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PART I, CHAPTER 1
From the moment you begin reading about Raskolnikov holed up in his filthy attic room, you know he's a complicated person. He's paralyzed with dread as he plans a mysterious "terrible act." Although he doesn't say what the act is, he calls it "horrible" and "repulsive"; you get the feeling it must be a crime. But as awful as his plan apparently is, what he seems most afraid of is that he won't be able to go through with it. You can sense from these contradictory feelings that Raskolnikov is in mental and emotional turmoil. He worries about everything, and he's cut himself off from everybody. That's a pretty reliable clue to his state of mind.
To show that Raskolnikov is the central character in the novel, and that what he does and thinks are its subject, Dostoevsky introduces several mysteries about him in this chapter. Some of them get solved as the novel develops. But often the clues seem contradictory or lead you in several directions at once. This is one way Dostoevsky keeps you reading-by raising provocative questions you want answered.
By describing the poverty and ugliness of the environment, Dostoevsky explains some of Raskolnikov's behavior and makes you understand how a sensitive person might act strangely, even abnormally, under such conditions. When he leaves his garret, he's revolted by the hot, smelly streets and the drunken people. He's lightheaded because he hasn't eaten for two days, and he owes lots of money.
The only way to get cash is from a pawnbroker. But when he tries to pawn his father's watch, you can see how pathetic his situation is. It tears him apart to pawn something of such great sentimental value, but in the pawnbroker's eyes, the watch is practically worthless. She shows no sympathy. "Take it or leave it" is the way she does business. Raskolnikov takes the money. But the mystery grows about the "terrible act" he's been planning. He calls the visit to the pawnbroker a "rehearsal," although he doesn't say what he's rehearsing.
Dostoevsky teases the reader and breaks the tension by having Raskolnikov enter a tavern, suddenly wanting to be friendly. Raskolnikov himself is aware that his rapid changes of mood are strange, even weird. It's hard to say which is more perplexing: his behavior or the plan he hints at but doesn't explain. All you can tell for sure is that he agonizes about himself constantly.