Summary and Analysis Part 1: Book II: Chapters 5-8



When Father Zossima and Alyosha return to the elder's cell, Ivan is discussing with two of the monks his article on the position of the ecclesiastical courts. He explains that he opposes the separation of church and state primarily because when a criminal needs to be punished, the public should not have to rely on the state to administer such punishment. Ivan states that if the church had the authority to punish and also to excommunicate the criminal, then a vast number of crimes would be diminished. To a degree, Father Zossima agrees, but he points out that the only effective punishment "lies in the recognition of sin by conscience." According to the elder, the church has no real authority to punish the criminal and, therefore, withdraws "of her own accord" and relies upon "the power of moral condemnation." The discussion continues but is interrupted as Dmitri bursts into the cell unexpectedly.

Breathless, the overwrought Karamazov apologizes for being late, explaining that he was incorrectly informed of the time. He then goes forward, receives Father Zossima's blessing, and sits quietly in the background. As the discussion resumes, Ivan begins to detail his views on immortality and virtue but is interrupted by Miusov, who scoffs at Ivan's hypothesis that if immortality does not exist then there can be no reason for virtue in the world. Dmitri is deeply disturbed by his brother's theory, especially by his suggesting that without immortality any crime could be committed without fear.

When Ivan and the monks grow quiet, Fyodor nervously resumes his crude verbal antics, then begins to insult Dmitri. In particular, he accuses him of duplicity in his relationships with Katerina Ivanovna and also with Grushenka, an unconventional young woman. Dmitri snaps that Fyodor is only being nasty because he is jealous; he too is infatuated with Grushenka! As the argument mounts and everyone grows more dreadfully embarrassed, Father Zossima suddenly rises from his place and kneels at Dmitri's feet. Then, without uttering a word, he retires to his cell. Everyone is confused as to the meaning of this mysterious act, and they comment upon it as they leave the elder's cell to join the Father Superior for lunch. But there is one who cannot remain with the party. Fyodor explains that he is far too embarrassed to accompany them; he says that he is going home.

Alyosha accompanies Father Zossima to his cell and is told by the Father that he must leave the monastery. It is the elder's wish that the young Karamazov rejoin the world. Alyosha does not understand Zossima's request; he desires especially to remain in the monastery — most of all because he knows that Zossima is seriously ill. He desires, as long as possible, to be near the elder.

On the way to the Father Superior's house, Alyosha and Rakitin discuss Zossima's reverent bow before Dmitri. The seminarist says that the bow means the elder has sensed that the Karamazov house will soon be bathed in blood. The bow, he says, will be remembered, and people will say that Zossima foresaw the tragedy for the family. Rakitin continues, tossing out disparaging remarks about the Karamazovs and teasing Alyosha about Grushenka's designs on him. Alyosha, unaware of Rakitin's motives, innocently refers to Grushenka as one of Rakitin's relatives and is surprised when the young seminarist becomes highly indignant and loudly denies such relationship.

Meanwhile, Fyodor has changed his mind about attending the luncheon. He returns and unleashes his vicious temper on all present. He delivers a vulgar tirade about the immorality and hypocrisy of the monks and elders, making the most absurd and ridiculous charges he can conjure up. Ivan finally manages to get the old man in a carriage, but the father is not yet subdued. As they are leaving, he shouts to Alyosha and orders him to leave the monastery.


In a novel of ideas, the views of a certain character often indicate the deep, essential quality of the personality far more thoroughly than any other device that an author might use. In these chapters, for instance, Ivan's character is revealed through his ideas, especially his views concerning the ecclesiastical courts and the relationship between church and state.

Ivan, unlike many people, does not believe in the separation of church and state on the grounds that the church has no business dealing with criminals. Ivan is, in fact, an unbeliever in the Christian sense, but, as a practical matter, he believes that the vast amount of crime in Russia can be curbed by a simple solution. He believes that the state should use the church as a tool in all criminal procedures. Criminals have altogether too easy a lot, he believes. The criminal who steals, for instance, does not feel that he is committing a crime against the church when he steals because the church does not punish him. But, were the church incorporated into the state, any crime would be, besides against the state, automatically against the church. If a potential criminal were threatened with excommunication, then crime would be virtually nonexistent.

Besides his views on church and state, Ivan also greatly stresses the power of immortality; without it, there would be no need for man to behave virtuously. Without the matter of immortality, man could commit any crime with no fear of eternal punishment. A belief in immortality, consequently, acts as a deterrent for the potential criminal and restrains him from committing crimes against society that otherwise he would have no compunction about committing. Such extreme views are central to many of Ivan's later struggles, and they will have to be reconciled with new concepts following the death of old Karamazov.

After Ivan finishes, Father Zossima, who does not argue with him, penetrates Ivan's inner self and senses that Ivan is indeed troubled about the problem of faith. The elder is aware that perhaps Ivan does not even know whether or not he actually disbelieves in immortality; perhaps he is only being ironic. This penetrating insight on the part of Father Zossima again attests to his unusual understanding of human nature. Later, of course, it develops that Ivan's madness results from his dilemma over belief and disbelief.

Earlier in the novel, Father Zossima's humanity and his simple faith in the healing power of love were stressed. Now, another dimension is added. In these chapters we see that he can easily maintain an intellectual argument. He is no simple mystic; he has an active, alert mind that proves to be a deft opponent for Ivan's parryings. Also, Father Zossima's view of the criminal buttresses his earlier concepts of the power of love. He feels that the worst punishment for a criminal lies in what he calls the "recognition of sin by conscience." The state, according to him, can punish the criminal, but physical punishment does not reform a man, nor does it deter future crime. A criminal must realize that crime is a wrongdoing by a son of a Christian society. Only in this realization can a criminal be deterred.

Ivan recognizes Father Zossima's deep understanding of human nature, for after their discussion, he goes forward to receive the elder's blessings. When he came to the cell, remember, he did not go forward either to greet the elder or to receive a blessing.

The much-discussed bow of Zossima can be explained as being a part of his instinctive understanding of Dmitri's nature. He knows that Dmitri will suffer immeasurably but that his basic nature is honorable. Also, remember that unlike the others, Dmitri arrived and immediately went forward to receive a blessing from the Father. Zossima noted the act and later was keenly aware of Dmitri's dismay when he heard Ivan's theory on immortality and its relation to crime. In Dmitri, Zossima sees great love, great suffering, and ultimately a great redemption.

Karamazov's flagrantly vulgar behavior is best explained in terms of Dostoevsky's purpose. The author is creating a portrait of a repulsive profligate for whom one can feel no sympathy. In this way, Dostoevsky alleviates much of the horror that might otherwise accompany the murder.

In this book, we are given our first reports about Grushenka. We hear, for example, that she is brazen enough to say openly that she hopes to devour young Alyosha. These reports, however, are hearsay; they vary from the character whom we eventually meet.