The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov

by

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov: Part 4: Book 11, Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On his way, to see Smerdyakov, Ivan comes across a drunk peasant who is singing loudly. The peasant collides with Ivan who, in a fit of anger, pushes him down into the snow. The peasant lies motionless on the ground, but Ivan just leaves him there and continues on.
As Ivan loses control, he lashes out in anger like Dmitri, taking out his frustration on those around him who are powerless.
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When Ivan arrives, Maria Kondratievna tells him that Smerdyakov is very sick. She assures Ivan that Smerdyakov isn’t “violent” but “very quiet.” When Ivan enters Smerdyakov’s room, he sits, and then asks if Katerina Ivanovna visited. Smerdyakov confirms that she did. Smerdyakov asks what Ivan is worried about. He says that he won’t say anything against Ivan because it wasn’t Ivan who killed Fyodor. When Ivan says that he knows this, Smerdyakov expresses skepticism of Ivan’s certainty. Ivan calls Smerdyakov a viper, which causes Smerdyakov to taunt Ivan a little. In the sense that Ivan wished for his father’s death, he does bear some responsibility. Smerdyakov then says that Ivan was “the main killer” and Smerdyakov was just his “minion” who performed the deed as Ivan wished.
What Maria means is that Smerdyakov is no longer having violent fits, and he’s calmed down. Smerdyakov’s calm likely also comes from his certainty that no one will ever believe that he is the real killer. Smerdyakov is amused by Ivan’s assessment of his character because Ivan, too, is not without blame. A person described as a “viper” is someone who cannot be trusted. Smerdyakov posits that Ivan’s wish for his father’s death is more important because he constructed the idea that led to Fyodor’s murder.
Themes
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Ivan goes cold and begins shivering. He asks if Smerdyakov killed Fyodor. Smerdyakov pulls his left leg up and rolls up the trouser leg. Underneath, he’s wearing a long white stocking. He fishes around in his stocking and pulls something out, which looks like a bundle of papers. He places them on the table. He tells Ivan that the three thousand roubles are all there. Ivan sinks down into a chair and goes pale. He asks if Smerdyakov and Dmitri killed Fyodor together. Smerdyakov insists that he committed the murder only with Ivan’s help, and that Dmitri is “as innocent as could be.”
Here, the left side is significant again because it is a symbol of wrongdoing. By pulling out the money, Smerdyakov unequivocally reveals himself to be the murderer. Because Ivan still can’t bring himself to believe that Smerdyakov could be capable of committing a crime on his own, he asks if Dmitri helped. Instead, Smerdyakov says, Ivan was the one who helped him.
Themes
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Ivan asks Smerdyakov for details about how he committed the murder. Smerdyakov admits that he faked the falling fit. Then, in the hospital the next morning, he had a true fit and went unconscious for two days. That night, he expected that Dmitri would jump over the fence, go to the Karamazov house, and kill Fyodor. Ivan says that if Dmitri killed Fyodor, he’d surely take the money. So, what would be the benefit to Smerdyakov? The lackey says that Dmitri wouldn’t have found the money because Smerdyakov misled him about where it was.
Smerdyakov here reveals himself not only to be guilty but also to have a sharp, methodical mind. He seems to be the only character in the novel with the gift of foresight that Madame Khokhlakov believes she and the elder Zosima have. Smerdyakov’s keen understanding of human character, and particularly of his half-brother, gives him this ability to predict what people will do.
Themes
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When Smerdyakov heard Fyodor cry out, he laid in bed, waiting. Then, he went to Fyodor’s window and took a step to the left to see if his master was still alive. Fyodor called out to him, saying Dmitri was there and that he killed Grigory in the garden. Smerdyakov then decided to kill Fyodor. He figured that, even if Grigory were still alive, he was unconscious. The only risk was that Marfa Ignatievna might wake up. Smerdyakov went to the window again and announced that Grushenka had arrived. He recalls how Fyodor was startled. Initially, he was reluctant to open the door, causing Smerdyakov to realize that Fyodor was, indeed, a little afraid of him. Soon, though, he did. Smerdyakov tempted Fyodor by telling him that Grushenka was waiting in the bushes. While the old man’s back was turned, he grabbed a paperweight from his desk and smashed his skull three times.
Fyodor cried out because he saw Dmitri by the window and also witnessed his son nearly bludgeon his servant to death. Smerdyakov knows that it’s safe to kill Fyodor, but he’ll have to be quick, given that Marfa is likely to wake up, see that her husband is missing, and go look for him. It’s Fyodor’s obsession with Grushenka that ultimately kills him—not only his desperation to be with a younger woman but to win her over his son. Smerdyakov kills Fyodor as Dmitri intended to, but, more sensibly, with an object already in the room. Though Fyodor trusted Smerdyakov with his secrets, he was also afraid of him (and with good reason)—the old man was paranoid because he knew that he had many enemies and no real friends.
Themes
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Related Quotes
Smerdyakov wiped the paperweight off, put it back, took the money, and dropped the envelope to the floor with the pink ribbon next to it. He then went back to bed. He figured that, if Grigory lived, he would be a witness against Dmitri. He began groaning to waken Marfa Ignatievna, who rose, saw that Grigory was missing, and went into the garden. Ivan asks about the door: if Fyodor opened it, how did Grigory testify that he saw that it was already open? Smerdyakov tells Ivan that it’s only Grigory’s stubbornness that convinces him of this. Ivan then asks why Smerdyakov left the envelope on the floor. He said it was to make it look like Dmitri was taking the money in haste. He wanted it to seem like the work of an inexperienced thief, such as Dmitri.
Smerdyakov carefully planned the murder-robbery, considering ahead of time what each of those present, or likely to be suspected, would be inclined to do. He knew, from having been raised by Grigory, that he is a man who stubbornly adheres to his convictions, even after they have been proven to be very faulty or just wrong. Smerdyakov learned this during instances in which Grigory provided him with religious instruction. He also knows that Dmitri’s well-known hot-temperedness would make him careless.
Themes
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Ivan says that he and Smerdyakov must go to court and confess everything. Smerdyakov refuses and says that, if Ivan confesses, Smerdyakov will deny having told him anything. Smerdyakov then offers Ivan the three thousand roubles, saying he took it thinking that he could start over in Moscow. He based his dream on Ivan’s notion that “everything is permitted,” but he’s since given up on this notion. He then states that Ivan turned out the most like his father of all of Fyodor’s children. Ivan is struck by this, and says that he used to think that Smerdyakov was “stupid.” Smerdyakov insists that it was only Ivan’s pride that gave him this idea. Ivan says that he’ll show the money in court the next day, but Smerdyakov assures him that no one will believe his story of how he got it. He bids Ivan farewell.
Ivan has a sudden surge of conscience and wants to confess his guilt as well as Smerdyakov’s. Honor means nothing to Smerdyakov. Given his loathing for Russia and for the Karamazovs, as well as his lack of faith in any god or sense of meaning in life, he is indifferent and nihilistic—he feels he has nothing to lose. He has, however, given up his idea of leading the cosmopolitan life that he’s always wanted. He doesn’t even try to keep the money he stole, but instead just tries to destroy Ivan with his act, his reasons for it, and his characterization of Ivan as merely a greedy sensualist like Fyodor. Smerdyakov has been wronged throughout his life, but he responds to this by becoming an entirely destructive man. Ivan doesn’t realize that this is the last time he’ll see Smerdyakov.
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Outside, Ivan steps into a blizzard. He trips over something and realizes that it's the peasant he struck down earlier. Snow covers the man’s face. Ivan pulls him up and gets a local tradesman to help him carry the peasant to the police station. He stays there for an hour, arranging for a doctor to see the peasant. Ivan is pleased with himself, figuring that he wouldn’t have performed such a good deed if not for his decision to confess in court the next day. He returns home, feeling ill and weak, and sits down. His eyes dart around the room, as though searching for something. Finally, they focus on one spot, the sofa that stands against the opposite wall. There’s something there that torments and troubles Ivan.
Due to believing that he played a role in his father’s murder, Ivan is suddenly keen on demonstrating good will toward others. At the very least, he regards his past behavior as entitled. However, it’s too late because he’s succumbing to brain fever—what would today be called inflammation of the brain, perhaps caused by meningitis or encephalitis. The disease has been popularly featured as an ailment in other fiction. Here, it serves as Ivan’s gateway to hell and also seals Dmitri’s fate.
Themes
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon