The Brothers Karamazov: Novel Summary: Part IV Book X - Boys (Chapters 1-7)

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Part IV Book X - Boys (Chapters 1-7)

Summary
Chapter 1: Kolya Krasotkin
This chapter introduces Kolya Krasotkin, a thirteen-year-old boy who was once a friend of Ilyusha. Kolya is a bold and precociously intelligent boy who appears somewhat contemptuous of others, but in fact he has a good and loyal heart. He particularly hates what he calls "sentimental slop," or displays of love. He has a dog, Perezvon, which he has taught to do tricks. Kolya is the boy whom Ilyusha once stabbed with a penknife.
 
Chapter 2: Kids
Kolya is looking after two children while his mother is out. He is impatient for his mother to return because he wants to visit Ilyusha, who is sick. At last, his mother's maid returns home and he is able to leave the children in her care and go to Ilyusha's with Perezvon.
 
Chapter 3: A schoolboy
On his way to Ilyusha's, Kolya meets Smurov, one of the boys who were throwing stones at Ilyusha two months before, and who told Alyosha about Ilyusha. Smurov is disappointed that Kolya has brought Perezvon rather than another dog, Zhuchka, that Ilyusha has been longing to see. Kolya says that Zhuchka has disappeared. Smurov says that Ilyusha is very sick, probably with tuberculosis. He adds that about ten boys from Ilyusha's class visit him every day, at the suggestion of Alyosha, who has found time to become involved with Ilyusha's case in spite of the fact that Dmitri's trial is about to start. Ilyusha's father is delighted at the visits, though he is desperately worried that Ilyusha will die. This, however, is the first time that Kolya has visited.
 
Before they go into Ilyusha's house, Kolya asks Smurov to send Alyosha outside to meet him.
 
Chapter 4: Zhuchka
Kolya has long wanted to meet Alyosha but has always pretended to be scornfully indifferent to him. Alyosha greets Kolya warmly. He says that Ilyusha is dying and has been asking to see Kolya, who was very dear to him before the incident with the penknife.
 
Kolya explains the history of the incident. Ilyusha was being bullied by some boys in his class because he was small and shabbily dressed. Kolya was impressed by the boy's determination to fight back. Kolya beat up the bullies and took Ilyusha under his protection. Kolya says that he enjoys his friendships with younger children because he likes to teach them.
 
Ilyusha became devoted to Kolya, but Kolya sometimes treated him coolly because he could not bear "sentimentalities." Ilyusha made friends with Smerdyakov, who taught him a cruel trick: to hide a pin in a piece of bread and throw it to a hungry dog. Ilyusha played this trick on the dog Zhuchka, who dashed around squealing and then ran away. Ilyusha confessed what he had done to Kolya, who punished him by breaking off their friendship. Kolya meant to give him a few days to repent and then resume the friendship. But Ilyusha threatened to repeat the trick on more dogs and Kolya, to discipline the boy, cooled further. Seeing that Kolya had dropped him, the other boys taunted Ilyusha about his father until one day, he attacked them. Kolya was standing nearby and Ilyusha stabbed him with the knife. Later that day, Ilyusha bit Alyosha, and also that day, he fell sick. Now, Kolya regrets that he did not go to make peace with Ilyusha as soon as he heard he was sick. Ilyusha believes that he is sick because God is punishing him for killing Zhuchka.
 
Chapter 5: At Ilyusha's bedside
Alyosha had asked Kolya, via Smurov, to visit Ilyusha two weeks ago, but Kolya had refused, saying that he himself would decide when to go.
 
Katerina Ivanovna has visited the family and has generously given them money. She has even paid a doctor to come and examine Ilyusha.
 
Kolya enters the sickroom, which is full of visiting boys. Kolya impresses Ilyusha's mother by bowing to her first. Ilyusha is happy to see Kolya, though Kolya fights back tears when he sees how sick his friend is. Kolya tells Ilyusha that he has brought a dog with him. Ilyusha asks if it is Zhuchka, but Kolya says that Zhuchka is dead. Then, Kolya blows a whistle and Perezvon runs into the room. Ilyusha is stunned, as he recognizes the dog as Zhuchka. Kolya explains that the dog must not have swallowed the bread with the pin in it. Kolya found the dog, adopted him and taught him tricks. He kept him hidden and changed his name to Perezvon so that he could surprise Ilyusha. Kolya gets Perezvon to show off his repertoire of tricks.
 
A doctor from Moscow turns up to examine Ilyusha. Katerina, who has visited the family regularly since Dmitri beat up the father, has employed him to come. The boys have to leave.
 
Chapter 6: Precocity
As Kolya and Alyosha leave Ilyusha's, they talk about their beliefs. Kolya does not believe in God, but thinks he is necessary for the sake of public order. He also announces that he is a socialist. Alyosha challenges him on the grounds that he is repeating someone else's words. He is curious to know whose words they are, and Kolya admits that he talks to Rakitin. Though Alyosha listens to Kolya's views with respect, he expresses regret that Kolya's lovely nature has already been "perverted by all this crude nonsense."
 
Kolya says that he regrets not having visited Ilyusha sooner, and says that vanity kept him away. He says that he is insecure and worries that he has made himself look ridiculous to Alyosha with his theories about God. Alyosha insists that looking ridiculous does not matter. Even if everyone else worries about looking ridiculous, Kolya should not. Kolya says he already feels that a wave of love has passed between him and Alyosha, and Alyosha agrees. Alyosha warns him that he will be unhappy in life, but that he will bless life all the same.
 
Chapter 7: Ilyusha
The doctor emerges and gives Snegiryov his verdict, which is simultaneously hopeless and non-committal. His only recommendation is that Ilyushya is taken to the Caucasus to take the waters, an impractical suggestion given the family's poverty. Kolya's and Alyosha's feeling that Ilyusha will soon die is confirmed, a fact that Ilyusha himself knows. Ilyusha embraces his father and Kolya, who both struggle to fight back tears. Kolya promises that he will visit again, and goes out of the room. Alyosha warns him that he must keep his word, or Ilyusha will grieve. Kolya can hold back his tears no longer and sobs openly.
 
Analysis
Book X illustrates several important themes of the novel. The character of Kolya stands poised between the two major philosophies, active love (exemplified by Alyosha and Zosima) and the intellectual detachment that springs from doubt of God's existence (exemplified by Ivan and Rakitin). Though Alyosha recognizes Kolya's "lovely nature," he is saddened by the boy's early dismissal of God as an invention designed to keep social order. It soon becomes clear that this idea is not Kolya's own but has been acquired from Rakitin. In other words, doubt and detachment can be taught and passed from one generation to the next. Equally, however, faith and active love can also be taught and passed down, and this is what Alyosha is doing in his involvement with the schoolboys' situation. Alyosha has intervened in a vindictive quarrel between the boys in which the sick Ilyusha was very much a victim and has transformed the picture into one of love, friendship and forgiveness. One piece of the picture took longer to put into place, however, and this was Kolya, the person whom Ilyusha most cared about. The delay is due to an estrangement between the boys, and the reasons for this estrangement are worth examining, as they illustrate other themes of the novel.
 
Alyosha likes to teach, and his lessons are constructive in that they tend to improve people's lives. Kolya also likes to teach, but his lessons for Ilyusha had veered towards the destructive. As Kolya is introduced, the narrator makes clear that he has one weakness: he hates "sentimental slop." By this, he means displays of love. This trait causes his mother some grief and there is an implicit suggestion that it has a negative effect on Ilyusha's life. When Kolya deliberately adopts a cool stance towards the naturally affectionate Ilyusha, Ilyusha makes friends with the mankind-hating Smerdyakov, who teaches him the cruel trick of getting a dog to swallow a pin. The question arises of whether Ilyusha would have fallen under Smerdyakov's spell had Kolya not kept him at arm's length emotionally.
 
What follows has an even clearer cause-and-effect process. Ilyusha feeds the pin to the dog and Kolya cuts himself off from the boy. He does this not because he is genuinely furious but because he makes a cool, calculated decision to punish Ilyusha on the grounds that he thinks it will be good for him. But it has a disastrous effect. Hurt by his friend's withdrawal, Ilyusha merely vows to torture more dogs. Once again, Kolya makes a calculated decision to withdraw his love further from Ilyusha. The situation worsens: the isolated Ilyusha is bullied again and, in his fury, stabs Kolya and bites Alyosha.
 
Alyosha's intervention turns this story from a downward to an upward spiral. He could easily have responded to Ilyusha's aggression by punishing or ignoring the boy. Instead, he followed up the boy's case, found out the reasons for his unhappiness and acted to heal the broken friendships and overcome the prejudices of the bullies. Ilyusha, who had been isolated, miserable, and a threat to society, is now once more a loving boy and has even become the center of love and positive attention. The story shows the truth of Zosima's principle that it is better to love the criminal than to judge, punish and isolate him. It also shows the destructive effects of Ivan's and Rakitin's philosophy of intellectual detachment, which has influenced Kolya. When Kolya holds himself apart from Ilyusha, (as it seems to Kolya) for his own good, the result is an escalation of revenge and hate. Intellectual detachment is seen to separate one person from another and to cause suffering. It is consistent with Alyosha's philosophy of active love that he brings Kolya back into a loving friendship with Ilyusha. It is significant that the theme of the Ilyusha/Kolya/Alyosha story is that of suffering children, who form the central thesis of Ivan's philosophy of doubt and who provide him with a reason not to believe in a benevolent God. Ivan's approach cuts him off from humanity. In contrast, Alyosha's approach to the suffering of children is to get involved, avoid judgment, and alleviate their suffering in practical ways.
 
The life-affirming qualities of this philosophy of active love are symbolically demonstrated by the seeming resurrection of the allegedly dead dog Zhuchka. To see Zhuchka again was Ilyusha's dearest wish and would have absolved him of his sense of having sinned, but the likelihood of this happening seemed to defy all logic. In a sense, Zhuchka's 'resurrection' from the dead is reminiscent of Christ's miraculous raising of the dead man Lazarus in the Bible (John 11: 1-46). The message seems to be that love is itself the miracle: certainly, Ilyusha would never have seen the dog again but for the loving efforts of Alyosha and Kolya. The return of the flow of love from Kolya to Ilyusha is marked by Kolya's finally giving in to tears, after he tried to hold them back for his entire visit. He would no doubt have said that he held back his tears because of his dislike of "sentimental slop," but in Alyosha's and Zosima's philosophy, the real reason would have been fear of expressing love. Thus, as well as helping to heal Ilyusha's grief and guilt, Alyosha has also helped to heal the divided soul of Kolya, torn as he was between expressing love and hiding his love behind a pose of intellectual detachment.

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