Literature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 4 Book 11 Chapters 5 6 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 4, Book 11, Chapters 5–6 : Brother Ivan Fyodorovich | Summary



Alyosha sets off to find Ivan, and when he sees Katerina's lights on, he thinks to stop there first. He finds Ivan ready to leave, but Katerina calls him back. She asks Alyosha if Dmitri is guilty and says Ivan is the one who convinced her he was a parricide. Ivan abruptly leaves, and Katerina begs Alyosha to catch up with him because he has gone mad.

Ivan coldly tells him Katerina has some damning evidence about Dmitri. Ivan claims he does not love Katerina anymore but must wait to break it off with her until after the trial, so she does not destroy Dmitri in court for spite. Alyosha gives Lise's letter to Ivan, which he tears up in disgust, saying she is already "offering herself." Alyosha pleads for her, claiming she is only a sick child, and Ivan responds that he is not her nanny. Alyosha suddenly tells Ivan "[i]t was not you who killed father," adding, "God has sent me to tell you that." Ivan becomes frightened and asks his brother how he knows "he is been coming to me." Alyosha is puzzled, and then Ivan recovers his composure and says he is breaking with Alyosha forever. When they part, Ivan decides to visit Smerdyakov.

The narrator intervenes to say Ivan is going to Smerdyakov for the third time (Chapter 6). He then moves back in time to the earlier meetings. When Ivan returns from Moscow after the murder, he is surprised that Alyosha thinks Dmitri is innocent. He himself feels contempt and aversion for his brother and is indignant that Katerina has involved herself with him. Upon his return, Ivan throws himself entirely into his passion for Katerina, with whom he is madly in love, despite his denials to Alyosha. She reciprocates his love but tortures him by occasionally lamenting her betrayal of Dmitri. Clearly, he wants to believe that Dmitri committed the crime, so he visits Smerdyakov in the hospital to discover if there is anything to Alyosha's idea that Smerdyakov is the killer.

A contradictory conversation ensues at Smerdyakov's hospital bedside, and though the doctors say his fit was genuine and might have long-term side-effects, Ivan finds Smerdyakov quite lucid, and his left eye still seems to squint and hint at something unspoken. He claims not to have faked his fit, despite what he told Ivan earlier. He has mentioned to the prosecutor his presentiment of the seizure but has not told the "whole" of his conversation with Ivan, he says.

Ivan also questions Alyosha. Did he think Ivan wished for Dmitri to kill their father when he said "viper will eat viper"? Did he think he was willing to help Dmitri along? Alyosha answers in the affirmative to both questions, which greatly disturbs Ivan and sends him back to Smerdyakov.


Ivan is angry with Katerina because they have been fighting over his brother's escape plan that readers learn more about in later chapters. Katerina is now torturing Ivan, and she accuses him of convincing her that Dmitri is guilty, which is not true. She does this out of spite because Ivan still thinks she is in love with his brother. Ivan lies to Alyosha about his true feelings for Katerina out of anger and pride. Since he is already hallucinating about the devil, he momentarily thinks Alyosha's comment is based in knowledge of the visits. Ivan gets angry at Alyosha for guessing his secret, and when he recovers his composure says, "I cannot bear prophets and epileptics, messengers from God especially." Ivan the materialist and Ivan the spiritual man are struggling in this double-edged response to Alyosha.

When Ivan first came back from Moscow, he was sure Dmitri murdered his father, even as he was sure before he left that Dmitri would not harm his father. His conscious mind knew his brother was not capable of murder, but when a murder occurs, Ivan is not ready to face up to his unconscious desires. Nonetheless, Ivan's conscience is troubled as he remembers the odd conversations with Smerdyakov and his comments about an "intelligent man"—the "lackey's" code word for the god-man for whom all is permitted, as taught to him by Ivan. In these encounters with Smerdyakov, Dostoevsky presents the half-brothers as doubles, and Smerdyakov is also the double of the devil, with his squinting left eye. He hints at their complicity in the murder, when tells Ivan he has not told everything. Ivan questions Alyosha because he is unclear about his own motives. He trusts Alyosha, and his answer prompts Ivan to go back to Smerdyakov to find out if he somehow put him up to killing Fyodor Karamazov.

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