Literature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 2 Book 4 Chapters 5 7 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 2, Book 4, Chapters 5–7 : Strains | Summary



At the Khokhlakovs, Katerina is in the drawing room with Ivan (Chapter 5). She claims that she has already made up her mind that even if Dmitri "marries that ... creature," she "still will not leave him." She imagines she will become his friend, his sister, a "god, to whom he shall pray—that, at least, he owes me for his betrayal." For his part, Ivan sarcastically says that she will spend her life "in the suffering contemplation of [her] own feelings." He plans to leave for Moscow the next day, and Katerina pretends not to mind. Alyosha breaks in to unmask her, saying that she is acting on purpose and that she does not love Dmitri at all, but only loves him "from strain," because she has convinced herself. Rather, she loves Ivan and, for that reason, torments him. Ivan adds that she suffers the insults of his brother Dmitri out of pride. He also declares his own love, although he still plans to leave.

Before Alyosha departs, Katerina explains to him that Dmitri beat and humiliated a captain, and his son was crying and begging him to stop, pulling his beard as everyone laughed. Captain Snegiryov is very poor, and Katerina asks Alyosha to make amends if he can and convince the man to take 200 rubles from her—as a sister to a brother.

Alyosha now understands why the schoolboy bit his finger (Chapter 6). He goes to the family and finds the captain living in the poorest of circumstances with his boy Ilyusha, who is now in bed with a fever; his mentally handicapped wife; and two daughters—one who cannot return to university because of the financial straits of the family and another who is hunchbacked and crippled with withered legs. The father's beard reminds Alyosha of the boys' taunting jeer of "whiskbroom." The captain at first thinks Alyosha has come to complain about his son's behavior and then drops his guard when he realizes he is there on an errand of mercy (Chapter 7). Alyosha tries to talk him into taking the money from Katerina. Snegiryov is initially very grateful, thinking about what he can do for his family with the money, but then he refuses it out of pride before his boy.


Katerina is acting on ressentiment when she claims she will not leave Dmitri, even if he marries Grushenka. Rather than cut her losses and act on the real love she feels for Ivan, she is determined to "keep her word" to Dmitri and, in so doing, to triumph over him—by becoming his god to whom he can confess and turn to for help. Alyosha suddenly has "an illumination" in which he understands everything. While he is not experienced in love, he has a natural understanding of people as a by-product of his practice of active Christian love, as taught by Zosima. By bringing everything out in the open, he makes room for Ivan to admit his love for Katerina, although she seems determined to continue on a destructive path with Dmitri.

When Alyosha learns from Katerina the reason for the attack on Ilyusha, he insists on going immediately to help the family. Even when he realizes the boy bit him out of anger at his family, he holds no resentment. He behaved at first out of magnanimity and continues to do so. The scene he finds at Snegiryov's home is very different than the one he left at his own. Its poverty and misfortune are striking, but so are its nobility, honor, and love.

The scene of pathos at the captain's cottage is a common one in Dostoevsky's novels—a tableau of disenfranchised people in terrible physical suffering as a result of poverty. The author had great compassion for the poor his whole life, especially after he himself lived among society's most desperate as a prisoner in Siberia.

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