The Brothers Karamazov: Novel Summary: Part IV Book XI - Brother Ivan Fyodorovich (Chapters 1-10)

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Part IV Book XI - Brother Ivan Fyodorovich (Chapters 1-10)

Summary Chapter 1: At Grushenka's

Alyosha goes to see Grushenka. He has visited her regularly in the two months since Dmitri's arrest and the two have become close friends. She fell seriously ill just three days afterwards, though she is now recovered. She has become thin and sallow, but in Alyosha's view, her face is more attractive than before, as her eyes have become gentle. They show the spiritual redemption that has begun in her. Her former frivolity has gone, yet she retains her gaiety. She is terribly jealous, however, of Katerina Ivanovna, whom she believes Dmitri loves, in spite of the fact that Katerina has not once visited him in prison. Dmitri has also become very jealous of Grushenka, as she is helping her former Polish lover by giving him small amounts of money.

Alyosha tells Grushenka that he, Ivan and Katerina have contributed money to employ Fetyukovich, a famous lawyer from St Petersburg, to defend Dmitri.

Grushenka says that Ivan has been secretly visiting Dmitri, and that Ivan has asked her not to tell Alyosha. Ivan and Dmitri will not even tell Grushenka what they are discussing, but she believes that Katerina is involved and that Dmitri is planning to resume his relationship with her. Grushenka asks Alyosha to find out what is happening and report back to her.

Chapter 2: An ailing little foot

Aloyosha calls at Madame Khokhlakov's. She is ill, with a swollen foot. She tells Alyosha that both Rakitin and Perkhotin had been courting her, and that Rakitin had written a poem to her diseased foot. Perkhotin had criticized the poem, and Rakitin had become angry and insulted Perkhotin. Madame Khokhlakov had banned Rakitin from her house. In revenge, Rakitin had published a false and scandalous story about her in a newspaper.

Madame Khokhlakov says that she only trusts Alyosha to deal with Lise, whose behavior is increasingly erratic. Madame Khokhlakov is worried because Ivan has visited Lise, and afterwards, Lise had a fit of hysterics. She asks Alyosha to talk to Lise and find out what is happening, and report back to her.

Chapter 3: A little demon

Alyosha goes to talk to Lise, who invited him to visit her. She looks ill, but can walk a little. She tells him that she is glad that she decided not to marry him, as she would fall in love with someone else and use Alyosha to carry notes to him. She says she does not respect Alyosha. She wants someone to marry her and torment her, as she does not want to be happy. She has impulses to set fire to the house, wants to do evil, and dreams about devils. She has been reading a book that claims that a Jew crucified a child. She imagines that it was she who did the deed and that she sits facing the child, eating pineapple compote. She told "a certain man" about all this, and he laughed and "said it was 'good.'" She asks Alyosha if the man was laughing at her, and Alyosha says no, because he may also believe in the pineapple compote. He says that the man is sick, believes no one and therefore despises everyone.

Lise begs Alyosha to save her and says that she wants to kill herself because everything is loathsome to her. She accuses Alyosha of not loving her, but Alyosha replies that he does. As Alyosha is leaving, Lise pushes a letter for Ivan into his hand. Then she puts her finger into the door and crushes it. She watches the finger turn black, and reflects that she is mean.

Chapter 4: A hymn and a secret

Alyosha goes to the prison. As he arrives, Rakitin, who has been visiting Dmitri, is leaving. Alyosha asks Dmitri if he and Rakitin are friends now. Dmitri says that Rakitin is planning to write an article about Dmitri which will claim that it was impossible for him not to kill, as he was a victim of his environment. Rakitin believes that "Everything is permitted to the intelligent man," but that Dmitri has ruined his prospects by killing his father and ending up in jail. Rakitin has told Dmitri that he was planning to marry Madame Khokhlakov for her money before she banned him from her house.

Alyosha is worried that is talking about trivia when his trial is tomorrow. Dmitri kisses Alyosha. He says that although he is innocent of the murder, his dream of the starving baby has taught him that "everyone is guilty for everyone else" and he is ready to accept punishment on behalf of all. He does not fear being sentenced to hard labor in the mines; his fear is that the "new man" that has "risen" in him will depart. He predicts that he and his fellow convicts will sing "a tragic hymn to God" from the depths of the earth.

Dmitri says that the lawyer believes he is guilty and that Katerina has called in a doctor to prove that he killed his father in a fit of madness (thereby enabling a lighter verdict due to diminished responsibility). Dmitri fears that the authorities will not let Grushenka accompany him while he serves his sentence and that without her support, he will lose his resolution. He reveals the secret between Ivan and him: Ivan, although he believes Dmitri to be guilty, is planning to enable his escape to America with Grushenka. Dmitri worries that if the plan succeeds, he will be running away from his redemptive path. Ivan has forbidden Dmitri to tell Alyosha about the plan because he thinks that Alyosha, as Dmitri's "conscience," will try to dissuade him from escaping. Alyosha says that after the trial, Dmitri will decide on the right thing to do.

As Alyosha is leaving, Dmitri calls him back and asks if he thinks he is the murderer. Alyosha assures him that he has never believed so. Dmitri feels strengthened by Alyosha's faith in him.

Chapter 5: Not you! Not you!

Alyosha meets Ivan emerging from Katerina's house. Ivan looks ill. Katerina tells Alyosha that Ivan has gone mad. Alyosha gives Lise's letter to Ivan. Ivan maliciously refers to Lise as "that little demon" and tears up the letter. Alyosha, grieved, wants Ivan to send a message that will "save her," but Ivan says that he is not her nanny.

Ivan tells Alyosha that Katerina has received a letter from Dmitri that proves he killed his father. Alyosha says that Dmitri is innocent. Ivan asks coldly who the murderer could have been. Alyosha says it is not him (Ivan) even though Ivan has accused himself of being the murderer. Alyosha adds that God has sent him to tell Ivan this. Ivan begins to shake and asks Alyosha how he could have known that "he's been coming to me." It later turns out that Ivan is referring to the devil, whom he is seeing in visions. Ivan tells Alyosha he cannot bear all this religious talk and is breaking with him forever.

Chapter 6: The first meeting with Smerdyakov Ivan dislikes Dmitri and has become convinced that he did the murder.

Ivan visits Smerdyakov in hospital. Smerdyakov appears to be very ill. Ivan challenges Smerdyakov, saying that an attack of epilepsy cannot be predicted beforehand, as Smerdyakov did. Smerdyakov counters that a local doctor has testified that Smerdyakov could have brought the attack on himself through his fear that it might happen. Ivan asks Smerdyakov why he sent him to Chermashnya on the night of the murder. Smerdyakov says it was because it was closer than Moscow, so that Dmitri would not feel encouraged to kill his father in the knowledge that he had no protector within reach. Smerdyakov says he wanted Ivan to get away because, knowing that things between Fyodor Pavlovich and Dmitri had reached crisis point, he meant to protect Ivan from suspicion in the event that Dmitri killed or robbed his father. Smerdyakov implies that Ivan, in leaving for Chermashnya, was knowingly abandoning his protective role over Fyodor Pavlovich.

Ivan leaves Smerdyakov more convinced than before that Dmitri murdered their father.

When Ivan meets Alyosha at Katerina's house, Ivan reminds Alyosha of the time when Dmitri beat up their father, when Ivan had said that he reserved the right to wish their father dead. He asks Alyosha if he thought that Ivan wished for their father's death, and that Dmitri might do the deed, and Alyosha says that he did. Thereafter, Ivan avoids Alyosha.

Chapter 7: The second visit to Smerdyakov

Ivan visits Smerdyakov again. Smerdyakov tells him that he believed that Ivan, on leaving for Chermashnya, knew that his father was going to be murdered and was giving unspoken agreement because he wished his father dead. Smerdyakov says that Ivan's motivation was to get his inheritance before Fyodor Pavlovich had the chance to marry Grushenka, as Grushenka would automatically lay claim to Fyodor Pavlovich's fortune and the brothers would get nothing. Smerdyakov says that he felt that Ivan was "counting on" him as well as Dmitri as potential candidates to do the murder.

As Ivan leaves, he realizes that he both wanted and expected the murder as he left for Chermashnya. He tells Katerina that he now believes that Smerdyakov was the murderer, but that he himself was an accomplice in the crime. Katerina disagrees, and shows Ivan the letter from Dmitri in which Dmitri says he will kill his father and steal his three thousand roubles in order to pay back Katerina. Ivan is once more convinced that Dmitri did the murder. He is relieved because if Dmitri is the killer, he himself is not responsible in the sense of being Smerdyakov's accomplice. 

Ivan recalls that Smerdyakov suggested it was in his, Ivan's, interest that Dmitri be convicted, because then the amount of the brothers' inheritance would increase. He decides to sacrifice thirty thousand roubles from his own portion to pay for Dmitri's escape, and wonders if he is doing so partly in penance because he still feels himself to be just as much of a murderer.

Chapter 8: The third and last meeting with Smerdyakov

Ivan visits Smerdyakov for a third time. On his way there, a drunken peasant lurches into him. Ivan, feeling hatred, pushes him away, and he falls into the snow. Ivan walks on.

This time, Smerdyakov openly confesses to the murder, but claims that he was merely acting as Ivan's faithful servant and carrying out his wishes. Ivan is therefore "the chief murderer." Smerdyakov pulls a bundle out of his stocking, which contains the three thousand roubles he has stolen from Fyodor Pavlovich. He says he was only able to do the murder because Ivan had taught him that "Everything is permitted."

Smerdyakov gives an account of that day. He says after Ivan left for Chermashnya, he faked an epileptic attack. He expected that Dmitri, deprived of Smerdyakov's reports about whether Grushenka had arrived at Fyodor Pavlovich, would come and kill his father. Smerdyakov was sure that Dmitri would not find the three thousand roubles because he had never been told where it was hidden. He, Smerdyakov, would collect the money after Dmitri had killed the old man.

Smerdyakov lies in his sickbed until he hears Fyodor Pavlovich cry out. He goes to his master, who tells him that Dmitri has come and killed Grigory. Smerdyakov sees that he has an opportunity to kill the old man and frame Dmitri. He gives the knocking signals to tell his master that Grushenka has come, and Fyodor Pavlovich opens the door. Smerdyakov kills him with a paperweight, steals the money, and gets back into bed. Smerdyakov adds that Grigory was mistaken about the door, as it was not open when Grigory saw it.

Ivan insists that he and Smerdyakov will tell this whole story in court tomorrow. Smerdyakov says that will not happen and that he will deny anything alleged by Ivan. Smerdyakov says that he had planned to start a new life with the money he stole, but now gives it back to Ivan, saying he has no use for it.

On his way home, Ivan finds the drunken peasant unconscious in the snow. Ivan carries him to the police station and pays for a doctor.

Chapter 9: The devil. Ivan Fyodorovich's nightmare

The narrator explains the nature of Ivan's illness. A doctor has diagnosed brain fever, which gives rise to hallucinations.

At home the night before Dmitri's trial, Ivan has a vision of the devil, who taunts him about his doubts. Ivan asks the devil if God exists, but the devil admits that he does not know; he only knows that he is of the same philosophy as Ivan. Ivan torments himself trying to work out whether the devil is real or just a product of his own imagination. At one point, the devil tells an anecdote that Ivan recalls making up himself, and Ivan triumphantly proclaims that this proves that the devil is just his dream. But the devil says he deliberately told the anecdote so that Ivan would lose faith in him and then swing in the opposite direction, and finally convince himself that he is real.

The devil gives a vision of how the world wil be under his power. The former morality will be gone, and people will become excessively proud through conquering nature through science. Even before this time comes, any individual is allowed to become a "man-god" for whom "everything is permitted."

Ivan's encounter is interrupted by Alyosha, who brings news that Smerdyakov has hanged himself.

Chapter 10: "He said that!"

Alyosha comes in, and the devil vanishes. Ivan says that he knew Smerdyakov had hanged himself, because "he [the devil] told me." He says that the devil has visited him three times. He adds that the devil taunted him about performing a virtuous deed in court (confessing that he was Smerdyakov's accomplice in the murder) while he does not even believe in virtue. The devil said that Ivan only wanted praise for being seen to want to save his brother.

Ivan is in a delirious frenzy and begins to lose consciousness. Alyosha puts Ivan to bed and Ivan falls into a deep sleep. Alyosha watches over him and reflects that Ivan's illness is his conscience tormenting him. He prays for Ivan.

Analysis Lise's collapse into hysteria and self-harming is a parody of the suffering of other characters such as Grushenka and Ivan. While Grushenka and Ivan are genuinely seeking redemption through their very real suffering, Lise capriciously creates torments for herself, denying that Alyosha loves her, imagining that Ivan is mocking her, fantasizing about burning the house down, and picturing herself torturing a child. None of these terrible scenarios is real. As she says, she has decided she does not want to be happy. Her deliberately shutting her finger in the door is a final ridiculous act in a self-created drama.

This Book marks Ivan's crisis and lays bare the emptiness that lies at the heart of his philosophy of intellectual detachment from mankind and disbelief in God and absolute morality. As befits his skeptical character, it is a crisis of doubt. He is in doubt whether Dmitri, Smerdyakov, or he himself is the real murderer, and he is in doubt as to whether the devil he sees is real. (It is significant that the devil chooses to torture Ivan by playing on his doubts about the reality of his - the devil's - existence, when this would hardly matter to most people.)

Ivan's three visits to Smerdyakov progressively convince him that he is at least partly responsible for his father's murder. This is because he wished his father dead; he went to Chermashnya knowing that he was in danger of being killed; he encouraged Smerdyakov to believe that "everything is permitted," even murder; and he encouraged Smerdyakov in the delusion that he and Ivan were somehow in league and that Ivan was tacitly instructing him to do the murder. In this realization, Ivan is finally accepting the truth of Zosima's tenet that everyone is responsible for everyone else's sins. Ivan's doubt is being replaced by a dreadful certainty - that of his guilt. Because he does not have Zosima's or Alyosha's religious faith, however, or their conviction of the essential goodness of humanity, he cannot bear this new burden of responsibility and loses his reason - the very reason that has formed the basis of his philosophy. Ivan's breakdown is Dostoevsky's resolution of the conflict between Ivan's world view and Zosima's. Zosima's love- and faith-based philosophy is validated, whereas Ivan's detached intellectualism is exposed as empty and destructive.

In contrast with Ivan, Dmitri has joyfully embraced his responsibility for others' sins and knows that his spiritual redemption will spring from his suffering during his sentence. The difference comes from the fact that Dmitri loves God with all his soul, whereas Ivan is as unsure about God as he is about many other aspects of his life (Dmitri's guilt, Katerina's love, Alyosha's role in his life).

Ivan's crisis of the soul follows his rejection of Alyosha in Chapter 5. Alyosha, with his usual perceptiveness about people, knows that Ivan has been torturing himself with the thought that he himself is the murderer. He goes to tell Ivan that he is not, adding that God sent him to say this. Ivan, seemingly furious that Alyosha sees his deepest vulnerability, claims to be offended at such religious talk and demands that Alyosha leave him forever. This happens, symbolically enough, at a crossroads. In traditional stories, many people who met the devil did so at a crossroads. The crossroads may be seen as symbolic of a time of moral or spiritual choice, when a person can choose to go with the devil or with God. Such choices necessarily accompany free will. In rejecting Alyosha, Ivan decides to face his struggle alone, which is consistent with his feeling of standing apart from the rest of humanity. Ivan's spiritual struggle is between his desire to believe in God and the immortality of the soul and his intellectual tendency not to believe. His moral struggle is whether to tell the truth in court about his own part in Smerdyakov's murder of Fyodor Pavlovich.

Smerdyakov's suicide is the logical conclusion of the disbelief that Ivan represents and fostered in the servant. Ivan believes that the only reason people have to be virtuous is concern for God's judgment and the afterlife. If God and the immortality of the soul do not exist, people do not have to try to be virtuous and "everything is permitted." Ivan preaches this message, though his moral struggles throughout the novel show that he does not really believe it. Smerdyakov, however, has taken the message to heart. If everything is permitted, he can rob and murder at will - and Ivan, whom he admires, will support him. In the aftermath of the murder, Smerdyakov is faced with the horror and emptiness at the core of his life. Even Ivan rejects him. Suicide is his only apparent way out.

Smerdyakov's suicide also shows the destructiveness of the sensualist, self-gratifying principle embodied by Fyodor Pavlovich, with which Smerdyakov was tainted. This sensualist principle arises directly out of the view that God does not exist, so there is no need to try to do good, and "everything is permitted." Smerdyakov is Fyodor Pavlovich's illegitimate son, born of his lustful exploitation of the half-witted Lizaveta, and therefore his creature. The father and son shared many qualities, such as greed, self-interest, a mistrust of humanity and an opportunistic cunning. Ivan's dismissive words about Dmitri and Fyodor Pavlovich, "Viper will eat viper, and it would serve them both right!" apply more aptly to Smerdyakov and Fyodor Pavlovich. Smerdyakov destroys his father, and then himself, and there is a justice and symmetry in these horrific events.

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