The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov

by

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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

Summary
Analysis
Alexei first visits his father’s house. He wonders why Fyodor didn’t want Ivan to know about this visit. Marfa Ignatievna opens the gate for Alexei (Grigory is ill and in bed in the cottage) and tells him that Ivan left two hours ago. Fyodor is currently having his coffee. Alexei enters to find his father sitting alone at his table, “in his slippers and an old coat.” Smerdyakov, too, went out to buy groceries for dinner, so the old man is “quite alone in the house.” He looks “tired and weak,” and his forehead is bruised and bandaged. He asks Alexei why he’s come, then remembers that he asked him to do so. Fyodor then gets up, for perhaps the fortieth time that morning, to look at his swollen nose. He asks about Zosima. Alexei mentions that the monk may die within the day, but Fyodor doesn’t hear him and even quickly forgets the question.
Fyodor’s concern with his swollen nose is a point of conceit. Earlier in the novel, it is mentioned that he takes great pride in his hooked nose, which he sees as “Roman.” Dmitri’s attack, which results in an injury to Fyodor’s nose, seems to be also an attack on his pride. He’s so concerned with it that he forgets that he asked for Alexei’s company and takes no real interest in the answer to his own question about Zosima. He is also preoccupied with fear that Dmitri will return. It isn’t clear why Fyodor didn’t want Ivan to know about the visit; unless he simply wanted to be alone with Alexei, whose presence is comforting.
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Fyodor says that Ivan left because he’s trying to win over Katerina Ivanovna, and that’s also the reason why he’s living in the house. He thinks that Ivan is only keeping an eye on him to ensure that Fyodor doesn’t marry Grushenka. That way, he can push for Dmitri to marry Grushenka and Ivan can then get the rich Katerina all to himself. Fyodor concludes that Ivan is a scoundrel.
Fyodor assumes that everyone around him, except for Alexei, is as selfish and depraved as he is. He also imagines that everyone is plotting against his wish to marry Grushenka. Today, Fyodor would be regarded as a narcissist who only thinks of how others’ actions will affect him.
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Alexei tells his father that he seems “irritable” and advises Fyodor to go lie down. Fyodor says that he thought about filing charges against Dmitri, but Ivan talked him out of it. Fyodor says that the real reason why he chose not to have Dmitri arrested is because he knows that Grushenka would go to him at once if he were locked up. However, if she hears that Dmitri beat up “a weak old man,” she’ll visit Fyodor instead.
Fyodor’s obsession with Grushenka takes the form of making decisions based on her preferences and predictions about her possible actions. He knows that Grushenka is warm, despite her tendency for duplicity, and will often align herself with the person who seems to be suffering the most.
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Fyodor then says that Ivan won’t go to Chermashnya, which he thinks is further proof that Ivan wishes to spy on him and see how much money Fyodor will give Grushenka when she arrives. He decides that he won’t leave Ivan any money at all and won’t bother to leave a will. As for Dmitri, Fyodor tells Alexei that he’ll crush his eldest brother “like a cockroach.” Fyodor then asks Alexei if he thinks that Dmitri would disappear and give up Grushenka if Fyodor agreed to give him one or two thousand roubles.
Fyodor’s comparison of Dmitri to a cockroach harkens back to Dmitri’s description of the Karamazovs’ “insect sensuality.” They are all united, as Fyodor admits, in doing what makes them feel good, with little to no regard for others. Fyodor wants to pay Dmitri to disappear, which is possible, though the sum he’s suggesting falls short of the three thousand roubles that Dmitri wants and obsesses over.
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Alexei murmurs that he’ll ask Dmitri on Fyodor’s behalf, but suggests that the plan would be more successful if Fyodor offered three thousand roubles. Fyodor quickly changes his mind and says that he’ll not give Dmitri any money at all because he needs all of his money for himself. He then asks Alexei if Katerina Ivanovna will marry Dmitri or not. Alexei reports that Katerina won’t leave Dmitri. Fyodor says that ladies like Katerina love “rakes and scoundrels” like Dmitri and that “these pale young ladies” are really “trash.” Alexei then leaves. He kisses his father on the shoulder, which surprises Fyodor. He asks Alexei to return tomorrow for some fish soup. Fyodor gulps another half-glass of cognac before locking up the cupboard and going to bed.
Alexei spends much of the novel fostering communication between his father and brothers as part of the many errands he runs because he takes on others’ burdens. Similarly, Fyodor is right to think that much of what drives Katerina’s affection for Dmitri is his disobedience and her insistence that she can fix him. Fyodor contrasts Katerina’s delicate image with what he perceives to be her tendency to wallow in ill-repute. This show of affection surprises Fyodor, who has never been affectionate with any of his sons.
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