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The Brothers Karamazov

Summary Book III: The Sensualists, Chapters 1–11
Summary Book III: The Sensualists, Chapters 1–11

One of The Brothers Karamazov’s major arguments is that Alyosha’s nonjudgmental love of humanity improves the lives of the people with whom he interacts. Specifically, he bridges the communication gap between Dmitri and Katerina, provides hope and love to Lise, and tends to Fyodor Pavlovich after Dmitri attacks him. Dostoevsky repeatedly shows how Alyosha is impervious to the conflicts and built-up hatreds of the other characters, and how his soothing, relieving presence encourages peace and resolution between them. Zosima’s understanding of Alyosha’s capability to do good is presumably what leads him to send Alyosha out of the monastery and back into the world. Although that decision is a mystery in Book II, in Book III it becomes clear that Zosima’s motivation is to allow Alyosha to do good in the world. Alyosha works to bring Zosima’s ideas to fruition in the real world and exemplifies the novel’s moral standpoint. Alyosha represents not only the simple, loving religious faith described by Zosima, but also the power of that faith to do actual good in the world.

Dmitri represents a combination of the ideas that drive Alyosha and Fyodor Pavlovich. He has Fyodor Pavlovich’s inclination toward Epicurean sensuality and Alyosha’s inclination toward morality and faith. When Rakitin accuses Dmitri of having the same sensualist greed and lust as Fyodor Pavlovich, Dmitri reveals his deep-seated disgust with his own behavior. The fact that he hates himself for treating Katerina poorly makes him morally superior to Fyodor Pavlovich. It is difficult for us to imagine Fyodor Pavlovich feeling similar remorse. Additionally, the story about Dmitri’s abandoned attempt to blackmail Katerina into sleeping with him reveals a level of moral concern that is also lacking in Fyodor Pavlovich. Dmitri begins to emerge as the person Zosima recognizes him to be from the beginning: a troubled, confused young man, driven to sin by the power of his passions, but struggling to live by his conscience.

The story of the birth of Smerdyakov, chronicled in the early chapters of Book III, reveals the extent of Fyodor Pavlovich’s disregard for moral laws. His seduction and possible rape of a helpless idiot girl, combined with his reprehensible treatment of the resulting child, reveal the worst consequences of a life lived with no conception of good and evil. This depraved existence is the sort of life Ivan unhappily sees as the logical course of action for a man who does not believe in God. The twisted, unpleasant Smerdyakov, cursed with epilepsy, becomes a symbol of Fyodor Pavlovich’s deformed life, the illegitimate son’s mean temperament and unhealthy body resulting directly from his father’s wicked behavior. The contrast between Alyosha and Fyodor Pavlovich illustrates the superiority of a life of faith and love over a life of doubt and selfishness.