Smerdyakov left a note, saying, “I exterminate my life by my own will and liking, so as not to blame anybody.” Alexei left the note where it was at Maria Kondratievna’s and went to the police commissioner. From there, he came straight to Ivan. He remarks on how ill and bewildered Ivan looks. Ivan tells Alexei that Satan was present and taunted him. Alexei tells Ivan to sit. He then wets a towel and puts it on Ivan’s head. Ivan says that the Gentleman “slandered” him by saying that Ivan will announce that Smerdyakov killed Fyodor at his suggestion. Alexei tells Ivan that this isn’t true, and he’s only delirious.
Smerdyakov fully commits to his nihilistic and destructive worldview by taking his own life. He has gained nothing by his actions, but only destroyed himself and others—literally killing Fyodor, driving Ivan mad, and ensuring that Dmitri is imprisoned. Of course, Smerdyakov’s suicide ensures that Ivan will never get the confession out of him that he covets. Ivan, meanwhile, is succumbing further into illness, but in his delirium he is more lucid than ever. The thing that Ivan believed in the least has forced him to confront truths he previously avoided.
Ivan jumps up, throws off the towel, and paces. He says that he feels as though he’s awake in his sleep. Alexei thinks of getting a doctor, but he’s afraid to leave Ivan alone. However, Ivan allows Alexei to take him to bed, and he falls fast asleep. Alexei lies down on the sofa and, while falling asleep himself, prays for Ivan and Dmitri. He thinks that the root of Ivan’s illness is that God’s truth is overcoming his heart and Ivan doesn’t want to submit. Alexei knows God will win. Ivan will either “rise into the light of truth” or “perish in hatred, taking revenge on himself and everyone for having served something he does not believe in.”
Ivan actively rebelled against believing in God, but now must reckon with the potential that Satan (and, therefore, God as well) truly exists. If God is real and present, then Ivan must choose to accept him or else rebel directly against him—which, Alexei believes, would make Ivan turn into a hateful, resentful man (like Smerdyakov). Unfortunately, Ivan is also suffering from a severe illness at the time of this existential crisis.