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The Brothers Karamazov


Book XI: Brother Ivan Fyodorovich, Chapters 1–10

Summary Book XI: Brother Ivan Fyodorovich, Chapters 1–10

But hesitation, anxiety, the struggle between belief and disbelief—all that is sometimes such a torment for a conscientious man like yourself, that it’s better to hang oneself. . . .

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Summary—Chapter 1: At Grushenka’s

On a wintry day almost two months after Dmitri’s arrest, Alyosha travels to visit Grushenka. Alyosha and Grushenka have grown closer since Dmitri’s arrest, and are now close friends. Grushenka fell ill three days after the arrest, but is now almost fully recovered. As her friendship with Alyosha has deepened, Grushenka has begun to show signs of spiritual redemption as well. Her fiery temper and her pride are still intact, but her eyes now shine with a new light of gentleness. She tells Alyosha that she and Dmitri have had an argument, and that she fears that Dmitri is in love with Katerina again, even though Katerina has not once visited him in prison. Grushenka also believes that Dmitri and Ivan are hiding something from her. She asks Alyosha to find out what it is, and Alyosha agrees to do so.

Summary—Chapter 2: An Ailing Little Foot

Before Alyosha speaks to Dmitri, he must pay a visit to Madame Khokhlakov and Lise. Madame Khokhlakov speaks to him before he sees Lise, and tells him something very curious: Ivan has recently paid a visit to Lise, after which Lise’s already erratic moods have become even more unbalanced. Madame Khokhlakov asks Alyosha to find out what is troubling Lise and to tell her after he has found out.

Summary—Chapter 3: A Little Demon

Lise is nearly hysterical when Alyosha goes in to see her. After they decided to become engaged, she changed her mind and broke off the engagement, and now, she says, she does not even respect Alyosha, because she cannot respect anyone or anything. She says that she wants to die because the world is so loathsome. She describes speaking to a “certain man” about this subject and says that the man laughed at her and left. She asks if the man despised her, and Alyosha says that he did not. As Alyosha rises to leave, Lise gives him a note for Ivan. When Alyosha is gone, she slams her finger in the door, crushing her fingernail. As she looks down at the blackened, bloody nail, she whispers to herself that she is mean.

Summary—Chapter 4: A Hymn and a Secret

Alyosha goes to the prison, where Rakitin has just visited Dmitri. Perplexed, Alyosha asks Dmitri about the visit, and Dmitri says Rakitin wants to write an article alleging that, because of his circumstances, Dmitri could not have helped but kill his father. Dmitri says he holds Rakitin in contempt, but allows him to visit so he can laugh at his ideas. Sobering, Dmitri tells Alyosha that even though he is not guilty of the crime of which he is accused, he has come to terms with the burden of sin he has created for himself and longs to do penance and redeem himself. He is only afraid that Grushenka will not be allowed to travel with him to his exile in Siberia, and that without her, he will lack the strength necessary for his spiritual renewal.

Dmitri says that Ivan has recently offered him a plan for his escape, even though Ivan believes Dmitri to be guilty of the murder. This plan is the secret that they have been keeping from Grushenka. Tormented with grief and guilt, Dmitri refuses to escape before the trial. He asks Alyosha what he believes, and Alyosha says that he has never believed Dmitri to be guilty. This declaration from his younger brother fills Dmitri with courage and hope.

Summary—Chapter 5: Not You! Not You!

Alyosha finds Ivan outside Katerina’s. Ivan tells him that Katerina has a letter from Dmitri that proves he is the murderer. Alyosha does not believe it. He insists that Dmitri is innocent. Ivan asks cuttingly who the murderer could be, if it is not Dmitri. Alyosha says that Ivan obviously considers himself indirectly responsible for the crime, and Alyosha reassures him that he is not. He says that God has sent him to soothe Ivan’s conscience. Ivan is troubled by Alyosha’s religiosity and storms away.