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Literature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 2 Book 5 Chapters 3 4 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 2, Book 5, Chapters 3–4 : Pro and Contra | Summary



Ivan is in a friendly mood, recalling how Alyosha loved cherry preserves as a child (Chapter 3). This is the first time they have had a chance to talk since Ivan has been in town. Now that he is leaving, he gladly renews his acquaintance with Alyosha, which was discontinued when Ivan left for school in his teen years. Ivan declares his Karamazov thirst for life, which he expects to continue at least until he turns 30. Alyosha tells him about the conversation with Smerdyakov and asks if he is really leaving so soon, considering the trouble between Dmitri and their father. He responds angrily, "Am I my brother Dmitri's keeper or something?" He then smiles and notes those were Cain's words. He mentions that Dmitri "handed" Katerina over to him, and that he did fall in love with her but claims that now he does not love her anymore. Ivan brings the conversation around to its real purpose, which is to "resolve the everlasting questions." He begins by saying what is more amazing than the possible existence of God is that "a wild and wicked animal as man" has come up with the notion of God.

Ivan continues his monologue in Chapter 4, repeating in different words what Zosima said: that it is easy to love one's neighbor "abstractly, and even from a distance, but hardly ever up close." He wants to consider the suffering that man inflicts on man, but he reduces the scope of suffering to the trials of children, who are innocent and easy to love. He begins relating instances of the abuse of children, saying that "if the devil does not exist, and man has therefore created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness." Some people love torturing children, he says, and their defenselessness and angelic nature is what tempts the torturers. He relates a particularly brutal tale of abuse of a five-year-old by her educated parents. Some would say this is the price of the knowledge of good and evil. But for Ivan, "[t]he whole world of knowledge is not worth the tears of that little child to 'dear God.'" He does not want to forgive the evil doers, and he will not buy admission to all of higher harmony with the suffering of even one child. For this reason, he concludes, "It's not that I don't accept God, Alyosha, I just most respectfully return him the ticket." Alyosha says Ivan is forgetting the one being who can "forgive everything, forgive all and for all, because he himself gave his innocent blood for all." Ivan says he has not forgotten and will now tell him a poem about that very subject.


Ivan believes he can leave his family behind to return to Moscow, but Dostoevsky insists on exploring the ways humanity is interconnected. Ivan may not believe he is his brother's keeper, but the actions of his brother and his father both determine the course of his life. Ironically, he does not see this fact reflected in his own feelings toward Alyosha, toward whom he feels kindly because he stood up for him at Madame Khokhlakov's by exposing Katerina's ressentiment.

His behavior and attitude lead to a discussion of God and the nature of good and evil. The central theme of the novel is the struggle between faith and doubt, and this theme is highlighted in these two chapters and the one that follows. Ivan's doubt takes the form of not believing in God's goodness, because he has spent so much time contemplating the evil mankind does. Certainly his own family's experiences would have led him to this morose topic, but interestingly, he does not use them as his primary point of reference.

In an interesting twist on both the Biblical observation that God created man in his own image and Voltaire's comment that if God did not exist, man would have to invent him, Ivan says that man was compelled to create the devil and did so in his own image. This is a stunning indictment of man as well as God—a God who brought into being such a despicable creation as would torture children. Ivan cannot abide by such a God. So he hands him back his admission ticket to greater harmony, when all things are made whole and the lion lies down with the lamb. Ivan has yet to realize that the ticket is nonrefundable, so to speak; in other words, he cannot choose not to participate in life.

When Alyosha reminds Ivan that the sacrifice of the innocent lamb, Jesus Christ, atones for the terrible sins of man, he answers him with a poem that calls into question Jesus's status as savior.

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