Literature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 1 Book 2 Chapters 7 8 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 1, Book 2, Chapters 7–8 : An Inappropriate Gathering | Summary



After the company leaves, Zosima instructs Alyosha to attend and charges him to leave the monastery (Chapter 7). He will have to journey in the world before he can come back to a monkish life. He tells Alyosha he will witness a great sorrow and instructs him to find happiness in sorrow. Alyosha then heads out toward the monastery and meets Rakitin, who left the elder's cell with the others. He calls Zosima "astute" because he "smelled crime" in Alyosha's family. Rakitin continues to make sarcastic and insulting remarks about the Karamazovs, saying they are all sensualists, even Alyosha. He remarks that Dmitri wants to trade his beautiful, rich, and aristocratic Katerina for the enchanting Grushenka, the former "kept woman" of an old merchant, Samsonov. Grushenka serves his father in his "shady tavern business," but the old man is now also lovesick over her. Moreover, Ivan loves Katerina, and Dmitri wants to pass her off to his brother. Katerina will not reject Ivan in the end, he says. As the two young men come up to the monastery, they see old Karamazov shouting and everyone leaving.

Before the arrival of Alyosha and Rakitin, dinner begins uneventfully, but then Fyodor Karamazov has a change of heart and comes back to cause another scene. Although the Father Superior invites old Karamazov in, Miusov is appalled and gets up to leave. Karamazov then begins slandering the elder, saying he forces people to confess publicly. The Father Superior responds by bowing to Fyodor Karamazov. He continues his insults, now directed at the monks generally, accusing them of luxuriously living off the backs of Russian peasants. Miusov and Kalganov exit, and Fyodor Karamazov launches a few more insults before departing himself and saying he will take his son Alexei with him. When Maximov tries to get into Karamazov's carriage, Ivan angrily shoves him off.


Although Alyosha has not formally entered the monastery or taken vows, the elder speaks to him as a disciple and gives him an obedience, which is to leave the monastery and go out into the world. Chapter 7 is titled "A Seminarist-Careerist," to clearly indicate that Rakitin, Alyosha's friend, has no spiritual vocation, and he has no respect for Zosima. Likely, he is attending seminary school to get an education. Alyosha is on a quest, and he must encounter many different people and experience many different things before he can forge his own personality.

Rakitin is a strange friend for Alyosha. He is resentful of the Karamazovs, largely because of their class. He tells Alyosha that as a priest's son, he is a mere "worm" next to the Karamazov "noblemen." Alyosha's nobility of spirit is demonstrated in his attachment to this spiteful and jealous meddler.

The scene at the monastery makes readers both cringe and laugh. In both Zosima's cell and when he bursts into the monastery, Fyodor Karamazov shows himself to be despicable and depraved and capable of sinking to the lowest depths out of spiteful enjoyment. His outrageous behavior is funny because it is incongruous and also because, on some level, the reader vicariously enjoys his transgressions. These opposing poles of emotion triggered in readers are in keeping with the polyphonic nature of a Dostoevsky novel.

When old Karamazov accuses the elder of forcing people to publicly confess, he is referring to a rumor about elders instituting public confession, a violation of the usual ritual of a private confession with a priest who acts as the intercessor for God. Nonetheless, the followers of Zosima have initiated such a ritual (which will be mentioned in the next chapters), and some of the monks are privately opposed to it. This, as well as the debate about the state and church, force the reader to consider the questions of faith and doubt not as private matters, but as social, public ones.

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