Literature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 4 Book 11 Chapters 3 4 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 4, Book 11, Chapters 3–4 : Brother Ivan Fyodorovich | Summary



When Alyosha visits with Lise, she shares with him her violent fantasies to hurt and destroy (Chapter 3), and Alyosha understands she has "come to love disorder." She confesses to a fantasy of torturing a child while she eats her favorite dessert, which she relayed to Ivan, who then walked out on her abruptly. She asks Alyosha to save her, and he promises to always be her friend. At the end of the visit she gives him a letter for Ivan. After he leaves, she deliberately smashes her finger in the door and then watches the blood ooze from her nail.

After visiting Lise, Alyosha visits Dmitri just as Rakitin is leaving (Chapter 4). The ex-seminarian and socialist wants to write an article about Dmitri's case. Dmitri derisively repeats Rakitin's assertion that "everything is permitted to the intelligent man" and calls him a "natural-born swine." Dmitri shares with Alyosha his spiritual transformation, although he fears that the new man who has been born in him will not endure. He recalls his dream of suffering and, echoing Zosima, says "everyone is guilty for everyone else," and this is why he must "spend twenty years pounding out iron ore in the mines." But he is tortured by his conversations with Rakitin. Dmitri believes that the existence of God is necessary for man to be virtuous. Rakitin claims it is possible to love man without God. When Dmitri asks Ivan about his philosophy, he responds that "our papa was a little pig ... but his thinking was right." This disturbs Alyosha. Even though Ivan believes Dmitri is guilty, he wants him to escape and go to America with Grushenka, which is the secret the brothers have been hiding.


Alyosha is a redemptive force, but he is not omnipotent. He alone cannot save Lise, and her extreme case implies that others, too, may not benefit from his example. Lise's illness is getting worse, and her fantasies and behavior express what Freud calls the death wish. Sometimes referred to in psychology as Thanatos (from Greek mythology; the death instinct), it is responsible for aggression and risky behavior. Lise is also expressing a perverse form of "the will to power," after she reads a lurid account of child torture and then repeats it as a fantasy. She feels like a bad person and is plumbing the depths of her own potential depravity to confirm her worst fears. As Alyosha correctly observes, she is addicted to her own obsessive thoughts, a possible by-product of being cooped up in the house with her frivolous and distracted mother, with no outlet for her creativity or mental energies. In Dostoevsky's characterization of Lise, he exhibits a deep understanding of abnormal psychology and the workings of the unconscious mind.

Dmitri's process of transformation continues in jail, although it is more tenuous than Grushenka's. The theme of all being responsible for all is repeated in Dmitri's idea that he must suffer hard labor for the crimes of everyone. Rakitin has been planting some doubts in his mind, although Dmitri has strong religious convictions. He does not agree that all things are permitted, and without a belief in God, he would not be able to live. Ivan continues to maintain his stance as an atheist by affirming his father's belief in pure materialism; but in fact, Ivan is moral man, as evidenced by his struggle with the devil in subsequent chapters.

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