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The Brothers Karamazov: Novel Summary: Part I Book II - An Inappropriate Gathering (Chapters 1-4)

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Part I Book II - An Inappropriate Gathering (Chapters 1-4)

Chapter 1: They arrive at the monastery
One warm day at the end of August, Miusov arrives at the monastery for the meeting in Zosima's cell. He is accompanied by a relative, a young man called Pyotr Fomich Kalganov, who is about to enter university. Fyodor Pavlovich arrives with Ivan. None of the men are religious, and Miusov has not been in a church for thirty years. A monk appears and invites them all to lunch with the Father Superior after their meeting.
Dmitri has not yet arrived; he is late.
Miusov, who believes himself to be a cosmopolitan intellectual, despises Fyodor Pavlovich. As they approach Zosima's hermitage, Fyodor Pavlovich embarrasses Miusov by mocking the monastery and the monks' celibacy. Fyodor Pavlovich pretends to be amazed that Miusov, an atheist, should care what the monks think of him.
Chapter 2: The old buffoon
Fyodor Pavlovich's party arrives in Zosima's cell at the same time as Zosima and Alyosha. The other monks greet Zosima with a deep bow and a kiss, and receive his blessing. Fyodor Pavlovich, Miusov, Kalganov and Ivan feel unable to show such devotion, and merely bow to the elder. Alyosha feels ashamed, but Zosima seems unconcerned. Miusov takes an instant dislike to Zosima. Fyodor Pavlovich launches into a buffoonish speech, saying that he tells lies in order to make people laugh. Miusov, mortified, tries to silence Fyodor Pavlovich. Fyodor Pavlovich teases Miusov, enjoying his embarrassment. Alyosha is on the verge of tears.
Miusov tries to apologize for Fyodor Pavlovich's disrespectful behavior, but Zosima cheerfully invites the men to be at ease. He asks Fyodor Pavlovich not to be ashamed of himself, for that is the root of his problem. Fyodor Pavlovich appears touched by Zosima's accurate diagnosis, saying, "That is exactly how it all seems to me, when I walk into a room, that I'm lower than anyone else, and that everyone takes me for a buffoon, so 'Why not, indeed, play the buffoon, I'm not afraid of your opinions, because you're all, to a man, lower than me! . I'm a buffoon out of shame ." Fyodor Pavlovich throws himself onto his knees at Zosima's feet - perhaps in seriousness, perhaps not - and asks what he should do to inherit eternal life. Zosima says he should not give himself up to drunkenness, sensuality and greed, and should not lie to himself. A man who lies to himself reaches the point where he does not see any truth in himself or in others, and ceases to respect everyone. Because he does not respect anyone, he cannot love anyone. He gives himself up to passions and vices. Zosima adds that Fyodor Pavlovich should get up, pointing out that his kneeling is another lie.
Chapter 3: Women of faith
Zosima excuses himself and leaves the cell in order to meet some women who have come to receive his advice and blessings. Among them are the wealthy landowner Madame Khokhlakov and her daughter, Lise, who suffers from paralysis. One woman tells Zosima that she is overwhelmed with grief at the death of her three-year-old son, and that she has left her husband. Zosima tells her that God places every child who dies in the ranks of angels. She should weep for her child, but also rejoice for him. She should also return to her husband and take care of him, so that the child's spirit can stay near both his parents.
Another woman's son is serving in the army in Siberia, but has stopped writing to her. She is thinking of putting her son's name on a list of the dead, to shame him into writing to her. Zosima tells her that to do so would be a sin, and promises that either the son will soon return or that he will write.
A woman whispers her confession into Zosima's ear. The implication is that she has murdered her abusive husband while he was sick in bed and now fears for her soul. Zosima tells her that as long as she consistently repents, God will forgive everything. She must forgive her husband for the wrongs he did her and not be afraid.
A woman carrying a baby gives Zosima sixty kopeks to give to some woman who is poorer than she is. Zosima thanks her and blesses her.
Chapter 4: A lady of little faith
Madame Khokhlakov has come to thank Zosima for healing her daughter, Lise. She is managing to stand without support and is much happier. However, because Lise is still lying in her chair, Zosima believes that her healing is not complete.
Lise gives a message to Alyosha from Katerina, who wants Alyosha to visit her soon.
Madame Khokhlakov confesses to Zosima that she is troubled by doubt over the immortality of the soul. He advises her to love her neighbors actively and tirelessly. The more she succeeds in loving, the more she will be convinced of the reality of God and the immortality of the soul. Madame Khokhlakov replies that she loves mankind so much that sometimes she dreams of becoming a nurse, but she lacks confidence in her ability to maintain this life if patients did not respond with gratitude. Zosima says that he is reminded of a doctor he once knew who loved mankind in general but could not stand living in close proximity to any other person. Zosima goes on to reassure Madame Khokhlakov that her faults are purified by her sincere awareness of them. He counsels her not to be afraid of her own faintheartedness in attaining love, or of her own bad acts.
Madame Khokhlakov weeps and asks for Zosima's blessing on Lise. Zosima humorously asks whether Lise deserves to be loved, since she was mischievously laughing at Alyosha for his shy manner. Lise indignantly points out that Alyosha used to play with her when she was a child, but now he seems afraid of her and no longer visits. Zosima smiles at her and blesses her, and promises to send Alyosha to her.
These chapters introduce Zosima, who, while he is not an active character within the novel, nevertheless has a profound influence on the characters and on the reader's judgment of them.
The meeting between Fyodor Pavlovich's party and Zosima is a juxtaposition of opposites. Fyodor Pavlovich appears to be a dissolute buffoon who lies to himself and others constantly. He treats everyone around him with contempt and malice, taking pride in irritating them and showing disrespect to the monks. It is noteworthy that even the narrator (and, by extension, the reader) is unable to ascertain whether Fyodor Pavlovich's self-abasement and recognition of his faults before Zosima is genuine. Zosima believes it to be a lie. Probably, Fyodor Pavlovich himself no longer knows when he is lying and when he is telling the truth.
Fyodor Pavlovich's buffoonish behavior is yet another lie, since he admits to Zosima that he only puts on this act out of shame, and an act is another form of falsehood. Zosima is convinced that lying makes a person cease to believe in himself, and then he ceases to be able to believe in others. The person becomes suspicious of everyone and cannot then love his fellow man. The failure of love, in Zosima's eyes, is the root of all unhappiness and sin. Fyodor Pavlovich is living proof of Zosima's conviction: he is a habitual liar who has ceased to believe in himself and become suspicious of others. Apart from Alyosha, Fyodor Pavlovich does not appear to love anyone selflessly.
Zosima, in contrast, prizes honesty and truth above all other virtues. They lead to acceptance of oneself and others, which in turn leads to universal love and compassion. He advises both Fyodor Pavlovich and the woman whose son has not written to her not to lie to themselves or to others. He praises Madame Khokhlakov for her honesty about her faults and counsels her to practice active love for mankind. He sees through Fyodor Pavlovich's buffoonery to the shame that lies at its basis, and if Fyodor Pavlovich is to be believed in this instance, Zosima's diagnosis is accurate. He is able to see clearly what people need without becoming trapped in a natural response of anger, irritation and contempt (as expressed by Ivan and Miusov) because his love of mankind has enabled him to transcend the level of the ego.
Zosima provides the measure of saintliness against which we judge the other characters. While Zosima, against everyone's expectations, welcomes even the odious Fyodor Pavlovich with sincerity, warmth and humility, no one else shows such acceptance and love of others. Miusov's weakness is his hatred of Fyodor Pavlovich, which drives him to anger and embarrassment. Both Miusov and Ivan are initially unable to show love for Zosima, confining their greeting to a cool bow. Instead of showing her true feelings, Lise punishes Alyosha for not visiting her by laughing at him - another of the lies that Zosima counsels people against. When Zosima suspects that Lise's attitude springs from love for Alyosha, he blesses her and promises to send Alyosha to her.
Even Alyosha, the most saintly member of the Karamazov family, falls far short of the gold standard set by Zosima. He spends most of Book II squirming in embarrassment at the behavior of his family before his master, though as it turns out, Zosima is not at all offended and views everyone with compassion and without judgment. However, Alyosha is very like Zosima in that both are "lover[s] of mankind." When Alyosha leaves the monastery after Zosima's death, he puts into practice Zosima's principles of active love and truthfulness. How much this is due to Zosima's influence and how much is due to Alyosha's inherent goodness is debatable, but there is no doubt that Alyosha would not have been drawn to Zosima in the first place had he not found his own nature reflected in Zosima's.


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