Analysis—Book VI: The Russian Monk, Chapters 1–3

The main philosophical conflict of the novel is apparent in the structural division between Books V and VI: the dark and brooding Book V is consumed with the tremors of Ivan’s doubt, while the more peaceful Book VI is devoted to the quiet wisdom of Zosima’s faith. Zosima’s final anecdotes work as a cooling antidote to the disturbing arguments in Book V, replacing Ivan’s frenzied logical examinations with more positive examples of the power of faith to do good in the world. In a way, the anecdote of the murderer is the exact opposite of the Grand Inquisitor story. The Grand Inquisitor story tells about an innocent man who is imprisoned and judged, while Zosima’s anecdote of the murderer tells about a guilty man who is goes free and is forgiven. The contrast in the two anecdotes reveals a great deal about the contrast between Zosima’s philosophy and Ivan’s. Zosima emphasizes the power of love to overcome sin, whereas Ivan emphasizes only the baseness of the world and the cold logic with which he believes it must be faced.

In addition to the parallel between the story of the Grand Inquisitor and the anecdote of the murderer, there are a number of other parallels between things Zosima describes in Book VI and events that take place in the larger narrative, both before and after this section of the novel. For instance, Zosima’s description of himself in youth as a soldier like Dmitri, with a brother who helped to redeem him spiritually, echoes the relationship between Dmitri and Alyosha: Alyosha also helps to redeem Dmitri, and Zosima says specifically that Alyosha reminds him of his brother. Zosima’s youthful duel and the murder committed in the anecdote of the murderer are both crimes of passion committed for a woman’s love, and thus echo the rivalry between Fyodor Pavlovich and Dmitri for Grushenka. The murderer’s acceptance of responsibility and his desire to confess involve many of the same issues of responsibility and redemption that affect Ivan. These parallels ultimately are another sign of the infallible wisdom of Zosima. He is able to predict, better than anyone else, what lies ahead for the Karamazovs, and he is thus able to tailor his final lesson to what he knows will be Alyosha’s needs in the coming crisis. Alyosha has proved himself capable of internalizing Zosima’s lessons, and he emerges from this final conversation with Zosima better prepared to handle the hardships that lie ahead.

Zosima’s death, as he stretches out his arms to embrace the Earth, is a symbol of acceptance and faith, indicating his love of God’s creation with the last energy left in his body. Zosima’s sincerity and his assent to the will of God are total. He does not die with fear, resentment, or regret. His final gesture is one of rapturous acquiescence, and thus Zosima’s death works as an emblem of everything he has taught, spoken, and stood for throughout the novel.