The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov

by

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov: Part 1: Book 2, Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Pyotr Alexandrovich and Ivan enter the Father Superior’s rooms, Pyotr begins to feel ashamed of his anger toward Fyodor. He decides to “seduce them with amiability” to distinguish himself from Fyodor. He also decides to relinquish his forestry and fishing rights to the monastery and to stop his court action.
Though Pyotr isn’t religious, he is a man who values his reputation and wants to be liked. By suing the monastery, he thinks that he’s revealing himself to be just as greedy and petty as Fyodor has shown himself to be—and separating himself from Fyodor is very important for Pyotr.
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The Father Superior’s apartment consists of two rooms, so there’s no dining room. Still, it’s “more spacious and comfortable” than Zosima’s rooms. It’s also “bright and clean.” On the table, there are “sparkling dishes, three kinds of baked bread, two bottles of wine, two bottles of monastery mead, and a big glass jug of monastery kvass.” The dinner consists of five courses: sturgeon soup accompanied with “little fish pies,” boiled fish, salmon cakes, ice cream with fruit compote, and custard.
All of the monks live in modest accommodations to express devotion to their faith. However, for meals they enjoy the best forms of nourishment. Arguably, this is in keeping with their faith—the notion of a body as a temple—but it could also be perceived as wastefulness, and squandering money that could go to the poor. The elder Zosima is also well-known for his love of sweets and not denying himself some sensual pleasures.
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Rakitin, deemed too “insignificant,” isn’t invited to dinner, but Father Iosif and Father Paissy are. They are waiting in the Father Superior’s dining room when Pyotr Alexandrovich, Pyotr Kalganov, and Ivan enter. The Father Superior steps forward into the middle of the room to greet his guests. He bows silently and they come up to him to receive his blessing. Pyotr Alexandrovich even tries to kiss his hand, but the Father Superior takes it away before he can do so. Pyotr Alexandrovich then apologizes for arriving without Fyodor who, he says, “felt obliged” to skip dinner, due to quarreling with Dmitri in Father Zosima’s cell. Pyotr Alexandrovich says that Fyodor asks for the Father Superior’s forgiveness and promises “to make up for it all later.”
Rakitin’s exclusion from this dinner is the kind of social ostracism that fuels his resentment against the Karamazovs, which will become more clearly expressed later, particularly toward Alexei. Pyotr’s act of kissing the Superior’s hand is inappropriate because he doesn’t share the same exalted status as Zosima. The faux pas exposes Pyotr’s lack of experience in the Church as well as his clumsy attempts to ingratiate himself to distinguish himself from Fyodor.
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Meanwhile, while getting into “his rattling carriage” at the inn, Fyodor has a change of heart. He decides to finish what he started at the monastery and “spit all over them without any shame.” He orders his coachman to wait and then returns to the monastery, going straight to the Father Superior’s. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do, and he doesn’t feel in control of himself. He arrives, stops on the threshold, looks at all of the diners, and starts laughing. Pyotr Alexandrovich, who was in “a most benign mood, immediately [turns] ferocious.” Fyodor asks the Father Superior if he may join the table, and the Superior welcomes him.
Fyodor is spiteful, and he resents how eager his relatives were to make him look like a fool. He overlooks his own role in making himself look like a fool by trying so hard to condemn Dmitri. Pyotr is angry to see Fyodor reappear because he knows that Fyodor will bait him throughout dinner, making him look as petty and competitive as his despised relative. Fyodor’s sense of having no control contrasts with Pyotr’s wish to seem controlled at all times.
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Pyotr Alexandrovich turns to Pyotr Kalganov and says that they’re leaving. Fyodor prompts him to stay so that he can finish what he wants to say. He expresses his concern for Alexei, believing the false gossip about the elders abusing the sacrament of confession. He goes on to accuse the monks of being false and useless to society for shutting themselves up in a monastery. He goes to the table and looks at the quality bottles of port and Médoc wine, saying that it is the Russian peasant whose hard work allows for such provisions. Pyotr Alexandrovich rushes out of the room and Pyotr Kalganov follows him.
Fyodor, ironically, seems jealous of the control that the monks have over his son. Though he never took any interest in Alexei’s upbringing, he may also have difficulty understanding how Alexei is the only son who doesn’t demand anything of him. Fyodor then goes on to accuse the Church of hypocrisy for taking money from the poor to indulge in pleasures.
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Fyodor pounds a fist on the dining table “in a fit of sham emotion.” He talks about what a big role the “little monastery” has played in his life. He talks about how it turned his wife, “the shrieker,” against him and how the institution gave him a bad name around the district. In truth, the monastery never meant much in Fyodor’s life and never gave him a bad name. However, Fyodor is “so carried away by his own sham tears that for a moment he almost believed himself.”
Fyodor blames the monastery for his being a bad husband who tormented Sofia Ivanovna with his infidelities and indifference. He cries “sham tears” because he wants the men in the room to feel sorry for him, and he also just wants to make himself the center of attention. A key aspect of Fyodor’s sensualism is his theatrical narcissism.
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 Fyodor says that he’s going to use his “parental authority” to take Alexei away from the monastery. He then invites Ivan and Maximov to leave with him and have dinner at his place instead. Ivan agrees to leave, but, outside, he pushes Maximov away from Fyodor’s carriage and then orders the coachman to drive. Fyodor offers that they’ll have cognac when they arrive at his house, but Ivan doesn’t speak to him again until they get home.
Ivan agrees to leave because he has no particular interest in dining with the Father Superior. It’s unclear why he pushes Maximov away, unless this is an expression of his snobbery, because Maximov is poor. Ivan’s silence during the trip is a subtle condemnation of Fyodor’s humiliating behavior.
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