitin. She’s surprised to see him with Alexei. She says that she thought Dmitri was trying to force his way into the house. She orders Fenya to go outside to see if Dmitri is there, hiding and spying on her.
Part of Grushenka’s good sense with money comes from the fact that she spends little of what she earns. However, it is true that she is not averse to using men for money or other favors. At the same time, these gifts convince Fyodor and Dmitri that they are entitled to her loyalty and affection, which explains Dmitri’s jealousy. Her frugality contrasts with Dmitri’s extravagance.
Grushenka says that she’s expecting “a certain golden message” and that it would be best if he weren’t around. She says that, when it comes, she’ll “jump up and fly away” and Rakitin won’t see her ever again. She then goes “friskily” over to Alexei and sits next to him on the sofa, looking at him admiringly. She has “a kind expression” on her face that surprises Alexei. They had never met before the previous day, and Alexei had negative ideas about Grushenka based on her “vicious” action toward Katerina Ivanovna. However, her “whole manner” seems suddenly different since the day before. She seems simpler and no longer affected. She tells Alexei how glad she is to see him, though she doesn’t know why. Rakitin reminds her that she has been pestering him to bring Alexei.
The message that Grushenka is expecting is from her former fiancé, Pan Mussyalovich, saying that he’ll take her back. Grushenka remains in love with him. She then seemingly contradicts this by trying to seduce to Alexei. In his naïveté, Alexei doesn’t realize that her “kind expression” is part of her flirtation. He also doesn’t realize that this is all an act orchestrated by Rakitin to tempt Alexei into submitting to lust, like Fyodor and Dmitri. Rakitin does this out of envy for what he perceives as Alexei’s innocence and the favoritism he’s shown at the monastery.
Grushenka asks why Alexei looks so sad. Rakitin tells her that “his elder got smelly.” Grushenka finds Rakitin’s talk foolish and tells him to “shut up.” Then, suddenly, she springs up and leaps onto Alexei’s knees, “like an affectionate cat.” She embraces his neck with her right arm and tells him that she’ll make him feel better. Alexei is quiet and sits as though he’s “afraid to move.” Rakitin sits watching them, “carnivorously.” However, this “horrible” woman doesn’t arouse fear in Alexei—the kind that usually springs up in him. Instead, he feels curiosity.
Rakitin explains that Alexei is sad because the elder Zosima’s body decomposed as any other human body would, thereby denying the miracle that Alexei expected. Grushenka’s movements are described as feline to reflect her ease and nimbleness with flirtation. Rakitin’s carnivorous gaze is less for Grushenka than for Alexei. He wants Grushenka to “eat him up,” as he claims she said, to consume the innocence that Rakitin finds enviable.
Grushenka tells Rakitin that her officer is in Mokroye but will be coming soon. Rakitin asks if Dmitri knows about the officer and she says he doesn’t. If he did, he’d kill her. Grushenka goes back to charming Alexei, apologizing for being “a bitch” at Katerina Ivanovna’s. She then tells Alexei that she loves him “with all [her] soul.” Rakitin reminds her of her officer, but she insists that she loves Alexei differently. She tells Alexei that, when she looks at him, she feels ashamed of her bad behavior.
Grushenka is certain that Dmitri would fly into a jealous rage if he knew about her relationship with the Polish officer. Dmitri later says that, if he had known that Grushenka was in Mokroye with the officer, he wouldn’t have come and would only have wished for her happiness. Given his passionate character, though, it’s difficult to find this plausible.
Fenya comes in with a bottle of champagne and three already filled glasses. Rakitin takes one glass, drinks it, and pours himself another. He then offers Alexei a glass. Alexei takes it and sips it, then sets it down, deciding that he’d better not indulge. Grushenka decides to join him in his abstinence. Rakitin taunts her for being sentimental, saying that Alexei is grieving and rebelling against God, but Grushenka has no excuse not to drink. Rakitin then tells her that Zosima died today. She crosses herself piously and then jumps out of Alexei’s lap, suddenly aware that she’s being inappropriate.
In refusing the champagne, Alexei rejects self-indulgent pleasure and the temptation to forget, instead deciding to bear his suffering over Zosima. When Grushenka learns about Zosima’s death, her act of devotion—crossing herself piously—reveals that she is someone who holds some things sacred and, contrary to popular belief, is a moral person.
Alexei gives Grushenka “a long, surprised look” and a light seems to come into his face. He scolds Rakitin for taunting him for his rebellion against God and says that, because he doesn’t want to hold any anger, Rakitin should be kinder, too. He tells him that he’s lost a treasure that Rakitin has never had, which makes him unqualified to judge Alexei. He then turns to Grushenka and tells her that she has “restored [his] soul.” Rakitin laughs at the notion of Grushenka saving Alexei and tells him that, just a moment before, she was going to “eat [him] up.”
Alexei’s look of surprise reflects his ability to see Grushenka differently, as someone kind, moral, and even devout. The “treasure” that Grushenka says Rakitin has never had is true faith and love. Rakitin is also a cynic with a negative opinion of humanity, contrasting with Alexei’s view of boundless, Christ-like love. The image of restoration contrasts with that of being consumed. Alexei’s faith has been strengthened.
Grushenka jumps up, outraged, and declares that she’ll tell the truth. She says that, though she’s wicked, she gave an onion. She tells Alexei the fable about the woman who ended up condemned to hell because she failed to repeat the selfless act that she had once shown during her lifetime—giving an onion to a beggar. Grushenka sees herself similarly as someone who once gave a little onion, which means that she isn’t much good. She confesses that she told Rakitin that she’d give him twenty-five roubles in exchange for bringing Alexei, whom she planned to seduce. Rakitin denies it, but she flings the bill at him, and he takes it, saying that “fools exist for the intelligent man’s profit.”
The “onion” is a symbol of aid during a moment of duress and torment. Alexei was suffering from grief, so he was tempted to allow himself to be corrupted by Grushenka. Instead, he realizes that someone who seems to be the most “lost” or without a sense of goodness can sometimes perform the most generous acts. Rakitin’s admission of his bribe and his open expression of greed reveal him to be the more immoral character, as well as having never been a friend to Alexei.
Grushenka goes on to tell “the whole, pure truth” of how she intended to “ruin” Alexei. She wanted to do this, she says, because Alexei always refused to look at her in the street. This made her angry, so she became determined to seduce him. She then tells Alexei about the officer who left her and broke her heart. She obsessed about getting revenge against him. In the meantime, she began saving money and gained weight, but she insists that she hasn’t gotten any smarter. A month ago, she got a letter from the officer, saying that his wife has died and he wants to see her. Grushenka wondered if she would “crawl to him like a little dog” if she sees him, which made her angry with herself. She says that she’s been “toying with Mitya (Dmitri)” just to avoid her officer.
Grushenka’s wish to tell the “pure truth” contrasts with her original sinful intentions. Here, she expresses the desire to appeal to better parts of her own nature. She also expresses great self-awareness and introspection when she wonders if she truly feels love for her officer or only obsession. She describes Dmitri and Fyodor as distractions to her thoughts about the officer—a harsh contrast to both men’s obsessions with her.
Alexei tells Rakitin that Grushenka is “higher in love” than they. Rakitin asks, mockingly, if Alexei has fallen in love with Grushenka, and she tells Alexei to ignore him. She says that she was just about to ask for Alexei’s forgiveness for having been rude, but now she wants to confide him: does Alexei think that she really loves this officer? Should she forgive him? Alexei says that she’s already forgiven him, and Grushenka agrees. She wonders if she has only come to love her feeling of revenge and not the officer himself.
Alexei makes this assessment about Grushenka based on her willingness to be honest with him about her ill intentions. Her confession makes him comfortable with her for the first time, revealing that she’s not the evil person he imagined her to be. She proves herself emotionally wise here in analyzing her own feelings, though she also torments herself with whether or not she loves her former beau or mistakes her fixation for something else.
Rakitin announces that they have to go back to the monastery. Grushenka doesn’t want Alexei to leave. All her life, she says, she’s been waiting for someone like him, who would forgive her for her wickedness. He reminds her that all he did was to give her an onion. Then, he starts weeping. Fenya enters, announcing that a carriage has come from Mokroye. Grushenka runs to her bedroom. Rakitin says that he and Alexei should leave. He’s grown tired of her “tearful screams.” As they depart, Grushenka opens her bedroom window and asks Alexei to bow to Dmitri for her and not to think ill of “his wicked woman.”
Alexei and Grushenka have both helped each other: she has helped to restore his faith by reassuring him that, indeed, Christ-like love can exist in people, and he has helped to affirm that she isn’t as wicked as everyone says. Grushenka is on her way to Mokroye to see the Polish officer. In asking Alexei to tell Dmitri that she bows to him, she inadvertently mimics Dmitri’s request that Alexei do the same on his behalf to Katerina, when he left her for Grushenka.
Rakitin explains that the officer is from Poland and has served in Siberia. Rumor has it that he’s lost his job and has heard that Grushenka has come into some money, which explains his desire to return to her. Rakitin then mocks Alexei for thinking that he “converted a sinful woman.” He asks Alexei if he resents him for selling “a true friend” for twenty-five roubles, but Alexei tells him that he’s forgotten about that. This angers Rakitin. He says that he doesn’t want to know Alexei anymore and urges him to go back to the monastery alone. Rakitin turns down another street, leaving Alexei to walk “alone in the dark.”
Rakitin doesn’t believe that the Polish officer is in love with Grushenka, but that he’s only going to use her for money. This is likely to be true, given what the reader later learns about his poverty. The fact that Alexei isn’t angry with Rakitin and has forgotten about the bribe (Alexei is never one to hold on to an offense) makes Rakitin even more cross, unable to stand Alexei’s generous nature, which contrasts with his own covetous one.