The Brothers Karamazov: Novel Summary: Part II Book VI - The Russian Monk (Chapters 1-3)
Part II Book VI - The Russian Monk (Chapters 1-3)
Chapter 1: The elder Zosima and his visitors
When Alyosha arrives at the monastery, he finds Zosima sitting up and cheerfully talking with visitors. Alyosha prostrates himself at the elder's feet and starts to weep. Zosima asks after Dmitri. Alyosha says that he could not find him. Zosima tells him to look for him again tomorrow with great haste, as he may be able to prevent something terrible. He says that he bowed to Dmitri to acknowledge his great future suffering.
Zosima predicts that Alyosha will leave the monastery and bless life, and cause others to bless it. Zosima explains to his visitors that he loves Alyosha because he reminds him of his own much-loved brother, who died young. This brother set Zosima on the path to be a monk.
Chapter 2: The life of the hieromonk and elder Zosima, departed in God, composed from his own words by Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov
The narrative passes to a memoir of Zosima during his time in the world. It was written down after his death by Alyosha, as he recalled it from Zosima's own words.
Zosima tells of his relationship with his older brother, Markel. Markel is kind but hot-tempered. At seventeen years old, he falls in with a freethinker and concludes that there is no God. Soon Markel falls ill with tuberculosis and looks likely to die. Their mother urges him to take communion before it is too late, and for her sake, he agrees. He undergoes a last-minute conversion and talks of how much he loves others and God's creation. He also says that "each one of us is guilty in everything before everyone, and I most of all." Before Markel dies, he asks Zosima to live for him.
Zosima has a profound spiritual experience in church at eight years old, on seeing light rays pouring down from the cupola merging into incense rising from the censer: "I looked with deep tenderness, and for the first time in my life I consciously received the first seed of the word of God in my soul." After this, he understands all that is read in church.
Zosima's love for mankind is linked to his love for God. Zosima believes that "Whoever does not believe in God will not believe in the people of God. But he who believes in the people of God will also see their holiness, even if he did not believe in it at all before." Zosima says that all creatures, from the animals that work for man to the humblest insect, "witness to the divine mystery, and ceaselessly enact it.
Zosima becomes a military officer and throws himself into a life of debauchery. He forms an attachment to a girl and is surprised and angry when she marries another man. Not naturally an angry person, he deliberately fuels his anger against her husband and challenges him to a duel. The evening before the duel, Zosima gets into a rage with his orderly and strikes him. He wakes next morning overcome with shame. He remembers the words of his dying brother, who asked his servants whether he was worthy of their service. He reflects that he is setting out to kill a good man who has done him no wrong, depriving his wife of happiness. He falls at the feet of his orderly, begging his forgiveness.
Zosima arrives at the scene of the duel in a kind of rapture. His opponent has the first shot, which just nicks Zosima's ear. When it is Zosima's turn to shoot, he flings his pistol into the trees and begs his opponent's forgiveness, proclaiming that he (Zosima) is far worse a person than his opponent. The seconds shout that Zosima has disgraced the regiment, but Zosima asks them to look at the beauty of nature around them and contrast its purity with the foolishness of man.
Zosima leaves the army. At a party, the woman over whom he arranged the duel publicly thanks him.
Zosima is visited by a respected official who is also a prominent philanthropist. He asks Zosima about his conversion, and listens as Zosima as he warns against the general fault of accumulating wealth in isolation from one's fellow man. Zosima says the only security is in the wholeness of humanity.
After several visits, the philanthropist confesses a terrible secret. A long time ago, he killed a woman who rejected him. He framed her servants for the crime by stealing some of her belongings and making it look like a robbery. He escaped suspicion, partly because he was unsociable and had told no one of his love for the woman. One of the woman's servants was arrested but died before he could be brought to trial.
At first he felt no remorse. He smoothed over some disturbance in his conscience about the stolen articles by donating a larger sum to an almshouse. Only when he married and had a child did he feel remorse for having taken a life. He also feared lest his wife should find out his secret. By this time he was a well-known philanthropist. Finally, he thought of a way to heal his soul: he would go out in front of the people and tell them that he had killed a person. He nursed this dream for three years.
Now, the philanthropist tells Zosima that, inspired by his example, he has made up his mind to carry out his resolve. Zosima encourages him to do so. After a period of hesitation, at his birthday party, he confesses to the assembled guests, showing as proof the objects he stole from the murdered woman and other evidence. No one believes him, however, and everyone decides that he has gone mad. Days later, the philanthropist falls ill. The people blame Zosima for his illness, claiming that his spiritual advice had made him anxious.
On his deathbed, the philanthropist tells Zosima that he feels joy and peace for the first time in years. He confesses that he almost killed Zosima after telling him his secret, but says that God defeated the devil in his heart. After he is buried, the townspeople turn against Zosima. But later, some people begin to believe in the truth of the philanthropist's testimony and to visit Zosima in order to question him. Zosima keeps silent and leaves the town to join the monastery.
Chapter 3: From talks and homilies of the elder Zosima
Zosima meditates upon the role of the monk in Russian society. He believes that the humble sort of monks who preserve the image of Christ undistorted will one day be the salvation of society. Society has turned its back on the spiritual world in favor of what it calls freedom, but this freedom, where men are encouraged to satisfy and increase their needs in isolation from their fellows, is just a form of slavery: "for the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; for the poor, envy and murder, for they have been given rights, but have not yet been shown any way of satisfying their needs." Zosima predicts that it will end in bloodshed. In contrast, monks, though they appear isolated from society, are more zealous in loving their fellow man.
Zosima criticizes the new capitalist and consumerist society, which puts children to work in factories until they grow unhealthy in body and mind. He thinks the common people will save Russia through their simple faith. Those higher up the social scale, who reject God and embrace science, believe that there is no crime or sin. Thus leaders all over Europe are leading the people to rise up against the rich with violence and bloodshed with the claim that their anger is righteous. Eventually, Zosima says, the rich will become ashamed of their riches before the poor, and the poor, seeing the new humility of the rich, will forgive them.
Zosima recalls that one day, in his wanderings as a monk, he met the man who, as an orderly in the army, had played a part in his spiritual conversion. Zosima told him that he always prayed for him out of gratitude for what he had done for him. The man wept at the humility of his former master. On hearing that Zosima gave his wealth to the monastery, the man gave a donation to the monastery and another to Zosima personally. The two men kissed each other lovingly. Now, Zosima reflects that such openhearted communion might in time take place all over Russia. Zosima recognizes that Russia needs servants, but everyone who has a servant should ensure that his servant is free in spirit: "And why can I not be the servant of my servant, and in such wise that he even sees it, and without any pride on my part, or any disbelief on his?" When mankind lives in communion, every man will want to be the servant of all. Those who lack faith in God "will end by drenching the earth with blood."
Zosima urges those who hear him to love everyone and everything, even sinners. People must not blame the strength of sin or a bad environment for adopting a despondent attitude, but instead, claim responsibility for all the sins of men. Anyone who judges another should be aware that he is the most guilty of the crime of the one standing before him. If he understands this, then he will be able to be a judge. If a person is made a judge in law, then as much as possible, he should not condemn the criminal, but love him. If the criminal laughs and goes away unmoved, this is proof only that his time to realize truth has not come, but it will come one day.
If anyone is made angry and grief-stricken over the wickedness of others, then he should seek torments for himself, as if he is guilty. Then, he will understand that he too is guilty, as he might have shone forth as an example to others, but evidently he did not. If he does shine, but people are not moved, they will be moved later, or their children will be moved.
Zosima defines hell as "The suffering of being no longer able to love."
The narrator ends Book VI by describing Zosima's death. Suffering an acute pain in the heart, but still smiling joyfully at everyone, he lowers himself to the floor, bows down to the ground, stretches out his arms, and kisses the earth. He dies with a prayer. The day is not yet over when something happens to disturb the monks and people of the town who pour into the monastery.
This Book, which focuses on Zosima's philosophy of active love for God and humankind, is placed immediately after a Book focusing on Smerdyakov's murderous scheming and Ivan's anguished doubts. A greater contrast in world views and their consequences could not be imagined. Ivan and Smerdyakov insist that they are not responsible for Dmitri's actions, and Fyodor Pavlovich disowns responsibility for all his sons. But Zosima believes that everyone should actively love, and take responsibility for, everyone else: "the moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see at once that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all. Whereas by shifting your own laziness and powerlessness onto others, you will end by sharing in Satan's pride and murmuring against God." This is an accurate analysis of all the doubting characters of the novel.
Zosima's analysis of the effects of the new capitalist and consumerist ideas that were replacing simple faith in God are also confirmed by events in the novel. Zosima says that the emphasis on satisfying material needs and increasing those needs merely breeds envy and isolation in society. He predicts that the new trend will end in bloodshed, since without the moral sense that comes from religious faith, society's leaders are teaching that violent acts against the rich are righteous. In Book V, Chapter 2, Smerdyakov said that he would leave Fyodor Pavlovich's service if he had enough money, and he later murders him for just such a sum. The crime is a product of envy and isolation, in the sense of a lack of love for one's fellow man.
Zosima's prediction also foreshadows the bloodshed of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Dostovesky died in 1881, long before the Revolution, but the forces that came to a head in 1917 were already building in his time.
The two worlds of religious doubt and faith contrasted in Books V and VI are linked by Zosima's compassionate concern for Dmitri in Chapter 1 and by the character of Alyosha, who is devoted to Zosima and the monastery but keenly feels his duty and love towards his brothers.
The philanthropist's story mirrors and yet contrasts with the story of Ivan's poem, "The Grand Inquisitor." In the first, a guilty man escapes condemnation and justice. In the second, a sinless man (Christ) is wrongly imprisoned by the Inquisitor. The two stories show the difference between Zosima's philosophy of active love and Ivan's philosophy of doubt and mistrust of mankind. In the first story, the philanthropist is set free from his torment by Zosima's faith in mankind and devotion to the truth. Redeemed, the man dies in a state of joy and peace. Love has triumphed over sin. In the second story, Christ is only grudgingly set free from his imprisonment after his gesture of pure love for the Inquisitor, and he is still banished. In Ivan's world, mankind's weakness is the victor, condemning him to being ruled by the "bloodless" Inquisitor.
Zosima's account of his life makes clear that the life of faith and devotion is no easy option. Bowing down before his orderly and begging his forgiveness for beating him was an act of courage entailing immense emotional risks - of rejection, scorn and loss of reputation among his peers. Then he brought hatred and animosity upon himself by refusing to shoot his dueling opponent. Only later do the opponent and his wife appreciate his selfless action. In advising the philanthropist, Zosima even risks his own life, as the man later confesses that he nearly murdered him out of hatred and shame. The payback for Zosima is the love and joy that suffuses every aspect of his life. The manner of his death is emblematic of the way he lived his life: he dies kissing and embracing God's earth, in a state of ecstasy that allows him to transcend the pain of his illness.