The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov

by

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov: Part 4: Book 11, Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Smerdyakov has been discharged from the hospital. He lives with Maria Kondratievna and her mother now. When Ivan sees Smerdyakov, he concludes that he’s recovered “completely” because his face is “fresher” and “fuller.” Ivan asks Smerdyakov what he meant by offering that, as long as Ivan didn’t tell anyone about Smerdyakov’s ability to fake fits, Smerdyakov wouldn’t tell the district attorney about their conversation at the gate. Ivan angrily asks if Smerdyakov was threatening him.
Now that Smerdyakov is healthy, Ivan feels more comfortable going and talking to him. Smerdyakov offers this compromise to Ivan, sensing that Ivan will not want anyone to know that he quietly wished for his father’s death. However, there is no way that Smerdyakov could prove this without Ivan’s admission. Ivan’s anger is his own admission of guilt.
Themes
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Smerdyakov says that Ivan knew that Fyodor would be killed and “left him then as a sacrifice.” Smerdyakov was promising not to tell the authorities so that no one would judge Ivan poorly. Ivan asks how he would have known anything about the murder. Smerdyakov says that Ivan wished for Fyodor’s murder. This prompts Ivan to strike Smerdyakov on the shoulder, causing Smerdyakov to weep. Ivan feels ashamed for hitting a weak man.
Smerdyakov claims that Fyodor was the “sacrifice.” Ivan, according to Smerdyakov, was willing to sacrifice his father to get more money out of a promised inheritance. What irritates Ivan most about the lackey is how he seems able to see into Ivan’s true character, beneath the gentlemanly façade.
Themes
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
Smerdyakov says that he stopped Ivan at the gate to test him on whether or not he wanted Fyodor dead. Smerdyakov’s “insistent, insolent tone” helps Ivan realize that Smerdyakov killed their father, and he accuses him of such. Smerdyakov grins "contemptuously” but denies his guilt. Ivan asks how he could have led Smerdyakov to think he would wish for murder. Smerdyakov says that Ivan would wish for it so that he could get a larger share of the one hundred and twenty thousand rouble inheritance, to be split between him, Dmitri, and Alexei.
Smerdyakov’s tone is not that of a servant—he speaks to Ivan as though he holds some power over him, which he does. The first time Ivan asks Smerdyakov about the murder, the lackey lies. He does this, not because he’s afraid to admit that he killed Fyodor, but to keep Ivan at bay so that he can slowly drive him mad with guilt.
Themes
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Ivan insists that, if he had been “counting on” anyone to commit murder, it would’ve been Smerdyakov. Smerdyakov agrees that Ivan was counting on him and, for that reason, made his feelings more visible to the lackey. Ivan says that he’s not afraid of Smerdyakov’s accusations and only hasn’t yet beaten the lackey to death because he wants to expose him in court. Smerdyakov says that the court may not believe what he just told Ivan, but the public will. Ivan “snarls” that it must be nice “to talk with an intelligent man,” and Smerdyakov agrees.
Smerdyakov accurately points out that the court officials may side with Ivan, whose gentlemanly intellectualism they may identify with, but the public opinion is more important. Those people are simpler and would be more likely to align with Smerdyakov’s take on events. This distinction will later become important because it will be the peasants who’ll decide the outcome of the case.
Themes
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
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Ivan leaves Smerdyakov and goes to Katerina Ivanovna’s. He frantically tells her about the conversation he just had. Ivan says that, if it was Smerdyakov who killed Fyodor, then he agrees that he played a role in putting the lackey up to it. This would make Ivan a murderer, too.
Ivan feels guilty because he harbored the wish for his father to die, though he doesn’t reveal this to Katerina. He played no actual role in the murder (other than unknowingly giving Smerdyakov “permission” to kill Fyodor), but he feels guilty for wishing something into existence.
Themes
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Katerina Ivanovna gets up and goes to her desk and takes out a piece of paper. She hands it to Ivan. It’s “a frenzied, verbose, and incoherent letter” that Dmitri wrote at the Metropolis tavern. In it, he confesses to killing Fyodor.
Katerina Ivanovna offers what Ivan will later consider “mathematical proof” of his brother’s guilt, despite the irrational nature of the confession.
Themes
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Ivan recalls how Katerina Ivanovna would say that Ivan convinced her of Dmitri’s guilt, which is strange because she showed Ivan the letter, proving that Dmitri was the murderer. She also claimed that she visited Smerdyakov, which prompts Ivan to wonder what the lackey told her. Ivan decides to go to Smerdyakov and thinks to himself that, this time, he might kill him.
Katerina, still feeling loyal to Dmitri, can’t bring herself to go against him during her first testimony. She continues to remain faithful to him despite his faithlessness, again contrasting her own virtue with his depravity.
Themes
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon