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The Brothers Karamazov: Novel Summary: Part II Book V - Pro and Contra (Chapters 1-4)

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Part II Book V - Pro and Contra (Chapters 1-4)

Chapter 1: A betrothal
When Alyosha arrives at Katerina's, Madame Khokhlakov reports that Katerina's hysterics ended in a fainting spell, and that she is now delirious and has a fever. Alyosha tells Lise about Snegiryov's refusal to accept Katerina's two hundred roubles. Lise worries that now the family will starve, but Alyosha is certain that Snegiryov will accept the money tomorrow. Alyosha says that even though Snegiryov is honest and kind, he is also weak. After pouring out his soul to Alyosha, he suddenly became ashamed at appearing so glad at the money, and began to hate Alyosha for witnessing his humiliation. Alyosha believes that he himself made a mistake in offering Snegiryov more money besides the two hundred roubles: "it's terribly difficult for an offended man when everyone suddenly starts looking like his benefactor . . ." Alyosha says that if Snegiryov had taken the money instead of trampling on it, he would later have wept with humiliation and returned the money. As things are, Snegiryov feels proud that he has proven his honor, but is already beginning to regret the help he has lost. So if he is presented with the money again tomorrow, he will accept it.
Moved by Alyosha's wisdom, Lise admits that her love letter to him was not a joke. Alyosha kisses her on the lips. The two begin to plan their marriage and life together. He confesses that he lied when he told her that he did not have her letter with him to return to her; he had had it but did not want to give it up, because it was too precious.
As Alyosha is leaving, Madame Khokhlakov accosts him. She has been eavesdropping, and has heard that Alyosha and Lise plan to marry. She is not happy about this and threatens to take Lise away. She seems to base her opposition on the fact that Lise is ill and unstable. Alyosha reassures her that the marriage will not take place for another year and a half, and adds that he will call tomorrow to discuss it.
Chapter 2: Smerdyakov with a guitar
Rather than return to the monastery and Zosima, as he longs to do, Alyosha feels that he must find Dmitri. He is filled with foreboding that some terrible catastrophe is about to occur and that he may be able to prevent it if he finds his brother. He decides to lie in wait at the gazebo where Dmitri keeps watch for Grushenka's possible visit to Fyodor Pavlovich. While there, Alyosha overhears Smerdyakov playing a guitar and singing a song to Fyodor Pavlovich's female neighbor. Smerdyakov chats with the neighbor and mentions that he would have left Fyodor Pavlovich's service long ago if he had had enough money. He also criticizes Dmitri for being stupid and wasting money.
Alyosha interrupts the scene and asks Smerdyakov where Dmitri is. Smerdyakov replies that he is not Dmitri's keeper - in other words, he cannot take responsibility for Dmitri's actions. Smerdyakov complains that Dmitri has threatened Smerdyakov with death if he fails to warn Dmitri that Grushenka is spending the night with Fyodor Pavlovich. He adds that Ivan has invited Dmitri to a tavern. Alyosha hurries to the tavern and finds Ivan dining alone.
Chapter 3: The brothers get acquainted
Ivan is pleased to see Alyosha and asks him to join him. Ivan tells Alyosha that though they have hardly exchanged a word since he moved to town, he has come to respect Alyosha, and wants to get to know him. Ivan talks about his view of life. He does not believe in a divine order of things, but he loves creation ("the sticky little leaves that come out in the spring") and is determined to live life to the full. However, he thinks that when his youth is gone, at thirty years old, he will want to give up on life and walk away.
Alyosha tells Ivan about his meeting with Smerdyakov. Alyosha wonders anxiously how things will end between Dmitri and their father. Ivan irritably replies that he is not Dmitri's keeper and still intends to leave immediately for Moscow. Ivan goes on to talk about Katerina. He agrees with Alyosha that she loves him, and not Dmitri, but says it may take her fifteen or twenty years to realize it, if she ever does. Ivan feels he has done the right thing in leaving her.
Ivan starts to lay out his beliefs. He accepts God, but he does not accept the world. He adds that he does not want to corrupt Alyosha with his doubts, but wants to be healed by him.
Chapter 4: Rebellion
Ivan continues to expound his beliefs to Alyosha. He confesses that while he can love humanity in the abstract, the love disappears when it comes to individual persons: "If we're to come to love a man, the man himself should stay hidden, because as soon as he shows his face - love vanishes." He thinks this is a common failing in humanity: if someone does not like a suffering person's face, then he feels no compassion for him. Alyosha says that Zosima explains this as a lack of experience in love.
Ivan goes on to say that he cannot accept a world in which innocent children suffer. If God exists, Ivan says, he cannot be benevolent, because he allows such things to happen. Loving such a God would be equivalent to loving one's torturer. He wonders if mankind has to suffer in order to produce some higher harmony; even if this is so, he does not think the prize worth the suffering: "It's not that I don't accept God, Alyosha, I just most respectfully return him the ticket." Alyosha tells Ivan that this is "rebellion." Ivan asks Alyosha if he could accept a world in which an innocent child must suffer in order to attain some higher perfection. Alyosha reminds Ivan of the sacrifice of Christ, who was innocent and yet who suffered so that all of humanity might be forgiven their sins. Ivan says that he has written a poem on the subject, called "The Grand Inquisitor," and would like to read it to Alyosha. Alyosha agrees to listen.
Two characters in this section echo the biblical exchange between Cain and God about Abel, the brother whom Cain murdered: "And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? And he [God] said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground." (Genesis 4: 9-10)
First, Smerdyakov tells Alyosha that he is not Dmitri's keeper; and later, Ivan says the same thing to Alyosha about Dmitri. Yet this is the reverse of Zosima's advice to the monks in Book IV, Chapter 1: "For you must know, my dear ones, that each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth." This is also the philosophy of Alyosha, who feels sufficient responsibility for his fellow man to want to help them when he can. The moral of the Cain and Abel story in the Bible is that each person is indeed his brother's keeper, and that is also one of the morals of The Brothers Karamazov. Events later in the novel spell out that it would have been morally preferable if all of Dmitri's brothers, friends and acquaintances had viewed themselves as his keeper. Confirming Zosima's words, several people who did not raise a finger against Fyodor Pavlovich attain the painful realization that they are nevertheless complicit in his murder. One of these is Ivan, who at this moment is eager to dissociate himself from Dmitri and humanity in general. There is heavy irony too in Smerdyakov's denial that he is his brother's keeper, since, just as Cain was Abel's murderer, Smerdyakov later turns out to be the murderer of Fyodor Pavlovich. In Smerdyakov, Dostoevsky shows the extreme conclusion of lack of love for, and responsibility towards, one's fellow man.
It is unclear which Christian doctrine Ivan is referring to when he says that evil deeds and sufferings are thought to be "manure for someone's future harmony" and that "everyone must suffer, in order to buy eternal harmony with their suffering." While Christ's suffering on the cross was believed to have paid for the sins of mankind to some degree, and there is a general belief that unearned suffering is redemptive for the sufferer, there does not seem to be any biblical suggestion that the suffering of one person creates eternal harmony for anyone else or for mankind in general.
It is more likely that Ivan is referring to one of the themes expounded at length in his poem in Chapter 5, that of free will. He mentions this theme briefly in Chapter 4: "So people themselves are to blame: they were given paradise, they wanted freedom, and stole fire from heaven, knowing that they would become unhappy..." He means that Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, against God's orders, chose to eat the apple of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The penalty was death. From that moment, in which they exercised their own free will, Adam and Eve plunged mankind into a world of suffering and death in which man constantly had the ability to choose evil. These choosers of evil would include the torturers and child-beaters that upset Ivan so deeply. Ivan is saying that God, as part of his design for the world, gave man free will to do evil as well as to do good. Therefore innocents suffer, and God cannot be benevolent.
Ivan would prefer man not to have free will to do evil to innocents. Certainly, one of Dostoevsky's themes in Brothers Karamazov is that free will, which God granted to mankind as a 'boon,' is perhaps more of a curse than a blessing. What still remains unclear, however, is how free will is supposed to create some future eternal "harmony," as Ivan suggests.
Ivan is not an atheist (someone who thinks there is not a God), in that he can accept God. But he believes that the world is so full of suffering that if God exists, he is the equivalent of a torturer. This is the belief that underpins Ivan's despair.
Lise's character is developed further in this section. In the 'faith versus doubt' opposition set up in the novel, Lise vacillates between the two. She is moved by Alyosha's intuitive insight into Snegiryov's situation to such an extent that she admits her love for Alyosha. Alyosha, for her, is a redemptive force. However, she cannot sustain this truthfulness and, beset by fear and doubt, she repeatedly goes back to hiding her love, pretending that it is a joke. Both Lise and Katerina share a tendency to hysterics, linking them to the "shriekers" of earlier chapters. The source of the hysteria seems to be an inability to cope with the evils of the world. Instead of confronting problems truthfully, they turn their fear and anger within and fail to create a happier future for themselves.


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