Literature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 4 Book 12 Chapters 1 3 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 4, Book 12, Chapters 1–3 : A Judicial Error | Summary



On the first day of the trial, the courtroom is packed, and the famous lawyer Fetyukovich is defending Dmitri (Chapter 1). Ippolit Kirillovich, the prosecutor, is dreaming of "resurrecting his flagging career" with the notorious case. Dmitri pleads "not guilty," although most everyone thinks he committed the murder. Fetyukovich's strategy is to discredit the witnesses for the prosecution (Chapter 2), and he spends time proving that Grigory's testimony might not be reliable, because he had taken strong medicine and was still under its effects when he saw the open door, which Dmitri says was closed. When the doctors testify, they disagree on whether Dmitri was crazy when he committed the crime (Chapter 3). One thing that comes out at trial is how neglected Dmitri was as a child. Dr. Herzenstube testifies he once bought the child a pound of nuts, and when Dmitri came back to the town of his birth as an adult, one of the first things he did was stop by the doctor's office and thank him for that act of kindness.


The Karamazov case is notorious, and like all court cases that include lurid details and complex family dynamics, people show an avid and voyeuristic curiosity, which is why the courtroom is packed. The Karamazov case also has the aura of being iconic of the state of Russia, so people have an interest in the outcome. With the abolition of serfdom, questions of loyalty and aristocracy became paramount. And the reform of the Russian court system made legal dramas that much more dramatic.

Fetyukovich takes the case for its publicity value and puts up a spirited defense. He pokes holes in every hostile witness's testimony, which is easy to do because all the evidence against Dmitri is circumstantial. When the doctors testify, readers get a new insight into Dmitri: here is someone who, years after the fact, was grateful to a man who did him a kindness. Dmitri's gratitude also speaks volumes to the brutality of his upbringing. As readers learned at the beginning of the book, the unwanted child changed hands several times. It is easy to feel sympathy for Dmitri's bad behavior when considering his horrendous upbringing.

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