HomeLiterature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 1 Book 2 Chapters 56 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 1, Book 2, Chapters 5–6 : An Inappropriate Gathering | Summary

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Summary

Zosima is an ill man, but Alyosha sees that, despite his exhaustion, he wishes to continue the visit. When they return to his cell, the company is discussing Ivan's article on the ecclesiastical courts, which is causing a stir among both churchmen and secularists (Chapter 5). Ivan's article argues against a separation of church and state that would allow the church courts to continue. Church and state are incompatible, Ivan argues, and in fact the state should be subsumed in the church. The priests agree, while Miusov argues that such an idea is tantamount to "ultramontanism," a doctrine favoring a state run by the Roman Catholic Church. Zosima says that if criminals had to face their own conscience through the judgment of the church, they would truly repent their crimes. Father Paissy explains to Miusov that they are not proposing that the church turn into the state, but rather that the state turn into the church. In France, Miusov notes, those who watch subversives are more afraid of socialist Christians than the socialist atheists. At this point in the conversation, Dmitri finally arrives.

Dmitri was to come at one o'clock—clearly, his father sent him the wrong information on purpose (Chapter 6). As Dmitri takes his place, Miusov continues the conversation, seeking to unmask Ivan. He relates that Ivan recently announced that men do not naturally love their fellow men, and love results from the belief in immortality. Once man's belief is destroyed, all things become permissible when morality disappears. Moreover, for atheists, religious law is replaced by egoism, which is both reasonable and necessary. Dmitri rephrases this idea that "[e]vildoing should not only be permitted but even should be acknowledged as the most necessary ... and intelligent solution for ... every godless person," saying he will remember this idea. The elder then proposes that Ivan believes neither in God nor immortality, nor in what he has written about the church courts, and Ivan confesses that possibly Zosima is correct. Zosima then says that Ivan has not resolved the question for himself, which is his "great grief." He then raises his hand to bless Ivan, who rises to meet the elder and receive his blessing.

Fyodor Karamazov now pipes up to bring the conversation around to his dispute with Dmitri. He pours out a sordid tale, in which he claims that Dmitri actually owes him money. Further, he says his son has brought his fiancée (Katerina) to town, even as he tries to seduce a local femme fatale (Grushenka), who is in a common-law marriage with another man. Further, he beat up a retired captain in the street, a man acting as old Karamazov's agent. Dmitri's side of the story is that he is sorry for losing his temper, but the captain was sent by his father to Grushenka to offer her Dmitri's promissory notes, which could then be used against him in court. Grushenka has told Dmitri that old Karamazov is also pursuing her, which she finds laughable. Miusov once again becomes enraged at being complicit in such a shameful scene between father and son. As father and son continue to argue bitterly, Dmitri says, "Why is such a man alive!" Suddenly Zosima ends the argument by kneeling in front of Dmitri and bowing to the ground, asking for forgiveness from everyone. Dmitri then runs out of the room, and the rest follow. The same monk who invited them to dinner comes to get them, and old Karamazov claims he is leaving and cannot come to the dinner because he is ashamed of his behavior.

Analysis

Miusov is anxious to show himself as an intellectual and freethinker before Ivan. He understands that Ivan has written ironically about the ecclesiastical courts. For Ivan, the idea of the church having its own provenance in the legal system is ridiculous, because he believes himself to be an atheist. His position is that there is no middle ground, which is why he argues for a theocracy. This conversation prefigures his argument in "The Grand Inquisitor," in which the "ultramontanism" of which Miusov speaks is dramatized in a story about the Inquisition. Miusov goes on to reveal that Ivan is an atheist, but Zosima sees that Ivan is suffering with his disbelief. At the root he is a spiritual man, and it pains him to accept his own atheism. Not surprisingly, he receives the elder's blessing, recognizing him as a wise man.

The bitter argument between father and son in Zosima's cell, in which old Karamazov tries to discredit his son, foreshadows the violence that will take place between them. Readers learn that, while Dmitri has come to town with Katerina, he is now chasing after another woman, the alluring Grushenka, who buys people's debt for profit, a type of usury. The battle between them is Oedipal, and therefore primitive; father and son both lust after the same woman. It is a story as old as original sin.

However, Zosima's bow transforms an archetypal plot into something more complex. In this novel, bowing is a significant symbol with a range of meanings. Zosima's bow to Dmitri foreshadows the suffering that is coming his way. Zosima asks for forgiveness for all because he believes that all are responsible for all and all are guilty of everyone's sins, an idea that will be developed in later chapters. Moreover, he sees that Dmitri will be the victim of a terrible wrong. The elder bows humbly in this scene before the fiery young man who has become a Christ figure, an innocent who is persecuted for the sins of others.

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