The Brothers Karamazov: Novel Summary: Part IV Book XII - A Judicial Error (Chapters 1-14)

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Part IV Book XII - A Judicial Error (Chapters 1-14)

Summary
Chapter 1: The fatal day
It is the day of Dmitri's trial. People come from far and wide to attend. Many are excited to see Fetyukovich, the famous lawyer who is defending Dmitri, in action. The women favor Dmitri and his acquittal, possibly because Dmitri has a reputation as a conqueror of women's hearts. The men condemn Dmitri, possibly because he has managed to insult many of them.
 
The judge is an educated man, but the jurors consist of peasants and low-ranking officials, making some onlookers wonder about their competence to reach a fair verdict in such a complex case.
 
When the news about Smerdyakov's suicide is announced, Dmitri cries out that "The dog died like a dog!" - giving the court a negative impression of his character.
 
Dmitri pleads guilty to "drunkenness and depravity," but not guilty to the robbery and murder of his father.
 
Chapter 2: Dangerous witnesses
The prosecutor, Ippolit Kirillovich, and defense lawyer, Fetyukov, each put their case. The evidence seems overwhelmingly against Dmitri, particularly the report of Dmitri's attack on his father when he was looking for Grushenka in his father's house. Fetyukov brilliantly casts doubt on the credibility of one witness for the prosecution after another. When Grigory gives crucial evidence against Dmitri, about the door to the garden being open, Fetyukov points out that the medicine he was taking was laden with vodka, so that his senses were unreliable.
 
Chapter 3: Medical expertise and one pound of nuts
Three doctors give contradictory evidence. The local doctor, Dr Herzenstube, declares that Dmitri must be mentally deranged, as, being an admirer of ladies, he should have looked at them on his way into court, but instead looked straight ahead.
 
The Moscow doctor, brought by Katerina, also says that Dmitri is mentally deranged and suffering from mania; if he did commit the crime, it was involuntarily, in a fit of passion. This doctor believes that if Dmitri were sane, he would have looked not at the ladies but at his defense lawyer. The third doctor, Dr Varvinsky, believes that Dmitri is perfectly normal, and was right to look straight ahead, at the judge who would decide his fate.
 
Dr Herzenstube says that he remembers Dmitri being neglected by his father as a boy. He took pity on him, and gave him a bag of nuts. Years later, Dmitri thanked the doctor, and both men had wept. The story produces a favorable impression on the court.
 
Chapter 4: Fortune smiles on Mitya
Alyosha testifies. He believes that Smerdyakov, and not Dmitri, is the murderer, but admits that he has no proof. Under questioning from Fetyukov, Alyosha remembers an important piece of evidence. Dmitri had told him that he had a means of restoring his honor, and it was on his chest, at which point Dmitri had struck his chest. He now believes that Dmitri was indicating the amulet containing Katerina's fifteen hundred roubles. This would mean that he did not steal the money from Fyodor Pavlovich.
 
Katerina then testifies. She does not produce her incriminating letter from Dmitri. Instead, she tells how she had gone to Dmitri to beg him for money to save her father from prison. Her story gives rise to scandalous gossip about her among the townspeople, who cannot believe that Dmitri had let her go with merely a respectful bow.
 
Grushenka testifies. She accuses Smerdyakov of the murder and says that Dmitri would not lie.
 
Chapter 5: A sudden catastrophe
Ivan is next to testify. He looks ill and tired. He presents the wad of money that Smerdyakov stole from Fyodor Pavlovich. He says that Smerdyakov is the real murderer, though he was acting on Ivan's instructions because he wished his father dead. By now, Ivan is raving. The judge asks him if he has any witnesses, and Ivan cites the devil, who visits him. As Ivan grows more and more deranged, he is taken from the courtroom.
 
Katerina fears that Ivan has falsely incriminated himself, and rises to reverse her earlier testimony. She produces Dmitri's letter in which he says he will kill his father to get the three thousand roubles he owes her. She says that she gave Dmitri the three thousand roubles as a test, because she suspected he would spend it on betraying her with Grushenka. Dmitri did so, but was so tormented that he killed his father for his three thousand roubles, so as to pay Katerina back. She admits that she withheld this evidence in her earlier testimony because she wanted to save Dmitri, in the knowledge that he despised her.
 
Katerina says that Ivan has lost his sanity over his inability to bear the thought that his brother did the murder; Ivan has been tormenting himself with trying to find a way to take the blame from Dmitri. Katerina dissolves into hysterics and is removed from the courtroom. Grushenka angrily shouts insults at her.
 
The Moscow doctor tells the court that Ivan is suffering from severe brain fever.
 
Chapter 6: The prosecutor's speech
The prosecutor, Ippolit Kirillovich, begins his statement for the prosecution. He appears sickly and feverish, and the narrator mentions that in fact, he died nine months later of tuberculosis.
 
Kirillovich genuinely believes in Dmitri's guilt and wants his conviction in order to "save society." He sees the history of the Karamazovs, and the murder of Fyodor Pavlovich, as manifestations of the depraved sensuality that is increasingly infecting Russian society and that must be rooted out. He does not believe that Dmitri could have kept back half Katerina's money in the amulet; he would squander it, too.
 
Chapter 7: A historical survey
Kirillovich dismisses the evidence of the two doctors who said that Dmitri is insane. He thinks that Dmitri is perfectly rational, but embittered by jealousy of his father over Grushenka. He cites the episodes where Dmitri beat up Snegiryov and his father as proof of his violent temperament, and adds that he has been convinced by Dmitri's letter to Katerina that Dmitri consciously premeditated the murder of Fyodor Pavlovich.
 
Chapter 8: A treatise on Smerdyakov
Kirillovich turns his attention to the possibility that Smerdyakov was the murderer. He says that though this accusation of Dmitri's has been confirmed by three people (Ivan, Alyosha and Grushenka), there is no evidence against Smerdyakov. Moreover, Kirillovich believes Smerdyakov to be too feeble-minded and cowardly to commit such a crime. As for Smerdyakov's attack of epilepsy, Kirillovich says that though no one can predict the exact time of such an attack, epileptics can often feel an attack approaching, and an attack can be brought on by tension.
 
Kirillovich points out that Smerdyakov had only feeble motives for the murder, unlike Dmitri, who had the strong motives of hating his father and wanting the money. Smerdyakov's only possible motive was the money. But if this were the case, Smerdyakov would have kept silent about the existence of the envelope containing the money, so that he could steal it without being suspected. Moreover, Fyodor Pavlovich trusted Smerdyakov because he had never displayed such motives before.
 
Chapter 9: Psychology at full steam. The galloping troika. The finale of the prosecutor's speech
Kirillovich indulges his interest in psychology by analyzing Dmitri's case in the light of his assumption that Dmitri did the murder. He exhorts the jury, for the sake of truth, justice, and all that is holy in Russia, to find Dmitri guilty.
 
Chapter 10: The defense attorney's speech. A stick with two ends
Fetyukovich gives his speech for the defense. He points out that though the overwhelming totality of facts is against Dmitri, not one fact will stand up to criticism: it is all circumstantial evidence. There is no proof that Dmitri committed the crime. He criticizes Kirillovich's reliance on psychology, pointing out that what is psychologically plausible may not be true. He shows that Kirillovich's analysis was inconsistent, painting Dmitri at one moment as in a deranged frenzy, and in the next moment as a cold and calculating person. Psychology, Fetyukovich shows, can be used to prove anything, including Dmitri's innocence.
 
Chapter 11: There was no money. There was no robbery
Fetyukovich argues that there is no proof that Fyodor Pavlovich's envelope containing three thousand roubles ever existed, since nobody saw it, they only heard about it. He casts doubt on Katerina's testimony, pointing out that someone who testified incorrectly the first time may testify incorrectly a second time. He says Dmitri wrote his letter to Katerina when drunk, and it may not have reflected his true intentions.
 
Chapter 12: And there was no murder either
Fetyukovich again uses Kirillovich's weapon of psychology to argue Dmitri's innocence, pointing out that a man who is premeditating murder does not impulsively snatch up a pestle in front of other people to use as a weapon, nor does he shout in taverns that he is going to kill his father. On the contrary, "a soul what has conceived such a thing seeks silence and self-effacement . . ." Fetyukovich says that Smerdyakov could have been the murderer. He himself visited Smerdyakov, and did not find the timidity or feeblemindedness that Kirillovich claimed to see. Fetyukovich judged Smerdyakov to be ambitious, spiteful and envious.
 
During his visit to Smerdyakov, Fetyukovich noticed that Smerdyakov set forth exactly the same argument that the prosecutor later used against Dmitri: that only an unaccustomed thief like Dmitri, who would not have been sure that the envelope contained money, would have opened it at the scene of the crime and left the torn envelope on the floor. Smerdyakov suggested that if he himself were the thief, because he knew that the envelope contained the money, he would not have needed to open the envelope and would have taken care not to leave such evidence of a robbery behind. Fetyukovich believes that Smerdyakov deliberately framed Dmitri by leaving the envelope behind, and that he was 'planting' this suggestion in the minds of prosecutor Kirillovich and Fetyukovich.
 
Chapter 13: An adulterer of thought
Fetyukovich says that the case against Dmitri is colored by the emotive issue of parricide. If Dmitri was being tried for the murder of anyone but a father, the jury would hesitate to ruin his destiny on the basis of such flimsy evidence. Recalling Dr Herzenstube's story of the bag of nuts, Fetyukovich argues that Fyodor Pavlovich never acted as a father towards Dmitri and does not deserve the name of father.
 
Fetyukovich goes on to say that even if the jury do believe that Dmitri is the murderer, they should show mercy and acquit him, as this is the only way to produce repentance in one who is thirsty for love: "overwhelm such a soul with mercy, give it love, and it will curse what it has done, for there are so many germs of good in it . . ."
 
Chapter 14: Our peasants stood up for themselves
Fetyukovich ends his speech to rapturous applause: most of the court seems to have been won over to Dmitri's side, and everyone expects him to be set free.
 
The judge invites Dmitri to speak. An exhausted Dmitri reasserts his innocence of the murder, though admits that he "lived like a wild beast" and longed to reform. He asks the jury not to believe the doctors who said he was insane; he is in his right mind. He gives his word that if he is spared, he will reform, but says that if he is condemned, he will accept his punishment.
 
The jury takes only an hour to reach its verdict of guilty. Dmitri cries out that he is innocent of his father's blood. He asks Katerina to forgive him, and asks everyone to have pity on Grushenka. Grushenka utters a terrible cry.
 
Analysis
Book XII, containing Dmitri's trial, is often viewed as an anticlimax, since most of the momentous events of the novel - Dmitri's and Grushenka's spiritual redemptions, Ivan's mental breakdown, and Smerdyakov's confession proving Dmitri's innocence - take place in previous Books. Book XII contains long and detailed evidence given by lawyers for the prosecution and defense.
 
The fact that both sides are frequently mistaken as to the truth of the events surrounding the murder, and that the jury gives a mistaken verdict, illustrates one of Dostoevsky's main theses, that earthly man-made justice is flawed and limited in its ability to glean the truth. This in turn confirms one of the ideas that pervades the novel: that human beings should not judge one another. To judge another is to block the flow of love to the judged person, and has a counterproductive effect on his spiritual development, as in the case of Kolya's judging and punishing Ilyusha. Equally importantly, any human judgment is based on only part of the picture and will almost certainly be wrong, as it is in the case of the jury's verdict on Dmitri. The fact that Dmitri has acknowledged his faults, embraced his punishment and foreseen his spiritual redemption before the trial and independently of it, shows that it is not earthly justice that most effectively punishes and reforms the criminal, but a person's own conscience, as Zosima tells Ivan in Book I.
 
The court scenes give Dostoevsky a chance to satirize two areas of knowledge that were increasingly influential in his time - psychology and medicine. Prosecutor Kirillovich relies to a great extent on psychology to paint Dmitri as a murderer, but then defense lawyer Fetyukovich turns his weapon against him by using psychology to paint Dmitri as a compassionate man who could not possibly have committed the murder. As for the three doctors, they give conflicting reports of Dmitri's state of mind, leaving Dmitri himself to give the truth of the matter: that he is innocent of his father's blood but "lived like a wild beast" and badly needed to reform. The satire is particularly skillful in that the psychological and medical arguments are put so skillfully and with such grave authority that each would seem perfectly plausible to someone who had not heard the full story as told by the narrator. The trouble is that they contradict each other, so they cannot all be true - and they contradict the reader's knowledge as obtained from the narrator. Fetyukovich's comment about psychology, that it is a "stick with two ends" in that it can be used to argue any predetermined assumption, applies to all the psychological and medical evidence given in the court scenes.
 
The jury's verdict, based on the evidence given, goes against Dmitri and is wrong. But the crowd in the court, which is not bound by the evidence, appears to conclude correctly that Dmitri is innocent - in spite of its initial prejudice that he was guilty. The crowd is won over to Dmitri's side by the emotional elements of the case. These include Dr Herzenstube's story of giving the neglected Dmitri the bag of nuts. The final and most crucial example is Fetyukovich's affirmation of the power of mercy to bring about genuine redemption, which brings about a rapturous response from the crowd. While the judicial system prides itself on its attempts to exclude emotional issues from criminal justice, Dostoevsky's novel seems to suggest that the human heart is a better judge of truth than the intellect or the judicial process.
 
Katerina's redemption begins in this Book when she cries out for Ivan in court - an act of spontaneous love quite unlike her previous tortured and strained relations with Dmitri and Ivan.

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