Alyosha walks with Rakitin to meet the Father Superior, and they discuss the meaning of Zosima’s strange departure. Rakitin says that the Karamazov dynasty is coming to a violent end, for the Karamazovs are all “sensualists” who only love women and money. He says that Dmitri has indeed abandoned his fiancée for Grushenka, and that Ivan is now trying to steal Dmitri’s cast-off fiancée, with Dmitri’s consent, while Fyodor Pavlovich chases after Dmitri’s mistress. Rakitin says that Zosima understands that this drama can only end in bloodshed, and that he bowed to Dmitri so that, after the tragedy occurs, people will think Zosima had foreseen it. Rakitin goes on insulting the Karamazovs and Grushenka, even saying that Grushenka wishes to seduce Alyosha, until Alyosha asks whether Grushenka is not one of Rakitin’s relatives. Rakitin, angry and embarrassed, denies this claim.

Summary—Chapter 8: Scandal

Fyodor Pavlovich creates another scene before leaving the monastery. He angrily bursts in on the luncheon at the Father Superior’s and launches into a long, vulgar tirade about the idiocy and hypocrisy of monastic life. Fyodor finally leaves, and as Ivan unhappily loads him into a carriage, he shouts back at Alyosha to leave the monastery and come home at once. The carriage drives away, and Fyodor begins contemplating the cognac he will have when they return home.

Analysis—Book II: An Inappropriate Gathering, Chapters 5–8

Ivan’s argument with the monks in Chapters 5 and 6 provides an approach to the world’s problems that contrasts with the active love promoted by Zosima in the previous section. Unlike Zosima, who emphasizes the role of the individual conscience, Ivan proposes sweeping social changes designed to promote a specific outcome. While Zosima believes that every person should strive to do good, Ivan argues that civilization should erase the distinction between church and state in order to reduce criminality.

Ivan’s position differs from Zosima’s in three specific ways. First, Ivan is interested in abstract conceptions of society and large groups of people, while Zosima is interested in the experience of the individual. Zosima proposes a way of life that, if everyone were to follow it, would make a better world, and Ivan proposes a change in the order of the world that, if enacted, would possibly make a better life for individuals. This difference is understandable given Ivan’s and Zosima’s own characteristics. Zosima is capable of loving human beings on an individual level, while Ivan is only capable of loving humanity in the abstract. Second, Zosima conceives of religion as a positive force, but Ivan believes it is negative. Zosima’s approach to religion is to suggest ways that the individual can act to do good, while Ivan’s is to suggest ways that religion can prevent the individual from doing evil. Because Zosima believes people are naturally loving and positive, he emphasizes the good that people can do for one another. Because Ivan believes people are naturally suspicious and negative, he emphasizes the evil that people must be prevented from doing to one another.

The third difference between Zosima’s and Ivan’s arguments is their level of sincerity. Zosima wholeheartedly believes what he says, whereas Ivan argues from a detached, academic standpoint. Ivan does believe that powerful ecclesiastical courts would improve society. But he does not believe in God, making his desire for a religious society seem perplexingly out of line with his real beliefs. Nonetheless, Ivan thinks that religious courts would be most effective in controlling the masses, even if religion itself is false. The fact that Zosima is able to see Ivan’s religious doubt even as Ivan argues for increased religious authority shows Zosima’s penetrating understanding of human nature.

These chapters represent the conflict between faith and doubt as a struggle between simple love for humanity and complicated theorizing about humanity. Zosima and Ivan both argue convincingly for their ideas, but Zosima’s simple faith is more impressive than Ivan’s highly complex doubt. Dostoevsky’s treatment of philosophical concepts in this chapter is similar to his treatment of them in the rest of the novel. Dostoevsky frequently makes compelling abstract cases for two sides of an argument, and then, through the example of the characters’ behavior, indicates the superiority of love, faith, and goodness.


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