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Literature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 4 Book 12 Chapters 4 5 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 4, Book 12, Chapters 4–5 : A Judicial Error | Summary



Alyosha is called to testify, and he suddenly remembers how his brother beat on and pointed to his chest, telling him he needed the strength to escape from a dishonor (Chapter 4). Katerina tells the entire story of how Dmitri gave her the money for her father. When Ivan is called to the stand, he is clearly unwell, so he is excused. But then he comes back and pulls out his father's 3,000 rubles, saying Smerdyakov killed old Karamazov on his instructions (Chapter 5). "Who does not wish for his father's death ...?" he says. Ivan is partially raving and mentions the devil, whose evidence will be inadmissible. Ivan is forcibly removed from the court.

Suddenly Katerina pipes up that she has one more piece of evidence, and she presents the letter that Dmitri wrote to her when he was drunk, saying he would kill his father for the money packaged for Grushenka in order to pay her back. She also provides the backstory on how she tempted Dmitri with her 3,000 rubles for spite to see if he would use them to betray her with Grushenka. She makes additional statements to damn Dmitri's character and show how Ivan has been trying for two months to save his brother.


Alyosha's sudden recall of Dmitri's behavior is proof he was carrying money, but like the pieces of evidence against Dmitri, it is also circumstantial. When Ivan takes the stand, he makes good on his promise to the devil to "come clean," but as Smerdyakov predicted, he is not believed. The preponderance of evidence is against Dmitri, and Katerina's resentment is sufficient to put the nail in Dmitri's coffin. A sympathetic reader might argue that she does so to save Ivan, who is desperately struggling to save himself by understanding the role he played in his father's death. Convicting his brother is unlikely to help him in that endeavor.

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