This is the third time that Ivan has gone to talk to Smerdyakov since returning from Moscow. Ivan returned to town five days after his father’s death. On the train back from Moscow, he thought often about his last conversation with Smerdyakov. Ivan questioned Herzenstube and Varvinsky about Smerdyakov’s “falling sickness” and asked them if he may have been “shamming” on the day of the murder. He visited Smerdyakov in the hospital. The lackey grinned mischievously, or at least Ivan perceived the smile as such. Otherwise, Ivan was convinced “beyond doubt” of Smerdyakov’s illness.
True to his intellectual nature and his reliance on facts in guiding his thinking, Ivan consults with doctors who would be experts in understanding Smerdyakov’s condition. It’s unclear if Smerdyakov is slowly revealing his evil with his mischievous grin or if it’s merely Ivan’s perception, as he gradually realizes that Smerdyakov isn’t at all helpless or feeble-minded, as his prejudices determined.
Ivan asked if Smerdyakov foretold that he would have a falling fit as he was descending into the cellar. He knows that a falling fit cannot be predicted, so he wants to know how Smerdyakov knew that he would have a fit, unless he feigned it. Smerdyakov said that, while it’s true that one can’t predict the day or the hour of a falling fit, one can always have a feeling.
Ivan suspects that Smerdyakov shammed an epileptic fit to seem helpless so that no one would think to suspect him of murder. He finally starts to consider that Smerdyakov is guilty, though he previously found it impossible that the lackey could kill.
Ivan then asked why Smerdyakov wanted him to go to Chermashnya. Smerdyakov said that he said it only out of pity because he sensed that things would be bad at home. Ivan asked if Smerdyakov thinks that everyone is a “coward” like him. Smerdyakov said that he did think Ivan was like him. Ivan remembered his compliment: “It’s always interesting to talk with an intelligent man.” He figured that Smerdyakov was praising him because he was glad that Ivan was leaving. Smerdyakov insisted that it was because Ivan had agreed to go to Chermashnya, which is closer than Moscow. However, Smerdyakov said that he spoke these words as a “reproach” and not as praise, because he was worried that Ivan was abandoning Fyodor and that Smerdyakov could’ve been blamed for the three thousand roubles.
Smerdyakov is hinting at the calamity that will soon take place in the Karamazov home. His subtle warning to Ivan, who he knows will choose to go on to Moscow, works to plant a seed of guilt in him. Later, he will think that he could have done something to help prevent his father’s murder, but didn’t because he secretly wanted Fyodor dead himself. With his “reproach,” Smerdyakov suggests that Ivan should have known that something unfortunate would happen and should have stayed close.
Ivan asked if Smerdyakov told the district attorney and prosecutor about the knocking signals. Smerdyakov said that he did. Ivan recalled Smerdyakov telling him that he could “sham a falling fit,” but the lackey said that he could do no such thing and was only bragging. Dmitri, Ivan said, accused Smerdyakov of the murder and robbery. Smerdyakov said that no one would believe him with all of the evidence saying otherwise.
Smerdyakov is now lying about his ability to “sham” a fit, which, Ivan will later learn, is exactly how he was able to commit the murder without anyone ever thinking he could be a suspect, despite knowing the location of the money and knowing about the knocking signals.
Ivan rose and said that he didn’t believe that Smerdyakov committed the murder. He thought it ridiculous even to accuse the lackey. He bade Smerdyakov goodbye and asked if he needed anything. Smerdyakov said that he got all that he needed from Maria Kondratievna. Ivan said that he wouldn’t mention at the trial that Smerdyakov knows how to sham fits. Smerdyakov offered that in turn, he won’t mention his conversation with Ivan by the gate. When Ivan left, he realized that Smerdyakov’s last words contained “some offensive meaning.” He decided against turning back and left.
Ivan doesn’t think that Smerdyakov is intelligent enough to pull off a murder, which is a gross underestimation of his half-brother’s abilities and a misunderstanding of his character. The conversation to which Smerdyakov refers is the one in which he advised Ivan to go to Chermashnya instead of Moscow, so that he could be close in case anything happened at the Karamazov house. Mentioning this would suggest that Ivan knew something would happen.
In the next few days, Ivan “acquainted himself with all the evidence” and decided that Dmitri was guilty. Meanwhile, Alexei insisted that Dmitri didn’t do it. Ivan prompted him to recall the night when Dmitri burst into Fyodor’s house after dinner and beat him up. That night, Ivan wished for their father’s death. Ivan may also not have minded helping, he said. Alexei was shocked to hear this, but Ivan demanded to know what Alexei thought at the time. Alexei admitted that he thought Ivan would do so, too. Ivan thanked Alexei in a snappish way, then walked away. Afterwards, Alexei noticed that his brother began to shun and dislike him. Ivan then made his way back to Smerdyakov’s.
The break between Ivan and Alexei comes as a result of two things. Firstly, Ivan focuses more on the evidence against Dmitri than he does on any aspect of his brother’s character, which could suggest that he’s not the culprit. Ivan’s insistence on his certainty contributes to his undoing. Secondly, Ivan is annoyed with Alexei’s denial of what he seems to think are natural murderous impulses. Alexei seems self-righteous in a way that’s off-putting to Ivan, who is also feeling guilty about having such impulses himself.