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Literature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 2 Book 5 Chapters 6 7 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 2, Book 5, Chapters 6–7 : Pro and Contra | Summary



In Chapter 6, Ivan reluctantly returns to his father's house for the last time, feeling "anguish to the point of nausea." When he sees Smerdyakov on a bench waiting, he realizes he is the source of these feelings. When Ivan first came to town, he showed an interest in Smerdyakov and spoke with him on philosophical subjects, until he discerned his "boundless" and "injured" vanity. Smerdyakov now acts as if there is an unspoken understanding between them, and Ivan has come to loathe him.

Smerdyakov asks Ivan why he will not go to Chermashnya. He then complains that both father and son are hounding him about Grushenka and that he will have a falling fit the next day. Ivan is puzzled, because it is not possible to predict a seizure. Is Smerdyakov planning to fake an attack? Ivan asks. He replies that if he did, it would be to save himself from Dmitri. He is also afraid of being named Dmitri's accomplice, because he has revealed to him the secret signals he has devised with Fyodor Karamazov to open the door in the event that Grushenka comes. Moreover, if he is laid up he cannot stop Dmitri from using the signals.

When Ivan tells him that Grigory can watch for Dmitri, he says that his stepfather is due for his periodic back treatment from Marfa, to be given the next day. The last part requires the drinking of strong spirits, which incapacitates both servants for several hours. Ivan says it is all nonsense and that Dmitri will not come to steal the money or kill his father. He tells Smerdyakov he intends to leave for Moscow in the morning. Smerdyakov approves, although he says it is further than Chermashnya in the event of trouble. Ivan laughs and walks through the gate, but he is deeply disturbed.

Late that night, Ivan cannot sleep and finds himself stealthily going to the top of the stairs and listening to his father moving around below (Chapter 7). The next morning, he informs Fyodor Karamazov that he is going to Moscow, and his father talks him into going to Chermashnya first, to sell a woodlot, because it is not that far out of his way. When he says goodbye to the servants, Ivan tells Smerdyakov he is going to Chermashnya, who replies significantly that "it's always interesting to talk with an intelligent man." After Ivan leaves, Smerdyakov has a fit and falls into the cellar and is put to bed.

Meanwhile, in the carriage Ivan begins to brood on Smerdyakov's comment, and when he gets to Volovya to change horses, he decides to go to Moscow directly, sending his father a note that he changed his mind about stopping at Chermashnya.


Ivan is disturbed because he cannot grasp the full meaning of the relationship he shares with Smerdyakov. He senses there is something sinister in it. As Ivan's half-brother and character double, Smerdyakov seems to be able to read his unconscious mind. He also has a demonic aspect: "His slightly squinting left eye winked and smirked as if to say "What's the hurry? ... You know that we two intelligent men have something to talk over." His squinting left eye is mentioned on several occasions, and, of course, the left side, the sinister side, is associated with the devil.

Smerdyakov has given Ivan some key pieces of information: he is Dmitri's co-conspirator and has given him the signals for opening Fyodor Karamazov's door; the coast will be clear tomorrow, because he will fake an epileptic fit; and Grigory and Marfa will also be incapacitated. Ivan's conscious mind knows there is no danger from Dmitri, whom he believes will not kill their father. His conscious mind does not know that Smerdyakov is actually planning to kill the old man, although perhaps his unconscious mind does know. It is significant that he blurts out to Smerdyakov, right before he leaves, that he will go to Chermashnya after all, before going to Moscow. Also significant is that, when he broods on that statement, he decides to go directly to Moscow, almost as if to erase an involvement in Smerdyakov's machinations.

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