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.