HomeLiterature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 1 Book 2 Chapters 12 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 1, Book 2, Chapters 1–2 : An Inappropriate Gathering | Summary

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Summary

Zosima's visitors, arriving in two carriages, are Miusov and his distant visiting relative, young Pyotr Kalganov, and Fyodor Karamazov and Ivan (Chapter 1). Dmitri seems to be late, and Alyosha is already with the elder. The party first encounters Maximov, a 60-year-old landowner who has just been to see the elder. Zosima lives in a hermitage in the woods, a little distance from the monastery. A monk soon appears to take the party to the hermitage and also invites everyone to dine with the Father Superior afterward. Fyodor Pavlovich begins making inappropriate comments, and Miusov, well acquainted with Old Karamazov's high jinks, keeps warning him to behave himself.

When the party enters the outer room of Zosima's cell, two priests, the librarian, Father Iosif, and Father Paissy are already present, along with the seminarian Rakitin (Chapter 2). When Zosima comes in with Alyosha, Fyodor Karamazov wastes no time in assuming the role of offensive clown, claiming he is a "natural-born buffoon." Miusov is mortified by Karamazov's behavior and asks the elder's pardon. Zosima tells him to be comfortable and not trouble himself. He also tells Karamazov to feel at home. Karamazov replies that even he will not go that far, but says he is not afraid of anyone's opinions because "you're all, to a man, lower than me." He acts up because he is insecure, he says. Then he suddenly falls to his knees in a theatrical gesture and says, "Teacher! ... what should I do to inherit eternal life?" The elder cheerfully answers him that he knows what he needs to do—give up drunkenness, "verbal incontinence," lust, and lying.

Karamazov continues to play the fool and repeats a silly apocryphal tale about a martyred saint who had his head cut off and then carried it and kissed it. He claims to have heard this story from Miusov and accuses him of shaking his faith. An embarrassed Miusov makes excuses about telling the story. At this point, Zosima excuses himself temporarily so he can attend to some people who have been waiting outside to see him. Alyosha initially cringes at his father's behavior but then is relieved that the elder does not appear to be offended.

Analysis

Miusov hates Karamazov and is familiar with his bad character from the days when he first rescued the child Dmitri and took him to Moscow after the death of his cousin Adelaida. But he is also something of a hypocrite, because he quickly passed off little Dmitri to one of his relatives so that he could return to France. He is a socialist, which, in Dostoevsky's fiction, generally means that he is also an atheist or unbeliever. Nonetheless, he is somewhat intimidated by the monks and genuinely impressed with Zosima. Moreover, he cares about what other people think and would not dream of acting inappropriately in this holy place. His presence mediates the piousness of Alyosha and Zosima with the disrespect of Karamazov, and shows the reader a more complicated picture of faith and doubt than would otherwise be possible.

On the other hand, Karamazov does not care what other people think of him and has turned his outrageous behavior into a grotesque art form. He is adept at finding people's weaknesses and exploiting them, which he often does simply for the spiteful fun of it. He sees that Miusov wants to make a good impression, and for this reason, he brings up the story of the beheaded martyr, which Miusov likely told to demonstrate the silly or irrational side of religion. The story makes Miusov appear contemptuous of faith, thus putting him in a bad light before the elder.

Karamazov acts like a clown for two more reasons. First, everyone else approaches the elder with reverence and awe, and Karamazov enjoys violating this social taboo. Second, unlike Alyosha, he assumes the worst motives in other people, so he wants to see if the monk is a hypocrite. He outrageously states that he wanted to see if "there's room for my humility next to your pride." He then presents Zosima with "a certificate of honor," apparently satisfied with the monk's sincerity.

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