The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov

by

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov: Part 2: Book 5, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Alexei climbs over the wattle fence and goes into the gazebo where he met Dmitri the day before. There’s no one there. He sits in the same place as yesterday and observes the imprint left on the green table from yesterday’s glass of cognac. Barely fifteen minutes later, he hears the strumming of a guitar. A male voice sings a verse “in a sweet falsetto.” Then, a female voice speaks. Alexei realizes that it’s Smerdyakov and that the lady must be “the daughter of the house” from Moscow, Maria Kondratievna. They’re sitting on a bench some distance away.
Alexei goes to the old gazebo and observes the imprint as though he wants to contemplate his conversation with Dmitri, in which his elder brother proclaimed his “insect sensuality.” Here, Smerdyakov reveals another one of his talents, further proving that he isn’t what his brothers say he is.
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Smerdyakov tells Maria Kondratievna how verse is “nonsense” because no one talks in rhymes. She praises his intelligence and asks how he got to be so smart. Smerdyakov tells her that he could’ve been greater, if it weren’t for his “destiny ever since childhood.” He talks about how he “[hates] all of Russia” and wishes that they had been subjected by the French under Napoleon. He says that he agrees with Fyodor’s assessment that the Russians “need thrashing,” though Fyodor and his children are madmen. He expresses resentment for Ivan calling him “a stinking lackey.” Dmitri, on the other hand, is “worse than any lackey.” Smerdyakov sings another verse about going away to the city to be free and never grieving.
Smerdyakov’s comment about verse reveals that he shares his brothers’ preference for what is real and eschews sentiment. In this instance, Smerdyakov reveals what will later be understood as his motive for killing Fyodor and framing Dmitri. He feels that he’s been oppressed by the Karamazovs and by his country, for no reason other than not being legitimately born into a noble family. Smerdyakov hates the simplicity and backwardness of his town and longs for cosmopolitan life. He wants to go to a place where no one knows him, so he could remake himself.
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Alexei sneezes, causing Smerdyakov and Maria Kondratievna to go quiet. Alexei gets up and walks toward them. He asks if Dmitri will soon return, and Smerdyakov tells him that he doesn’t know; he isn’t Dmitri’s keeper. Alexei tells Smerdyakov that Dmitri “precisely” informed him that it’s Smerdyakov who knows about everything that goes on in the house, and that it is he who promised to let Dmitri know when Grushenka shows up. Smerdyakov asks how Alexei got in, since the gates are latched. Alexei says that he climbed over the fence. He apologizes, saying he only did so because he was in a hurry to see Dmitri. Maria notes that Dmitri enters the garden the same way.
When Smerdyakov says that he isn’t Dmitri’s keeper, he’s making a clear distinction between his loyalty to Fyodor, probably borne out of a wish to be accepted by him, and what he feels for his brothers. The line about “my brother’s keeper” is also a quote from the Bible, spoken by Cain—who killed his brother, Abel. Maria’s mention of the way Dmitri climbs over the fence predicts how Dmitri will later get access to Fyodor again.
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Smerdyakov says that Dmitri twice threatened him with death. Maria Kondratievna says that, the other day, Dmitri threatened to “grind [Smerdyakov] in a mortar.” Smerdyakov tells Alexei that, at daybreak, Ivan sent him to Dmitri’s place on Lake Street, asking that they meet at the local tavern, the Metropolis, for dinner. However, Smerdyakov asks Alexei not to mention this, certain that Dmitri would use it as an excuse to kill him. Alexei refuses Maria’s request to open the wattle fence. He climbs back over it and walks to the tavern. He thinks it would be improper to enter in his monk’s robe, but when he arrives, Ivan opens a window and shouts down for him to come in.
Dmitri’s threat to Smerdyakov foreshadows his later act of grabbing a pestle off of Fenya’s table, with the intent of attacking his father. The image of Dmitri “grinding” Smerdyakov also calls back to Fyodor’s previous threat to “crush” Dmitri like a cockroach. The hatred and jealousy that has festered between the Karamazovs results in their not merely wanting to kill each other but to turn each other into dust, reflecting mutual shame in their existences.
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