Grigory and Smerdyakov are arguing over whether it is morally acceptable to renounce one’s faith in God if doing so would save one’s life. Smerdyakov says that it is, because no one has perfect faith. He says that no one has faith enough to believe that, if he asked a mountain to move, God would move the mountain. Therefore, Smerdyakov says, no one should die for the faith that he does have. He says that a person who renounces his faith to save his life can repent for his sin later. Though he is arguing with Grigory, he seems to be directing most of his attention to Ivan, and he seems to hope that Ivan will approve of his reasoning.
Fyodor Pavlovich is soon bored with his servants’ quarrel, and he dismisses them. He asks Ivan about his religious belief, and Ivan says that he does not believe in God or in the immortality of the soul. Alyosha defends religion, claiming that God does exist and that the soul is immortal. Fyodor Pavlovich is quickly bored of this debate and instead of furthering it, he begins to taunt Alyosha about his mother. He attacks her religious faith and describes her seizures, and Alyosha grows so upset with this attack that he has a seizure himself. Ivan angrily reminds Fyodor Pavlovich that he and Alyosha have the same mother—Fyodor Pavlovich has forgotten that they are both the children of his second marriage. Suddenly, Dmitri comes into the room, screaming at his father and insisting that Grushenka is hidden in Fyodor Pavlovich’s house.
Dmitri runs through the rooms trying to find Grushenka, and when Fyodor Pavlovich accuses him of stealing money, Dmitri throws his father to the ground, threatens to kill him, and runs out of the house. Alyosha and Ivan tend to Fyodor Pavlovich’s wounds and put him to bed.
Alyosha visits Katerina at Madame Khokhlakov’s house and is surprised to find that Grushenka is also there. Grushenka has just promised Katerina that she is going to leave Dmitri for a former lover, and Katerina will have him back soon. Katerina is grateful and overjoyed, but when she tells Alyosha what has happened, Grushenka insults her and says that she may decide to stay with Dmitri after all. On his way out of the house, Alyosha is stopped by a maid, who gives him a letter from Lise.
As he returns to the monastery, Alyosha is again stopped by Dmitri, who laughs at the report of Grushenka’s behavior. Suddenly remorseful, Dmitri then tells Alyosha that he is consumed by self-disgust. At the monastery that night, Alyosha learns that Zosima’s health is rapidly deteriorating, and Zosima is near death. Alyosha decides to remain with Zosima, whom he loves like a father, instead of returning to help with his family’s conflict. He reads Lise’s letter, which contains a confession of her love for him. She writes that she hopes to marry Alyosha one day. Alyosha laughs happily, says a prayer for all his troubled loved ones, and, after such an eventful day, falls into a deep sleep.
The Brothers Karamazov is a systematically ordered novel. Each of the story’s twelve books chronicles a specific phase of its development and approaches its narrative from a specific angle. Book I gives the novel’s background, detailing Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov’s past and the three brothers’ childhoods. Book II deals with the meeting at the monastery, outlines some of the novel’s major philosophical conflicts, and introduces us to the source of conflict between Fyodor Pavlovich and Dmitri—their rivalry for Grushenka. Book III finally introduces the town in which the main portion of the novel’s action takes place and presents a firsthand view of the situation between the main characters, as opposed to the secondhand views presented by Fyodor Pavlovich, Rakitin, and Dmitri in Book II. Significantly, Book III presents the narration from Alyosha’s perspective for an extended period of time. Although the narrator describes Alyosha as the “hero” of the novel, he has been only a minor participant in the story so far.