The Brothers Karamazov

by: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Book XII: A Judicial Error, Chapters 1–14

Summary—Chapter 10: The Defense Attorney’s Speech. A Stick with Two Ends

Fetyukovich counters by pointing out the flimsiness of all the evidence against Dmitri. Apart from circumstance and the conjecture of unreliable witnesses, there is no proof that Dmitri is guilty.

Summary—Chapter 11: There Was No Money. There Was No Robbery

Fetyukovich continues his summation. He points out that there is not even any proof that Fyodor Pavlovich kept an envelope full of 3,000 rubles; it is only a rumor. The letter that Dmitri wrote to Katerina was written drunkenly and under extreme emotional torment, and cannot be taken as a statement of Dmitri’s real intention.

Summary—Chapter 12: No Murder Either

Finally, Fetyukovich says, even if Dmitri had killed Fyodor Pavlovich, he would not have been murdering his father, because the repugnant old man never acted as his father and forgot about the boy the moment he was born.

Summary—Chapter 13: An Adulterer of Thought

Fetyukovich insists that Dmitri’s only chance to find redemption amid the tattered shreds of his life is to be set free.

Summary—Chapter 14: Our Peasants Stood Up for Themselves

Most of the crowd has been completely won over to Dmitri’s side. Everyone expects that he will be set free. But the jury returns in a short time and declares that Dmitri is guilty. The crowd is outraged. Dmitri cries out that he is innocent and that he forgives Katerina. Grushenka cries out from the balcony, and Dmitri is led away.

Analysis—Book XII: A Judicial Error, Chapters 1–14

Dmitri’s trial in Book XII is in many ways an anticlimax. Book XI contains a more shocking sequence of events, including Smerdyakov’s confession, Dmitri’s spiritual redemption, Ivan’s mental collapse, and Smerdyakov’s suicide. These revelations resolve the novel’s pressing moral questions, establish Dmitri’s innocence, and make whatever happens in the courtroom less consequential to the novel’s larger themes. In Book XII, Dostoevsky satirizes the Russian legal system through the incredibly long, pompous closing speeches of the lawyers. Part of the novel’s premise, however, is that the real judgment of Dmitri’s soul could not possibly take place in a courtroom. The idea that no human judgment can supplant the judgment of one’s own conscience first appears in Book I, when Zosima argues against Ivan’s proposals for the ecclesiastical courts by pointing out that no court could hope to judge a man as he must judge himself.

Crime and justice are important motifs in The Brothers Karamazov, and the trial is the most sustained look at criminal justice in the novel. Dostoevsky refrains from pushing analytical conclusions about the nature or quality of Russian jurisprudence, and instead chooses simply to offer a thorough depiction of how a Russian criminal trial might actually look: he emphasizes the styles of legal argumentation, ranging from Fetyukovich’s precise dissections of witness’s statements to the rougher and more direct style of Kirrillovich; the emotions of the witnesses; and, above all, the reaction of the crowd to the drama at hand.

Dostoevsky’s decision to write much of Book XII from the perspective of the crowd as a whole is both philosophically and aesthetically significant. This perspective gives the novel a sense of completion by providing dramatic resolution in both its individualistic and its abstract modes. The conflict has been played out between the two perspectives on humanity represented by Zosima and Ivan, the one looking at people as individuals, the other looking at humanity as an abstract whole. In Book XI, with the total collapse of Ivan’s philosophy, Dostoevsky gives us the private, individual resolution of the novel’s great questions, the most important resolution and the one matching Zosima’s worldview. In Book XII, he provides the large-scale, abstract resolution of the same questions from the perspective of the mob. The crowd comes to believe in Dmitri because they are moved by his story, suggesting that human nature is more good than it is evil. The crowd’s final reversal of their original impression that Dmitri is guilty—so that everyone in the room thinks he is innocent except the jurors—is Dostoevsky’s encouraging testament to mankind’s ability to discover truth. The crowd challenges the cynical assessment of mankind offered by Ivan and the Grand Inquisitor, even if it does so by allowing itself to be moved by the emotional drama of Dmitri’s story.