The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov

by

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov: Part 3: Book 7, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Father Zosima’s body is prepared for burial. The established rite is that the body must remain unwashed. Instead, Father Paissy wipes it with warm water, after making the sign of the cross with a Greek sponge on the various parts of the deceased’s body. He then dresses the body in monastic garb and wraps it in a cloak. Towards morning, it's transferred to a coffin, which they leave in Zosima’s cell all day.
It's possible that the body must remain unwashed to maintain the integrity of the soul which, in Russian Orthodox tradition, is said to linger near the body until burial. Zosima’s body is left in a coffin for the purpose of a wake, or public viewing.
Themes
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The monks and lay visitors expect “something extraordinary” to occur. People arrive, particularly with sick children, hoping to receive some “immediate healing power.” Father Paissy sees vanity within these expectations. He resents that, somewhere in his soul, he, too, expects some miracle.
People believe that Zosima is imbued with supernatural power. Father Paissy doesn’t object to their superstition but to the fact that they’re more interested in how they will benefit from his death than in his actual passing.
Themes
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Mikhail Rakitin is present, after having been sent “on a special errand from Madame Khokhlakov.” After learning that she wouldn’t be admitted to the hermitage, she immediately dispatched Rakitin and told him to report everything that happened every half-hour. She mistakenly views Rakitin as a devout man because he is “skillful” at “presenting himself to everyone according to the wishes of each.”
Rakitin, as the seminarian, is in the position to report on what occurs. Though he is a student of the monastery, he has no real religious faith. It seems unclear why he’s actually there, beyond using the position to advance himself socially.
Themes
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Around three o’clock in the afternoon, the “odor of corruption” begins to emanate from Zosima’s coffin. This is rather strange because Father Varsonofy had died fairly recently and people remembered that no smell emanated from his coffin. The same was true of the elder Job, a famous ascetic who lived to be one hundred and five. Some monks are pleased to notice the smell from the coffin and go out to tell others the news. This results in an “influx of lay visitors.” Father Paissy continues reading the Gospel aloud, as though he notices nothing. Meanwhile, denunciations pour down on the memory of the departed elder, referring to him as unrighteous because he preached about “great joy and not tearful humility.” They also judge him for not fasting and allowing himself sweets. Others say that he was prideful.
The “odor of corruption” is the natural odor that a corpse emits when it hasn’t been embalmed. It seems that some jealous monks are glad when the stink emanates from the coffin because it seems to mean that Zosima is less remarkable than his reputation. They can then share their new information with laypeople who worshipped the departed. Dostoevsky reveals how pettiness, envy, and strife don’t elude the monks just because they’ve made a vow to God. Though they strive toward more benevolent behavior, they remain all too human.
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Suddenly, Father Ferapont appears. He rarely leaves “his little wooden cell in the apiary,” not even to attend church. Everyone knows that Father Ferapont “intensely disliked” Zosima. He stops at the threshold to the cell, raises his arms, and begins to make signs of the cross. He yells, “Get thee hence, Satan!” He has come to drive out the guests who “are destroying the holy faith.” He points to Zosima’s coffin and says that, because he “denied devils,” they are breeding “like spiders in the corners.” Father Paissy demands that Father Ferapont leave, for this is a matter for only God to judge. However, Father Ferapont continues to condemn Zosima for not fasting, while Father Paissy calls his speech nonsense and, again, tells him to leave. Father Ferapont returns to his cell, still exclaiming, but rather incoherently.
Father Ferapont is a fanatic, obsessed with the rigor and self-denial of monasticism. His interpretation of the order is very different from that of Zosima, and this ideological difference forms the basis of what could be perceived as a rivalry (though Zosima, it seems, didn’t reciprocate in Father Ferapont’s enmity). Father Ferapont’s accusation about Zosima denying “devils” likely comes from Ferapont’s belief that Zosima was insufficiently condemnatory of those who have sinned, thereby tolerating “devils,” or evil.
Themes
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Father Paissy hands over the reading of the Gospel to Father Iosif. Father Paissy feels great sadness and wonders if it’s because Alexei means so much to him now. Alexei passes just then, and their eyes meet. Alexei looks away and Father Paissy senses that a change is taking place in him. He asks if Alexei is losing faith. He then asks Alexei where he’s going. Is he leaving the hermitage without permission? Alexei looks at Father Paissy, who is set to become his new elder, gives him a twisted smile, and waves his hand at him, as though to say that nothing matters. He then walks toward the gates of the hermitage.
Father Paissy is sad both because of the passing of Zosima and the great responsibility he will take on in looking after Alexei’s soul. Father Paissy seems to have an important connection with Alexei already, due to his ability to sense that something is awry with his charge. Alexei feels like no one can understand what he’s feeling, and the perceived injustice of Zosima’s death threatens to shake his faith.
Themes
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Suffering Theme Icon