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Literature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 4 Book 11 Chapters 7 8 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 4, Book 11, Chapters 7–8 : Brother Ivan Fyodorovich | Summary



Ivan meets Smerdyakov a second time in his room at Maria Kondratievna's (Chapter 7). He asks Smerdyakov to elaborate on his comment that he did not tell the district attorney the whole conversation at the gate before Ivan left. He now brazenly answers that he did not say Ivan knew about the coming murder of his father and chose to abandon him, and he adds that Ivan wished for his father's death. Ivan strikes him and then accuses Smerdyakov of killing old Karamazov. "That I did not kill him, you yourself know for certain," he answers. "And I'd have thought that for an intelligent man there would be no more to be said about it."

As they verbally spar, Smerdyakov accuses Ivan of wanting Dmitri to kill his father so he could get more of the inheritance. Ivan responds that if he were counting on someone to kill his father, he would more likely have thought of Smerdyakov. His half-brother jumps on this admission, saying, "if you were counting on me ... and your left all the same, it was just as if you told me thereby: you can kill my parent, I will not prevent you." Ivan denies this intent and says he will unmask Smerdyakov to the court.

When he finishes with Smerdyakov, Ivan goes to Katerina and tells her the whole story, saying that "If not Dmitri but Smerdyakov ... killed father, then, of course, I am solidary with him, because I put him up to it." At this point, Katerina takes out a letter from Dmitri, which he wrote to her while he was drunk at the tavern, saying he will smash his father's head and take the money he has packaged for Grushenka to return Katerina's 3,000 rubles. Thus, Ivan is again convinced Dmitri is the killer.

The narrator returns to the present in Chapter 8. Ivan feels compelled to meet Smerdyakov a third time because it suddenly strikes him that Katerina said he is the one who convinced her of Dmitri's guilt. On his way to Smerdyakov, a drunken peasant bumps into Ivan, and he shoves him away. The peasant falls to the ground, and although Ivan thinks he will freeze, he hurries to his destination. He finds Smerdyakov very sick, and Maria Kondratievna says he is not in his right mind. Smerdyakov tells Ivan to go home, saying it was not you that killed him. But when Ivan presses him, he says, "You killed him, you are the main killer, and I was just your minion." He is surprised to learn that Ivan does not know. Smerdyakov pulls up his trouser leg and takes the 3,000 rubles he robbed from Fyodor Karamazov out of a stocking. He faked the first fit, although he had a real seizure the next day. Smerdyakov took Ivan's agreement to go to Chermashnya as tacit consent to the murder and believed he would not make a fuss about the missing money.

He then relates the logistics of the crime. First, he had been preparing Dmitri to kill his father by sharing the signals with him. He had misled Dmitri about where his father hid the money, so he knew he could get the money for himself afterward. After Grigory cried out, Smerdyakov got out of bed. He then went to the window and called to his master, who was still very much alive, and checked on Grigory, who was unconscious. Thus, he decided to finish what he started. He told the old man that Grushenka had come, so Fyodor Karamazov ran to open the garden door. Smerdyakov came in when he ran to the window and leaned out. He then hit his master with a cast-iron paperweight, wiped it off, and absconded with the money. Finally, he went back to bed and began groaning so Marfa would wake up and check on Grigory and discover the murder.

Ivan says he will give evidence against himself in court the next day. Smerdyakov says he will not do it because it is too shameful, and he cares about his reputation; besides, no one will believe him. He tells Ivan to take the money, because he has no use for it now. He did have a dream of going abroad, because "everything is permitted," which is what Ivan taught him. When Ivan leaves, he sees the little peasant again and saves him by carrying him to the police station so he will not freeze to death. He also sends for a doctor. When he gets home, he begins dozing and then sees he has company.


When Ivan goes to Smerdyakov the second time, he continues to speak to Ivan in code. He thinks Ivan knows that he killed old Karamazov, but because Ivan treats him with loathing and disrespect, he both taunts him and reassures him at the same time. He wants Ivan to admit he wanted his father dead and that he hoped Dmitri would kill him. When he actually describes the murder to Ivan at their third meeting, Smerdyakov tells him he also thought Dmitri would do the job, but when he did not, Smerdyakov took matters into his own hands.

The three visits are an explicit reference to the betrayal of Christ by his closest confidante, Peter. As Christ is being held for trial, Peter is too frightened to visit him in jail, afraid he will be arrested as a co-conspirator. Instead, he disguises himself and sneaks into the camp of the Roman soldiers, where he is recognized. But when asked if he knows Jesus, he denies it, three times. Likewise, Ivan, instead of visiting Dmitri in jail, goes to their half-brother to gather evidence while refusing to divulge what is truly in his heart: that he wished his father dead.

Ivan initially enters willingly into a relationship with Smerdyakov, but he rejects him because the "servant" becomes overly familiar and because he senses there is something sinister in his motivations. In Smerdyakov's mind, he and Ivan have a mutual understanding—that they are above conventional morality. Smerdyakov was amoral before Ivan arrived, possibly due to his painful childhood and the fact that he has been rejected as a son and brother and instead objectified as a servant. But he uses Ivan's ideas about the relativism of morality to justify his desire to murder, and he implicates Ivan in that desire.

Ivan has a deep-seated and overwhelming hatred for his father. While Dmitri hates his father, his hatred cannot compare to Ivan's or Smerdyakov's. From an early age, Ivan was aware that he lived on the charity of others, the narrator says early in the novel, and "that their father was such that is was a shame to speak of him." Further, he is older than Alyosha and would remember more of the abuse that Fyodor Karamazov heaped on his mother. Finally, he has the deepest understanding of the extent of his father's depravity. Smerdyakov realizes how much Ivan hates his father, and in that sense they are doubles, because Smerdyakov hates his master most of all. Thus, he seeks to enter into a relationship with Ivan through a shared murder, and he expects to profit from it.

Despite his purported socialism and atheism, Ivan is a deeply moral man. While he does hate his father, he knows Dmitri will not kill him, and only his unconscious mind is aware of Smerdyakov's machinations. Still, it seems far-fetched to think Smerdyakov is up to anything because he is so adept at hiding himself behind a façade of subservience. Nonetheless, once the murder is committed and he finally learns the truth, Ivan feels bound to take responsibility for his unconscious desires that have manifested as the devil Smerdyakov. He plans to testify in court. To prove to himself that he is not a monster, he saves the peasant's life and even gets him a doctor.

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