Summary and Analysis
Book III: Chapters 6-11
Arriving at the Karamazov house, Alyosha finds his father almost drunk but still at the table with Ivan. They are listening to old Grigory and Smerdyakov arguing, and it is at this point that we learn more about the bastard Karamazov son. Smerdyakov is rather taciturn, somewhat morose, and naturally resents his position. Strangely, however, he even resents his foster parents. Smerdyakov is an enigma, plagued by jealousy, hatred, and epilepsy. In the household, he works as a cook. Years ago old Fyodor sent him off to Moscow for training, and since he returned he has functioned only in that capacity. He is a trustworthy sort, all believe, regardless of his sullenness, for they remember that he once returned 300 rubles to Fyodor, which the old man lost while drunk.
Smerdyakov, at present, is arguing with his foster father as Alyosha arrives. He asserts that it is permissible for a man to renounce his faith in God in order to save his life. To prove that man cannot function by faith alone, he says that no man has enough faith to tell a mountain to move to the sea. He thinks, therefore, that this is reason enough to realize that man may deny God to save his life and later ask for repentance. Curiously, throughout the argument, he seems particularly eager to please and impress Ivan.
After Karamazov tires of the argument, he sends the servants away, but the conversation manages to return to the subject of religion. In answer to their father's queries, Ivan insists that there is no God. Further, he says, there is no immortality. Alyosha, of course, maintains that God does exist and that through Him man can gain immortality. Karamazov changes the subject. He talks now of women and begins a long, drunken, and cynical narration centering upon Alyosha's mother. The attack is depraved. Karamazov delights in mocking his late wife's religious beliefs. He is so vicious, in fact, that Alyosha collapses and succumbs to a seizure exactly like the one that Karamazov described as afflicting Alyosha's mother. Ivan bitterly reminds his drunken father that the woman of whom he has spoken so crudely was also Ivan's mother, and, for a moment, old Karamazov is confused, but recalls then that Ivan and Alyosha did indeed have the same mother. The two are attempting to revive Alyosha as Dmitri dashes into the house.
Karamazov is startled and runs for protection. When he hears Dmitri shout that Grushenka is in the house, the old man grows even more excited and fearful. Dmitri runs frantically through the house trying to discover Grushenka, then returns to the dining room, where old Karamazov begins screaming that Dmitri has been stealing money from him. Dmitri seizes his father, flings him to the floor, and kicks him in the head; then, before leaving, he threatens to return and kill the old man, shouting, "Beware, old man, beware of your dreams, because I have my dream too." And he dashes out to continue his search for Grushenka.
After Ivan and Alyosha bandage their father's wounds and put him to bed, Alyosha remains with him for a while; then he leaves to go talk with Katerina Ivanovna. He stops in the yard and talks a bit with Ivan, and this is the first time that Ivan has been cordial to his brother.
Alyosha arrives at Madame Hohlakov's home and asks for Katerina. The girl is anxious about Dmitri and promises to help save him, although he seems not to want her help; she is positive, though, that his infatuation for Grushenka will pass. Alyosha is greatly surprised to hear Katerina call Grushenka by name and is even more surprised when he discovers that Grushenka has been hiding behind a screen, listening to their conversation. Katerina explains that Grushenka has just confessed to her that she will soon be reunited with a man whom she has loved for five years. Obviously Katerina is overjoyed at the news, and, as she explains the new turn of events to Alyosha, she impulsively kisses and fondles Grushenka, calling her endearing names. She asks Grushenka to affirm what she has just said, but Grushenka surprises them all. She becomes capricious and says that she just might change her mind. She also informs Katerina that she does not return the embraces Katerina has bestowed upon her. Katerina fumes. She has humbled herself in gratitude before Grushenka and is furious at the girl's flippancy. She lashes out with stinging, angry insults, but Grushenka merely laughs and walks out, leaving Katerina in hysterics.
Alyosha also leaves the house, but on the way out he is stopped by a maid, who gives him a letter. She tells him that it is from Lise. Alyosha continues on his way back to the monastery but is stopped once more, this time by Dmitri. His brother is lighthearted and seems wholly unconcerned about the earlier events of the evening. He listens now to Alyosha explain what has happened between Katerina and Grushenka and seems delighted. He laughs at Grushenka's actions and calls her affectionately his "she-devil." But suddenly his face darkens and he moans that he is a scoundrel. Nothing, he swears to Alyosha, "can compare in baseness with the dishonor which I bear now at this very minute on my breast."
The events of the night have been unnerving. Back at the monastery, Alyosha receives more bad news: Zossima's condition has worsened; he has only a short time to live. Deeply saddened by his family's sorrows, Alyosha nevertheless decides to remain close to the elder, for this man is also his father. Having made his decision, he begins to prepare for bed, and then remembers Lise's letter and reads it. It is a love letter; she says that she loves Alyosha very much and hopes to marry him when she is old enough. She apologizes sincerely for making fun of the young priest and implores him to come visit her.
Dostoevsky carefully details in this book the special sort of characterization needed for the enigmatic Smerdyakov, the son who will murder Karamazov. We learn, for example, that he "seemed to despise everybody," including his real father and also his foster father. It is clear that he could conceivably murder either one, and in cold blood. Furthermore, we learn that in childhood "he was very fond of hanging cats," certainly a sadistic and perverse pastime. As a complement to his psychological ills, he is physically sick; epilepsy, a disease he inherited from his idiot mother, overtakes him on occasion. Of late, nervous fits have attacked him increasingly, and it is one of these attacks that he later shams as his alibi when his innocence is questioned.
In his argument with Grigory, put forward to impress the intellectual Ivan, Smerdyakov uses the most basic semantic logic to prove his point. But the argument shows that he is interested in questions similar to those that disturb Ivan. In this way, Dostoevsky sets up conflicting emotions within Ivan. Because of their like interests, he is drawn to his half-brother, but at the same time, with a Dostoevskian duality of emotion, he is repulsed and sees him as a "mean soul."
The vulgarity of old Karamazov is once more emphasized in this section. This time, in the presence of Alyosha, he crudely ridicules his son's mother. This is a particularly painful scene because we have been told that Alyosha remembers his mother with deep love and respect.
The father's attack, then, believably brings on Alyosha's convulsions. Karamazov commits a verbal murder on Alyosha's memories, and it is significant, following Alyosha's collapse, that Karamazov does not realize that the same woman gave birth to both Ivan and Alyosha. In other words, the two sons are so different that the old man has completely forgotten that they had the same mother.
In Chapter 9, when Dmitri unleashes an uncontrollable fit of anguish and knocks down first Grigory and later his father, Dostoevsky is tempering our credence in Dmitri's being a potential murderer. Both father and son are victims of powerful emotions, and both are passionate sensualists; their antagonism and hatred has collided over the same woman. It is likely that such viciousness as we witness might result in murder.
Even Alyosha realizes the possibility of parricide within his family when he questions Ivan as to a man's right to assess another man and decide whether or not he is worthy to live. Ivan too realizes the potential of parricide as it smolders, for he answers Alyosha that "one reptile will devour the other."
In Chapter 10, we are introduced finally to the beautiful and paradoxical Katerina Ivanovna. Several times we have heard of this lovely and haughty woman, willing to devote herself to Dmitri in spite of his barbarous forays. Now we see her. She refuses to accept Dmitri's breaking of their engagement. And her resolve is so extreme that she even humbles herself before Grushenka.
As for Grushenka, she turns out to be far more interesting than gossip suggests. She may or may not be waiting for a scoundrel who deserted her five years earlier. His return, incidentally, precipitates the pivotal action of the novel. Grushenka's mercurial qualities are quite thorough; she is whimsical and mischievous and does seem as though she might be, as Dmitri laughingly tags her, a "she-devil." She is more than a tease, however, and immediately after the murder she realizes that she, in large part, is to blame for keeping both Dmitri and his father in suspense as to what she actually intends for them.
Dmitri's confession of baseness to Alyosha is in reference to his retention of the 1,500 rubles that he saved from the night of the Grushenka orgy; this money he has not yet returned to Katerina. And his keeping it burdens his scheme of values with far greater dishonor than the fact that he spent the other half of the sum. Later, this anguish of Dmitri's over the money he did not spend convinces many people that such a man could not commit a murder.
At the monastery, Alyosha still does not know why Zossima has ordered him to go into the world. "Here was peace. Here was holiness"; one can easily lose one's way in the world, Alyosha realizes, and go astray. It is exactly for these reasons, though, that the elder has asked him to go into the world. Alyosha is the one person who will be able to walk through confusion and darkness and not lose his footing. At this moment, his father, Katerina, Lise, Dmitri, and Grushenka are all waiting to talk with him again; his life's work is among the people of the world, who need his quiet example of love and respect.