The Brothers Karamazov

by: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Book IV: Strains, Chapters 1–7

Summary Book IV: Strains, Chapters 1–7

Summary—Chapter 5: Strain in the Drawing-Room

Alyosha goes upstairs to talk to Ivan and Katerina. To Alyosha’s eyes, Ivan and Katerina are obviously in love, but they torment one another and themselves by inventing moral barriers to keep them apart. Katerina tells Alyosha that she intends to stay loyal to Dmitri, even if he decides to abandon her and marry Grushenka. Ivan says that he thinks her commitment to Dmitri is the right decision. Frustrated, Alyosha tries to make them see that they are only hurting themselves by refusing to acknowledge their love for one another. Ivan admits that he loves Katerina, but says that he thinks she needs to have Dmitri in her life. He says that he has decided to leave for Moscow the next day, and says good-bye.

After Ivan leaves, Katerina tells Alyosha a story about an old captain who once provoked Dmitri’s wrath. Dmitri beat him badly in front of the captain’s young son, who begged him to spare his father. Katerina asks Alyosha to take 200 rubles to the captain to help make up for Dmitri’s violence, and Alyosha agrees.

Summary—Chapter 6: Strain in the Cottage

Alyosha travels to the poor captain’s hovel, where he discovers to his surprise that the captain’s son, Ilyusha, is the same young boy who bit him. He realizes that Ilyusha attacked him because he is the brother of the man who assaulted Ilyusha’s father.

Summary—Chapter 7: And in the Fresh Air

The captain is at first overjoyed at the prospect of 200 rubles. But after some consideration, he proudly throws the money to the ground, explaining that if he accepted it, his son would never be able to admire or respect him. Alyosha sets out to return the money to Katerina.

Analysis: Book IV: Strains, Chapters 1–7

Alyosha and Zosima are extremely similar characters. Alyosha possesses Zosima’s ability to ascertain a great deal about a person’s inner self through simple observation. Alyosha also practices Zosima’s -lesson of not judging other people. Finally, Alyosha’s interaction with his father shows his ability to feel empathy for people’s shortcomings while at the same time refraining from apologizing for their failings. His willingness to declare that his father is twisted illustrates his honesty and integrity, as well as his intricate understanding of human character—Alyosha draws a distinction between evil and immorality. His immediate understanding of Ivan and Katerina’s relationship, his respect for the captain, and his sense that there is more to Ilyusha than violence and hostility all attest to his ability to quickly understand other people, a skill he learns from Zosima. Dostoevsky links this capability to moral purity throughout the novel, implying that the more honest and simple a person’s faith is, the more easily that person will understand fellow human beings.

The conflict between faith and doubt that pervades The Brothers Karamazov shows the detrimental effects of skepticism on the human character. For Dostoevsky, faith essentially represents a positive commitment to the truth, while doubt represents the suspicion that what poses as the truth is really a lie. As a result, a religious man like Zosima is capable of immediately perceiving the truth about others, whereas an irreligious man like Fyodor Pavlovich is consumed with suspicion and mistrust. Fyodor Pavlovich illustrates this difference in his suspicion that Ivan’s attempt to seduce Katerina is actually a plot to keep Grushenka from marrying Fyodor Pavlovich. Fyodor Pavlovich himself is so dishonest that he assumes everyone around him is equally dishonest, and as a result, his lack of self-respect translates into as a lack of respect for the rest of humanity. This breakdown is what Zosima means when he says that the man who is dishonest with himself is incapable of love.