HomeLiterature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 4 Book 10 Chapters 45 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 4, Book 10, Chapters 4–5 : Boys | Summary

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Summary

When Kolya meets Alyosha, he tells him how he befriended Ilyusha and defended him against the other boys (Chapter 4). Kolya sees himself as a mentor who "develops" younger boys. One day, Ilyusha comes crying to him because he had played a nasty trick Smerdyakov taught him—putting a pin inside a piece of bread and feeding it to a hungry yard dog. When he saw the dog squealing in distress, he is distraught. Kolya wants to punish him for his bad deed, so he cuts Ilyusha off. Soon, the other boys begin taunting him again, and following the incident with Dmitri, the teasing gets worse. When Kolya watches Ilyusha being taunted one day, the younger child rushes up to his mentor and stabs him with the penknife. Alyosha relates that Ilyusha thinks he is being punished by God for hurting the dog. He tells Kolya he wishes he had come sooner and asks whether the dog he brought is Zhuchka, because a rumor is going around that he was looking for the animal. Kolya denies it.

In Chapter 5, the narrator explains that Ilyusha stopped going to school after the rock-throwing incident and had taken to his bed, growing increasingly weak. The captain did accept the money from Katerina, and she has even come to visit the family and brought in a special doctor from Moscow. Even though the boys visit regularly, Ilyusha is still grieving over the dog.

Kolya comes into the cottage and greets Ilyusha; he is moved almost to tears when he sees him but tries to hide his emotion. He briefly taunts Ilyusha about Zhuchka, but then calls his dog in to do some tricks, and the creature is, in fact, the same Zhuchka. He explains how he found him and taught him, unaware of how much pain he has caused his little friend, both in withholding the dog and now resurrecting him. Alyosha gently reproaches Kolya for waiting so long to bring the dog, but the reprimand goes over his head.

Analysis

Kolya is revealed as a child who has a great deal of compassion, but at the same time (because he is not being properly guided by his elders) an overblown sense of his own importance. He does a good deed by befriending Ilyusha, but he goes overboard in punishing him for his misdemeanor. Ilyusha was encouraged to torment the dog by the evil Smerdyakov, and he likely did not understand the consequences of his deed. As a result of Kolya's punishment, Ilyusha becomes defenseless against the bullies and suffers crushing guilt because he thinks he killed the dog. A child himself, Kolya does not understand his social role to exhibit compassion for his "brother," even, perhaps especially, when a crime has been committed.

The tale is more than an interlude. It speaks to the ways Ivan and Alyosha react to their brother Dmitri's crisis. Dmitri, too, has been misled by Smerdyakov, who taught him the secret knock to enter their father's house. He committed an act of cruelty against Grigory, like the one Ilyusha committed against the dog, but one that was ultimately harmless. The real danger is of a social ostracization that precludes the opportunity for redemption.

Alyosha is appalled when he learns Kolya found the dog and didn't tell, and realizes that the new revelation will have a detrimental effect on Ilyusha: "If the unsuspecting Krasotkin had only known what a tormenting and killing effect such a moment could have on the sick boy's health, he would never have dared to pull such a trick," the narrator says. Kolya's is a failure of Christian charity, in which he passes judgment on another and refuses forgiveness and love.

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