The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov

by

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov: Part 1: Book 2, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Zosima goes up to Madame Khokhlakov, who quietly sheds tears and wipes them away with her handkerchief. She tells him that the elder’s prayers have “healed” Liza (Lise) because her legs have grown stronger. Her color has also improved. Madame Khokhlakov tells her daughter to thank the monk. Lise, who is there as well, stands up as much as she can. Looking at the elder, she begins laughing and says that she’s laughing at Alexei. Madame Khokhlakov asks how Alexei is doing and extends her “exquisitely gloved hand.” She then hands him a note from Katerina Ivanovna, who has asked that Alexei visit her very soon. Katerina has come to a decision about Dmitri. Alexei agrees to go to Katerina.
Madame Khokhlakov is a very devout woman who believes that Zosima has the supernatural ability to heal, though Lise’s healing process may more likely be due to medical attention or improved nutrition. Lise serves as an example of extreme suffering. Later, after she gains the ability to walk, she changes into a person who enjoys inflicting emotional pain on others and physical pain on herself. Because her mother has fetishized and obsessed over her suffering, Lise can’t live without it.
Themes
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
Madame Khokhlakov notes how healthy and cheerful Zosima looks. She then says that she’s suffering from a lack of faith in the afterlife. She worries that, after she dies, there will be nothing. Zosima encourages her to love her neighbors “more actively and tirelessly.” She’ll then be “convinced of the existence of God and the immortality of [her] soul.” Madame Khokhlakov wonders if she’s capable of that. She wonders if she can stand ingratitude—no return of love for her love.
Concern about the afterlife and the fate of one’s soul is common to numerous characters, including Fyodor and Ivan. Zosima encourages Madame Khokhlakov to love actively in life, encouraging the constant work of goodness rather than any secret formula for salvation. However, she doesn’t know if she can do this without a reward.
Themes
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Zosima encourages Madame Khokhlakov to do what she can, and says that she’s already done a lot by speaking so sincerely about herself. However, if she’s only spoken in such a manner for praise, then she’ll get nowhere in her effort to practice active love. Madame Khokhlakov admits that she was waiting for the elder to praise her. Because she admitted this, though, Zosima is convinced that the widow is sincere. Even if she doesn’t achieve happiness, he reminds her that she’s still on a good path and can stay on it as long as she avoids all lies. The elder then rises to excuse himself.
Zosima instructs Madame Khokhlakov to understand that the purity of her faith relies on authenticity. It’s normal for a devout person to doubt religious teachings and to have moments in which they are unsure about the depth of their faith. Zosima says that it’s important to acknowledge these feelings, as opposed to pretending that one’s faith is pure or stronger than that of others.
Themes
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Madame Khokhlakov reminds him to bless Lise. Zosima teases Lise about laughing at Alexei and asks her why she does it. She says that it’s because Alexei acts as though he doesn’t know her, though he carried her in his arms when she was little. Now, he averts his gaze, though she looks back at him defiantly when in his presence. She then bursts into uncontrollable laughter. The elder listens to her “with a smile” and gives her a tender blessing. Lise kisses Zosima’s hand and implores him not to be angry with her because she’s “a fool” and “worthless.” She thinks that maybe Alexei is right not to want to see such a silly girl. The elder assures her that he’ll send Alexei to visit her.
Alexei avoids Lise’s gaze because, at fourteen, she is becoming a young woman. Alexei is in the habit of avoiding women because he’s embarrassed by them. The sight of young women seems to remind him of his sexuality, which he’s eager to deny, both to maintain a pure religious faith and also to distance himself from his father’s reputation for sensuality. Lise’s laughter is coy. She seems to sense Alexei’s shyness and appreciates it because she has affection for him, too.
Themes
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
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