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Literature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 3 Book 7 Chapters 3 4 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 3, Book 7, Chapters 3–4 : Alyosha | Summary



Grushenka rents a cottage from relatives of Samsonov, who brought her to that place four years previously as a poor, skinny, shy, orphan abandoned by her fiancé (Chapter 3). Grushenka has grown into a "full-bodied Russian beauty, a woman of bold and determined character ... who ... succeeded in knocking together a little fortune of her own." Samsonov is a tight-fisted widower and tyrant over his family members, but he taught Grushenka about money and gave her some capital to start her own business.

Alyosha and Rakitin arrive while Grushenka is waiting for a message from her old fiancé. She seems prepared to leave at a moment's notice. Pleased to see the young monk, Grushenka sits on his lap, puts her arm around his neck, and promises to cheer him up. When Grushenka learns the elder has died, she quickly jumps off Alyosha's lap. Alyosha says, "I came here looking for a wicked soul ... because I am wicked myself, but I found a true sister." Rakitin laughs spitefully, but Grushenka is moved.

She admits she initially had the idea of "eating him up," but says she "gave an onion," referencing a folk tale about an evil woman who a guardian angel tries to save from hell. He tells God that once she pulled up an onion and gave it to a beggar. God gives the angel an onion and says he can use it to try pulling her out of the lake of fire. When the angel holds out the onion, the woman begins rising, but then other souls grab onto her so they also can be pulled up to heaven. The wicked woman begins kicking them off, and she promptly falls back into the lake.

Grushenka then tells Alyosha that she received a letter from the man who abandoned her, now a widower. She confesses she has been "toying with Dmitri so as not to run to the other one." Alyosha praises Grushenka's willingness to forgive her first lover. She says perhaps she has not forgiven him, confessing that she is wild and violent. She falls on her knees to Alyosha, saying she knew someone would come to forgive her, "a dirty woman," and Alyosha smiles, saying, "I just gave you ... one little onion." At this point a carriage comes from Mokroye, and she decides to go to her ex-fiancé. She asks Alyosha to bow to Dmitri for her. "[Tell him that I] loved him for one hour," she says.

In Chapter 4, Alyosha returns to the monastery and enters Zosima's cell, where Father Paissy is reading the Gospel over the coffin. Alyosha begins quietly praying and begins to doze. The priest is reading about the wedding at Cana, when Jesus turns water into wine. Suddenly, Alyosha hears Zosima's voice. The elder tells him he is rejoicing in heaven because he "gave a little onion." He urges his disciple to begin his work.

The elder points out "our Sun," but Alyosha is afraid to look. Zosima says not to be afraid, because his mercy is boundless. "[H]e became like us out of love ... transforming water into wine ... he is ceaselessly calling new guests, now and unto the ages," he says. Alyosha wakes up in rapture. He goes outside, under the stars, and throws himself to the ground, embracing and kissing it in ecstasy. "He fell to the earth a weak youth and rose up a fighter," the narrator says, "steadfast for the rest of his life." Three days later, he leaves the monastery for good to "sojourn in the world."


Although Grushenka has remained chaste since she was abandoned by her lover (except for her relations with Samsonov), she has a spiteful idea about seducing Alyosha, the paragon of purity. Grushenka is in truth a large-hearted woman, although passionate and perverse. But her perversity stems from anger over being misused by men in her early, formative years. Nonetheless, she cannot help but feel the effect of Alyosha's goodness.

Her reaction reinforces for Alyosha the lessons Zosima taught him: that love, compassion, and mercy are a Christian's paramount responsibilities, and that no matter how difficult and unrewarding the virtues may appear to be, they continue to sow their good fruits unseen. For this reason, Alyosha is immediately grateful to her for "saving him."

Grushenka then confesses to Alyosha, showing that he is growing into the role of a priest as Zosima intended. She finds it easy to confess that she probably feels spite for the man who spurned her. Nonetheless, she remembers the intense love that she felt for him. She cannot help but go to him; his rejection has colored her adult life, and seeing him is a chance to either pick up where they left off or reject him forever.

When Alyosha returns, thus cleansed, to Zosima's side, he has a vision of the elder at the side of the coffin in which Zosima unveils the mystery of forgiveness and charges Alyosha to go out into the world and do his work as a Christian. Alyosha has an enlightenment experience as a result of the dream, in which he experiences the oneness of God: "The silence of the earth seemed to merge with the silence of the heavens, the mystery of the earth touched the mystery of the stars ... It was as if threads from all those innumerable worlds of God all came together in his soul, and it was trembling all over, 'touching other worlds.'"

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