After his visit with the Karamazovs, Alexei takes the elder Zosima to a little bedroom to rest. Zosima encourages him to go to the Father Superior’s so that he can serve at the table. The monk also says that, when he dies, Alexei should leave the monastery for good. He encourages Alexei to travel and to marry. Alexei leaves the hermitage to get to the monastery for dinner with the Superior. He feels anguished. He hurries through the woods that separate the hermitage from the monastery and there notices Rakitin. Rakitin asserts that the elder smells a crime that stinks in Alexei’s family. Rakitin gets Alexei to admit that, while watching his brother and his father, he “thought about a crime.”
Zosima encourages Alexei to leave the monastery because he thinks that he can lead a better life and be of greater service if he shares his generosity of spirit with the rest of the world. It’s unclear if Alexei’s anguish is about Zosima’s advice or his humiliation over his family’s behavior in the elder’s cell. It could be the result of both. Rakitin’s comment foreshadows Dmitri’s later crime, but Rakitin also seems to be encouraging Alexei to commit the “crime”—an attempt to rob Alexei of the air of holiness that Rakitin envies.
Rakitin thinks that, eventually, the Karamazovs will bring each other to ruin. He says that Dmitri is a sensualist like his father and that, in the Karamazov clan, “sensuality is carried to the point of fever.” Alexei believes that Dmitri “despises” Grushenka, while Rakitin says that Alexei can’t understand why Dmitri loves Grushenka, as he can’t understand yet how a man falls in love with a woman’s body. He tells Alexei that Dmitri may despise Grushenka, but he remains unable to tear himself away from her.
The “sensuality” to which Rakitin refers is about sex but also greed, jealousy, and emotional fervor. Rakitin is right in his assessment that Alexei can’t understand sexual desire. He assumes that his brother “despises” Grushenka because he imagines desire as a source of shame, leading one to resent the person who incites that desire.
Rakitin surmises that Alexei, a virgin, is both a sensualist like his father and a “holy fool” like his mother. He talks about how Dmitri has “lost his mind over Grushenka,” though Rakitin insists that Grushenka is merely deciding on who, between father and son, is the more profitable. He thinks that Dmitri will drop Katerina, his fiancée, for Grushenka. Meanwhile, Ivan hopes to acquire Katerina as a result, and will, at the same time, get “her dowry of sixty thousand roubles.” Rakitin then condemns Ivan’s article as “ridiculous and absurd.” He says that Ivan is merely a “show-off.”
Rakitin portrays the Karamazovs as all sensualists in different ways—Alexei has been carried “to the point of fever” by religious fervor, not desire for sex or money. He also identifies more with his brother’s passion than he does with Grushenka’s opportunism. Rakitin’s assessment of Ivan is partly due to jealousy over Ivan’s success as a writer. His suspicion that Ivan is greedy is echoed later by Smerdyakov, who accuses him of coveting a bigger portion of his inheritance.
Alexei finds it hard to believe that Rakitin would have been at Katerina’s while Ivan was talking about him. Rakitin confirms that he wasn’t, but that Dmitri was, and he heard it from Dmitri because he was sitting in Grushenka’s bedroom and eavesdropping. Alexei then remembers that Grushenka is Rakitin’s relative, which the latter denies. Rakitin is offended by the association. He insists that he has his reasons for visiting her, which are no one’s business. Rakitin then shifts his attention—Dmitri and Ivan are leaving quickly from the Father Superior’s.
Rakitin wouldn’t have been at Katerina’s because he is of a lower social class and, therefore, wouldn’t be invited to her home. His being shut out of these higher social circles while the Karamazovs are allowed entry due to their money makes Rakitin resentful, because he regards the Karamazovs as people of poor character. He denies his relation to Grushenka because of her bad reputation.