Dmitri is twenty-eight but looks much older, despite being in good physical shape. He stops on the threshold and looks around. He then goes directly to Zosima. He makes a low bow and asks for his blessing. The elder stands a little in his chair and then blesses him. Dmitri kisses the elder’s hand and then apologizes for being so late. Dmitri says that his father’s servant Smerdyakov told him the appointment would be at one. Dmitri then turns to his father and bows to him as well. Fyodor responds in kind. Dmitri then leans forward to listen to the conversation that he interrupted.
Dmitri’s aged appearance probably comes from the difficult and self-indulgent life he has led, particularly with his excessive drinking. It isn’t clear if Dmitri’s excuse for his lateness is true or not. He and Ivan normally treat the lackey as their scapegoat, but Smerdyakov is also both more intelligent and more spiteful than anyone realizes, so it’s possible that he did purposefully mislead Dmitri to embarrass him. Dmitri, as Alexei expects, behaves well, despite his lateness. His experience as a military man makes him attentive to protocol.
Fyodor says that Dmitri owes him several thousand roubles. He tells Zosima how Dmitri got “one of the noblest girls to fall in love with him” (Katerina Ivanovna) but that he still “keeps visiting one of the local seductresses (Grushenka).” Fyodor claims that his eldest son has thrown away lots of money “on this seductress” and, for that reason, is always borrowing money from Fyodor. Fyodor also talks about how Dmitri seized “a retired captain” (Snegiryov) by the beard, dragged him out in the street in front of the tavern, and beat him up because the captain acted as Fyodor’s agent “in a little business of [his].”
Fyodor wants to sully Dmitri’s reputation in front of a man whom he believes will support him in his criticisms toward his eldest son. He wants to portray Dmitri as a fornicator, a wrathful person, and a gluttonous person—a terrible sinner. What Fyodor neglects to remember, due to his jealousy of Dmitri and lack of love, is that Dmitri is his son. So, if he’s turned out as badly as Fyodor says, it’s partly his fault.
Dmitri acknowledges that he behaved badly with Captain Snegiryov, but it was because the captain went to Grushenka and encouraged her to take over Dmitri’s promissory notes, which are in Fyodor’s possession, and sue him to have him imprisoned—that is, as a deterrent for Dmitri bothering his father about his property inheritance. Dmitri says that Fyodor only wants to have him locked up because he’s jealous of his son. Dmitri says that he came to forgive his father but, because Fyodor has insulted both him and Grushenka, Dmitri is resolved to “give away his whole game in public,” despite Fyodor being his father.
Dmitri gives away his father’s “game,” exposing it as a ruse to malign Dmitri’s character and to make himself look a wronged man. Dmitri explains that Fyodor is a conniving and vindictive man, driven by jealousy over Dmitri—his romantic rival. Both of them expose the perversion that can develop in families. In this case, it develops as a result of both greed and lust. Promissory notes are written promises to pay a certain amount of money.
Fyodor says that, if Dmitri weren’t his son, he’d challenge him to a duel. Dmitri looks at his father and frowns. He says that he believed that he would return to his birthplace with his fiancée to find a father whom he would cherish in his old age. Instead, he’s found “a depraved sensualist and a despicable comedian.” Fyodor then screams that he challenges Dmitri to a duel, “spraying saliva with each word.” Fyodor goes on to declare that Grushenka is “perhaps holier” than everyone present, because “she has ‘loved much.’”
The scene is tragi-comic, as is Fyodor’s entire character. It is unfortunate that father and son are at war with each other over money and a woman, but Fyodor’s challenge of a duel to a military man also seems absurd, both because of Dmitri’s relative youth and training. Also, his claim about Grushenka is amusing because he uses a Bible verse (Jesus describing a prostitute as blessed because she has “loved much”) to totally reverse his own previous criticisms of her.