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The Brothers Karamazov: Novel Summary: Part I Book II - An Inappropriate Gathering (Chapters 5-8)

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Part I Book II - An Inappropriate Gathering (Chapters 5-8)

Chapter 5: So be it! So be it!
Dmitri has still not arrived for the meeting at Zosima's cell. Miusov feels slighted because he considers himself an intellectual and Ivan is having a lively discussion with some monks, in which all of them are ignoring Miusov's comments. Fyodor Pavlovich notices Miusov's irritation and teases him.�
Zosima returns to the cell from his meeting with the women. Though he is exhausted, he invites them to continue. They are discussing Ivan's article. Ivan rejects the separation of church and state, believing that the Orthodox Church should contain the state within itself. Miusov declares that such an idea would be "Sheer Ultramontanism!" - from the Latin for 'beyond the mountains,' meaning that all power would then go beyond Russia to Rome. Ivan goes on to say that all criminal courts should become ecclesiastical courts, so that instead of being executed, criminals would be excommunicated. The knowledge that they were rebelling not just against men, but against Christ, would be a strong incentive not to commit crime.
Zosima surprises the company by agreeing with Ivan. He believes that the "mechanical" type of punishment dispensed by the criminal courts "only chafes the heart" and does not reform anyone. But he qualifies Ivan's theory by saying that ultimately, the only effective form of punishment is not merely that which could be dispensed by the ecclesiastical courts, but is "the acknowledgement of one's own conscience." This alone can frighten the criminal enough to make him repent and reform. For a Russian criminal, Zosima says, there can be no greater despair than being cut off by the church, for Russian criminals still have faith. Outside Russia, criminals seldom repent because modern ideas convince them that they are only rebelling against oppression.
Zosima says that if a criminal were to be condemned by the church in the same way as he currently is condemned by civil law, then he may despair and develop hatred and indifference towards his fellow man. One benefit of the present system of separation of the church from the criminal justice system is that the law of the state can punish the criminal while the church, standing apart, continues to love him. But if the whole of society were to turn into the church, as Ivan suggests, then the church could influence the reformation of the criminal in a way that it cannot currently do. Also, crimes would be less likely to be committed in the first place.
The men are so absorbed by their debate that they are surprised by the entrance of Dmitri.
Chapter 6: Why is such a man alive!
Dmitri apologizes for being late and explains that he was told the wrong time for the meeting by Smerdyakov, his father's servant and illegitimate son.
Continuing their debate, Miusov tells how Ivan was recently at a meeting, where he (Ivan) said that the only force upholding man's love for the rest of mankind was the belief in the immortality of the soul. Were this belief to be destroyed, then love would vanish from the world and "nothing would be immoral any longer, everything would be permitted, even anthropophagy [cannibalism]." Moreover, those who do not believe in God or the immortality of the soul could simply do as they wished, even to the point of evildoing. Zosima asks Ivan if he really believes this. Ivan confirms that he thinks if there is no belief in immortality, there is no virtue. Zosima says that Ivan is blessed if he believes in immortality, but he rather thinks that he does not, and therefore he is unhappy. Zosima suspects that Ivan does not even believe what he has written about the church. In writing about these subjects, Zosima says, Ivan is only toying with his despair. However, Zosima commends Ivan for setting his mind on spiritual matters. He blesses Ivan, and Ivan receives the blessing and gets up to kiss the elder's hand.
Fyodor Pavlovich jumps up and starts insulting Dmitri. He accuses Dmitri of having betrayed Katerina, his fianc�e, by visiting Grushenka, "one of the local seductresses." Dmitri, Fyodor Pavlovich says, wants to get money out of him in order to seduce Grushenka. Fyodor Pavlovich adds that Dmitri has recently attacked a poor retired sea captain simply because the man acted as his agent in a business matter. Dmitri admits that he behaved badly towards the captain and regrets it. But he points out that the captain had suggested to Grushenka (on Fyodor Pavlovich's behalf) that she take over the debts that Dmitri allegedly owes to Fyodor Pavlovich and that she take Dmitri to court for them, and have him sent to prison. Dmitri says that Fyodor Pavlovich is jealous because he is pursuing Grushenka for himself. Dmitri accuses Fyodor Pavlovich of arranging the meeting in order to create a scandal, while he, Dmitri, only wanted reconciliation. Dmitri, disgusted with his father, exclaims, "Why is such a man alive!" Fyodor Pavlovich calls Dmitri a "parricide" (father-killer) and insults the monks.
In the midst of this ugly quarrel, Zosima gets up and bows to the ground before Dmitri. Silence falls in the room. Dmitri is overwhelmed by the gesture and rushes out, followed by the others, who are baffled. Feeling ashamed and angry at one another, the men prepare to have dinner with the Father Superior.
Chapter 7: A seminarist-careerist
Alyosha helps Zosima to his bed. Zosima tells him to join his family at dinner, since he is needed to keep the peace. Zosima also tells him to leave the monastery after his death, as it is no longer the place for him. Alyosha must also marry. There is work for him in the outside world, where he must "seek happiness in sorrow."
Full of sorrow at the thought of losing Zosima, Alyosha walks to dinner with Rakitin. Rakitin speculates as to the meaning of Zosima's bow to Dmitri. He thinks that Zosima has foreseen that Dmitri will kill Fyodor Pavlovich and that he bowed to Dmitri to mark him out as the killer. Then, after the crime takes place, everyone will believe that Zosima prophesied it. Alyosha admits that he had also thought of the possibility that Dmitri might kill Fyodor Pavlovich. Rakitin thinks it is inevitable: "In your family sensuality is carried to the point of fever. So these three sensualists [Fyodor Pavlovich, Dmitri and Ivan] are now eying each other with knives in their boots."
Rakitin suspects that even Alyosha has inherited the Karamazov sensualism; he tells Alyosha that Grushenka has asked him (Rakitin) to bring Alyosha to her, so that she can "pull his little cassock off." Rakitin goes on to justify his accusation of sensualism by pointing out that Ivan is stealing Dmitri's fianc�e, Katerina, with Dmitri's consent, because Dmitri wants Grushenka. Fyodor Pavlovich, meanwhile, is chasing Grushenka. Rakitin continues to paint the Karamozovs' motives in the worst possible light, but Alyosha only smiles. He suggests that Rakitin is only talking like this because he himself desires Katerina and is jealous of Ivan. Then Alyosha recalls that Grushenka is a relative of Rakitin's. Rakitin becomes irritated and denies this, calling her a "loose woman." Alyosha is surprised at Rakitin's dismissal of Grushenka, since Rakitin often visits her.
As they approach the Father Superior's rooms, they see Fyodor Pavlovich rushing away shouting, followed by Ivan. Miusov is leaving, as is the landowner Maximov. Rakitin anticipates that something scandalous has taken place.
Chapter 8: Scandal
This chapter goes back in time a few moments to tell what happened in the Father Superior's rooms.
As Miusov and Ivan enter the Father Superior's rooms Miusov feels ashamed of his anger at Fyodor Pavlovich. He resolves to cease his lawsuit against the monastery. Miusov apologizes to the Father Superior for Fyodor Pavlovich's absence, explaining that he was too ashamed of his quarrel with Dmitri in Zosima's cell to show himself at dinner.
Just then, Fyodor Pavlovich bursts into the room. He has decided that he will return as a kind of revenge on the others. Miusov is horrified, but the Father Superior warmly welcomes him. Fyodor Pavlovich launches into a long tirade in which he mocks the monastery's traditions and accuses the monks of turning his second wife, the "shrieker," against him. The narrator tells us that in fact, the monastery has never meant anything to him in his whole life, and that he is inventing things.
As Fyodor Pavlovich leaves with Ivan, he shouts to Alyosha that he must leave the monastery. Maximov runs after Fyodor Pavlovich's carriage and tries to jump in, too, but Ivan pushes him away. Ivan refuses to speak to his father until they reach home.
In the discussion about Ivan's article, Ivan's intellectualism is contrasted with Zosima's more spiritual approach. While Ivan and Zosima agree on the benefits to society of the church taking over the responsibility of dispensing criminal justice, there are important differences in their views. Ivan thinks of the ultimate punishment (and thus deterrent) as being excommunicated from the church. While Zosima agrees that this would be a powerful deterrent in Russia, where even criminals have a strong faith in God and the church, he takes the argument onto a more profound spiritual level by identifying the ultimate punishment as "the acknowledgement of one's own conscience." Thus Ivan thinks in terms of external forces (the church) while Zosima thinks in terms of internal forces (conscience).
As is his custom, Zosima sees behind Ivan's argument to the state of his soul. He perceives that Ivan does not really believe in God or the immortality of the soul (without which Ivan thinks there can be no virtue). So while Ivan argues that such beliefs are the prerequisite of social order, he does not believe in them himself, causing division in his psyche and a profound unhappiness. However, there is a strong suggestion that Ivan can redeem himself through love. This, as often in this novel, is conveyed through gesture. When Ivan first meets Zosima and sees the other monks kissing his hand and receiving his blessing, he cannot manage more than a cool bow. But at the end of the meeting, when Zosima is about to bless Ivan from a distance, Ivan quickly rises, approaches Zosima, receives his blessing and kisses his hand.
The transcendent gesture is used also by Zosima to end the increasingly ugly shouting match between Fyodor Pavlovich's party. The argument reaches its height with Dmitri's wish that his father were dead ("Why is such a man alive!") and Fyodor Pavlovich's condemnation of Dmitri as a "parricide." Zosima wordlessly gets up and kneels before Dmitri, then bows to the ground before him. A momentary silence falls, and Dmitri is overwhelmed with shame. The message is surely that the only way to break the cycle of accusation and counter-accusation is through absolute love and humility before one's accuser.
It is unclear what effect Zosima's gesture has on Fyodor Pavlovich and Miusov, who continue to insult each other afterwards, but it seems to bring about a new paroxysm of shame in Fyodor Pavlovich, who promptly decides that he cannot show his face at dinner with the Father Superior. The fact that he soon goes back on this decision and turns up at dinner, only to insult everyone, unleash a fresh pack of lies, and then leave again, suggests that he may be especially resistant to redemption.
That everyone is free to respond to spiritual qualities and phenomena (including, as is mentioned later in the novel, miracles and their absence) in whatever way they wish is a major theme of the novel. In terms of the Christian belief that underpins the novel, this is known as free will. Dmitri responds to Zosima's bow with shame; Ivan responds to Zosima's teachings and advice with tentative respect, perhaps the beginnings of love; but Miusov is too lost in his contempt and anger at Fyodor Pavlovich to be changed by what he has seen and heard in Zosima's cell; and Fyodor Pavlovich simply appears to sink deeper into lies and suspicion, demanding finally that Alyosha leave the monastery.
The cynical Rakitin goes further, ascribing ulterior motives to Zosima in his bow to Dmitri; he claims that Zosima is seeking glory as a prophet. At the same time, Rakitin plays his part in setting the scene for (as later happens) virtually the whole of society accusing Dmitri of killing his father, by taking up Fyodor Pavlovich's accusation of "parricide" and predicting that Dmitri will carry out the dreadful deed. Rakitin thus thinks the worst of both Zosima and Dmitri, and condemns the entire Karamazov family as degenerate and predestined to destroy each other. Alyosha's response to Rakitin's venom reflects something of Zosima's compassionate detachment. Refusing to join in Rakitin's condemnation of the Karamazov family or of Grushenka, Alyosha quickly senses that Rakitin likes Katerina and hence is jealous of Ivan. Alyosha's suspicion that Rakitin is related to Grushenka hints at another of the novel's themes, that of the brotherhood of all mankind: no one person can separate himself from the rest and condemn a person because ultimately, we are all responsible for each other's sins.
As well as introducing some of the philosophical themes of the novel, Book II introduces a central conflict - the rivalry between Fyodor Pavlovich and Dmitri over Grushenka. This conflict will, in the course of the novel, highlight certain themes. These include money, greed, sensualism, and lying to oneself and others.


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