The Brothers Karamazov
Book X: Boys, Chapters 1–7
Summary—Chapter 1: Kolya Krasotkin
It is the beginning of November—a dull, cold day just before the start of Dmitri’s trial. Kolya Krasotkin is a thirteen-year-old boy who was once a friend of Ilyusha. Kolya loves dogs and likes to train his dog, Perezvon, to do tricks. Kolya is two years older than Ilyusha, and has a somewhat blustery and impertinent nature. He appears to be conceited, but he is actually a loyal friend, and likes looking out for children younger than himself.
Summary—Chapter 2: Kids
At present, Kolya is watching two children while their mother, a tenant of his mother, is away. He is anxious, however, because he wants to go visit Ilyusha. Ilyusha has fallen ill and may be near death. Alyosha has convinced the other boys to visit him every day, but Kolya has yet to visit him once. He has not met Alyosha yet either.
Summary—Chapter 3: A Schoolboy
At last, a servant returns to the house, and Kolya hurries to Ilyusha’s house with Perezvon in tow.
Outside Ilyusha’s house, Kolya meets his friend Smurov, who is disappointed that he brought Perezvon. Smurov says that the other boys were hoping he would bring Zuchka, a dog that Ilyusha has apparently been desperate to see. Kolya contemptuously declares that he does not know where Zuchka is, and he asks Smurov to send Alyosha out to him before he goes in to see Ilyusha.
Summary—Chapter 4: Zuchka
Alyosha comes out to meet Kolya, impressing him immediately by speaking to him as an adult and not talking down to him. As they speak, Kolya is increasingly taken with Alyosha’s unself-conscious wisdom and his unaffected manner of speech. Kolya tells Alyosha about his history with Ilyusha. He says that when the other boys used to pick on Ilyusha, Kolya was impressed by the fact that Ilyusha always fought back bravely, even thought he was undersized. Kolya eventually decided to protect Ilyusha, and they became good friends. But Ilyusha sometimes resented Kolya’s influence over him and sometimes did things out of spite just to rebel against Kolya. Once, for instance, Ilyusha performed a cruel trick some of the boys had learned from Smerdyakov—feeding a dog a piece of bread with a pin hidden in it. Kolya, enraged, tried to punish Ilyusha. In the ensuing scuffle, Ilyusha stabbed Kolya with a knife, thus ending their friendship, though Kolya says he does not hold a grudge. The injured dog was named Zuchka, and no one seems to know whether it lived or died. Alyosha tells Kolya that Ilyusha believes his illness was caused by God’s wrath over his treatment of Zuchka.
Summary—Chapter 5: At Ilyusha’s Bedside
Alyosha and Kolya go inside, where Kolya impresses Ilyusha’s mother by bowing to her. The pale and bedridden Ilyusha is thrilled to see Kolya, but all the boys around the bed are disappointed that he was unable to bring Zuchka. Kolya mocks Ilyusha about Zuchka, asking how any dog could possibly have survived eating a pin for an appetizer. Then, he calls for Perezvon, and when Perezvon runs into the room, Ilyusha cries out that it is Zuchka. Kolya did find Zuchka, and then gave the dog a different name so that no one would spoil his surprise for Ilyusha.
Katerina, still guilty over Dmitri’s beating of Ilyusha’s father, has summoned a doctor from Moscow to look after the boy, and when he arrives, Ilyusha’s guests are forced to leave.
Summary—Chapter 6: Precocity
Outside the house, Alyosha and Kolya talk, and Kolya tells Alyosha his views on life, which he is certain are both profound and final despite the fact that he is only thirteen years old. Alyosha sees at once that Kolya’s “philosophy” is merely a batch of phrases and modern ideas he has heard from Rakitin. But he listens respectfully, and when he disagrees with what Kolya says, he says so, and says why. Even though Alyosha says Kolya’s sweet nature has been perverted by Rakitin, Kolya is still so drawn to Alyosha that he feels they have become close friends. Alyosha agrees and inwardly hopes that Rakitin’s influence will not have a permanent effect on this young self-proclaimed socialist.
Summary—Chapter 7: Ilyusha
The doctor leaves, and Alyosha and Kolya both realize that Ilyusha will soon die. Ilyusha speaks softly to his father about his death, and Kolya, who has been choking back tears at the sight of his sick friend, at last begins to weep openly. He tells Alyosha that he will come to visit Ilyusha as often as he can, and Alyosha admonishes him to keep his word.
The stories of Alyosha’s influence on Kolya, Ilyusha, and the other boys develop a motif of the novel: the idea that faith and virtue can be taught and handed down as a legacy from one faithful man to the next. This legacy begins with Zosima’s brother, who teaches Zosima about loving God’s creation and forgiving mankind. Zosima passes the lessons on to Alyosha, and Alyosha now actively passes them on to the young boys he has befriended since his initial encounter with Ilyusha, keeping the chain of faith alive. Dostoevsky dramatizes the receptivity of children to moral teachings throughout this section of the novel. If Alyosha’s example is only partly successful in improving the lives of the adults to whom he is close, it is more successful among the children here in Book X. The boys look at Alyosha with unmitigated respect and adoration because he treats them with respect—as equals—as we see in his extended conversations with the wayward Kolya. The Brothers Karamazov ends on a note of optimism and encouragement, and a great deal of its positive tone seems to stem from the idea that Alyosha’s role as a teacher of the young will improve the faith of the next generation.
This part of the novel shows Alyosha’s reaction to Ivan’s indictment of God. In these chapters, Alyosha encounters the very injustice that makes Ivan reject God—the suffering of children—and shows his response to it. Rather than recoiling in intellectual horror, as Ivan does, Alyosha devotes himself to doing what he can to make the suffering child happier, bringing Ilyusha’s schoolmates to see him every day, helping to heal the rift between Ilyusha and Kolya, and generally providing Ilyusha and his family with friendship and support. Just as Zosima’s argument with Ivan in Book I stems from their opposite perspectives, with Zosima treating other people on an individual basis and Ivan looking at mankind as a whole, the contrast between Alyosha and Ivan in this situation stems from the same opposition. Ivan looks at the abstract idea of suffering children and is unable to reconcile the idea with his rational precepts about how God ought to be. His solution is to reject God. Alyosha, on the other hand, sees an actual suffering child and believes that it is God’s will for him to try to alleviate the child’s suffering to whatever degree he can. His solution is to help Ilyusha. Again, Dostoevsky shows how the psychology of skepticism walls itself off, in elaborate proofs and theorems, from having a positive effect on the world, while the psychology of faith, simplistic though it may be, concerns itself with doing good for others. This very subtle response to the indictment of God presented by Ivan in Book V brings the philosophical debate of the novel onto a plane of real human action, and shows the inadequacy of Ivan’s philosophy—which Ivan himself would readily acknowledge—to do good in the real world.