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Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Crime and Punishment Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary
It's an extremely hot night in early July. "A young man" leaves his room at S. Place and heads toward K. Bridge. Fortunately, on his way out he doesn't run into his landlady. The fifth-floor room he rents from her is horrible, but meals are supposed to be included. Since the landlady lives on the floor below him, he has to pass by her kitchen door to get out of the building. That door is almost always open. Whenever the man passes it, he feels uncomfortable and maybe even scared. Thinking of this makes him ashamed, and he scowls. Because he owes the landlady lots of money, he doesn't want to run into her. It isn't that he's a beat-down kind of guy, or the nervous/afraid type. It's that lately he's been grumpy and tense, in a gloomy way, and so self-absorbed that he's hiding from life. The man is extremely poor, but it doesn't bother him because he's stopped bothering with the business of ordinary life (like paying the rent). But, he's still afraid of his landlady. By the time he gets to the street, he's surprised that he actually is scared of her. He begins to wonder how he can think of doing something so bad (don't worry, the bad thing will be revealed before Part I is over) and still be scared of silly little things like landladies. He's talking to himself (possibly out loud) about how fear keeps people from achieving what they could if they weren't afraid. He wonders what people's biggest fear is. According to him, people are most afraid of doing a new thing —and even more than that, people are afraid of new words. He berates himself for talking too much. He's hardly been leaving his room lately and spends lots of time curled up in a corner, muttering to himself and thinking wild thoughts. Not sure why he's left his room now, he wonders if he could really do the mysterious bad thing we heard about before. Whatever it is, he's not sure if he would really do it or not. It's hot and dusty, and St. Petersburg has a unique summer stink that aggravates his nervousness. All the drunks walking around make it worse. So, he gets a really hateful look on his face. (According to the narrator, beneath his rags, the young man is very good looking: tall and cut and thin, with brown eyes and hair.) After complaining about the surroundings for a moment, he forgets where he is again and starts talking to himself. Wait, he thinks, maybe my thoughts are so messed up because I haven't eaten in 48 hours. He's dressed in complete rags —most people wouldn't go on the street that way. But, he's so deep in his own feelings of contempt that he doesn't care what he looks like. Some drunk guy starts making fun of his hat, and he gets nervous. It was a good hat when he got it, but now it's old and really funny looking. Thinking about the hat gets the young man excited. The hat could mess everything up. It could make people notice and remember him! He has to get rid of it and get a normal raggedy hat to match his raggedy clothes. Item: there are "exactly seven hundred and thirty" steps from his house to where he's going. He counted. Last month, he had started fantasizing about doing it (the bad thing), but now he's gone beyond fantasizing and is doing a practice run. Totally freaked out and full of nerves, he gets to a huge building. Many poor working people live in the building, and lots of people are coming and going. He gets through the gate and to the dark stairs without being noticed by any of the porters. The darkness is nice; it hides him. If I'm this petrified now, on a practice run, he thinks, imagine what it will be like if I really do it. When he gets to the fourth floor, he notices that the people living there will be moving —meaning that the old lady will be the only one living on this floor. He rings the old lady's bell, shaking, his nerves shot. She's around 60, a tiny, dried-up woman with horrible eyes and her hair in a long, greasy braid. Coughing and moaning, she gives him mistrustful looks. Now, we learn the man's name when he tells it to the old woman. His name is Raskolnikov. He reminds her that he's a student who pawned something the month before. (The old woman is a pawnbroker.) Wondering if she's always this suspicious, he says he wants to pawn something else. Raskolnikov is invited in and sees the sun setting, through the window. This freaks him out. The sun will be just like this when he does the terrible thing. Trying to memorize the room, his eyes move everywhere. He knows the place is so clean because Lizaveta cleans it. (You'll find out who she is soon enough.) Raskolnikov shows the pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna, the pocket watch he wants to pawn. Now some tricky pawnshop haggling happens. Alyona wants him to pay up and get the ring he pawned out of hock. Raskolnikov wants to pay the interest on the ring in a few days and for Alyona to give him 4 roubles for the watch now. She says she'll only give him a rouble and a half and that she wants the interest on it in advance. He wants to walk out, but he has nobody else to pawn his watch to. He also has some other reasons for being here. Alyona goes behind a curtain, and Raskolnikov hears her opening drawers. He's thinking about the different places she keeps her keys. His thoughts make him ill. Alyona comes back and gives him 1 rouble and 15 copecks. She's charging him a month's interest in advance on the money she's loaning him on the watch and a month's interest on the ring. He takes the money and lingers in the room, telling Alyona that he might have something special to pawn next week —a cigarette case. (Remember this.) She tries to get rid of him. He asks if she's all alone or if her sister is there, too. She says it's none of his business. He finally leaves, stumbling and confused. On the street, he starts yelling at himself, sick with horror that he'd been thinking of doing something so bad. He doesn't know what to do with himself. A beer! He goes into a bar and drinks one. Various people in various states of drunkenness are in the bar. One man sits sipping from a bottle of vodka, away from the crowd. He looks distressed. And then the chapter (rather abruptly) ends.
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