The Brothers Karamazov
Book IX, Chapters 8-9
by Dennis Abrams
“The Evidence of the Witnesses. The Wee One.” “The interrogation of the witnesses began.” The main question to all the witnesses was regarding Dmitri and the three thousand roubles: had he spent 1500 or 3000 roubles at the earlier party, and how much had he spent the previous day. “Alas, all the evidence from first to last turned out to be against Mitya, and none in his favor, and some of the evidence even introduced new, almost astounding facts in refutation of his evidence.” Trifon Borisich testifies that Dmitri could not have spent less than 3000 roubles on the previous occasion, and had announced on arriving the previous day that he had brought three thousand more roubles. The peasants and Andrei the coachman confirm Trifon Borisich’s testimony. Andrei recounts his conversation with Dmitri about whether he’d go to heaven or hell. Kalganov reluctantly testifies, began by saying that he “knows nothing of it and does not want to know.” The Poles are interrogated, and confirm that Dmitri had promised to pay them 3000 roubles in full the very next day to leave Grushenka and never return. Maximov is questioned, and claims that Dmitri had had twenty thousand roubles in his hands. Grushenka is questioned. Her beauty “her stern look, her direct and serious eyes and calm manner produced a favorable impression on everyone.” Nikolai Parfenovich gets “carried away” and is dubbed a “naughty boy.” Grushenka describes her relations with Dmitri: they had been acquaintances, she had liked him “at times,” she had not been in love with but had been enticing him “in my vile wickedness” along with the old man; she had known that Dmitri was jealous of his father and it had amused her, but she never had any intentions of running off with Fyodor “but was just laughing at him.” It is decided to drop the topic of ‘romantic points.” Grushenka admits that she had heard Dmitri say he had spent 3,000 roubles the month before, and had never heard anything about him saving 1500 of them. Grushenka admits that she had heard Dmitri say he would like to kill his father, but states that she never believed he would go through with it, “I trusted in his nobility.” Dmitri jumps up: “…believe God and me: I am not guilty of the blood of my father who was killed last night!” Grushenka: Glory be to God! What he has just said, you must believe! I know him: when he babbles, he babbles, whether it’s for fun our out of stubbornness, but if it’s something against his conscience, he will never deceive you…” Grushenka is dismissed, Nikolai Parfenovich offers to drive her town himself, she declines. Dmitri, waiting for his interlocutors to decide his fate, falls asleep. Dmitri’s dream, the peasant, the village in ruins, the peasant women their faces a brown color, the baby crying, crying…”Why are they crying? Why are they crying?” The wee one. Why is it so? Why are the people poor? Why is the steppe bare? “why don’t they embrace and kiss, why don’t they sing joyful songs, why are they blacked with such misery, why don’t they feed the wee one?” Dmitri’s tenderness, his longing to do something for them all…”and I am with you, too, I won’t leave you now, I will go with you for the rest of my life.” Dmitri awakes. How did the pillow get under his head? “What good person did it?” Dmitri’s tearfilled rapturous gratitude. “I had a good dream, gentleman.” “Mitya Is Taken Away” Dmitri signs the transcript, and he is told that “from that moment he was a prisoner, and that he would now be driven to town, where he would be locked up in a very unpleasant place.” Dmitri’s acceptance: “I accept punishment not because I killed him, but because I wanted to kill him, and might well have killed him…But even so I intend to fight you, and I’m letting you know it.” Nikolai Parfenovich does not shake Dmitri’s hand. Dmitri says farewell to Grushenka, “Forgive me, Grusha, for my love, that I’ve ruined you, too, with my love!” Farewells. Mavriky Mavrikievich’s snappishness. Kalganov’s tears.
An observation about the testimony: It’s got to be looked at carefully.
Take for example, Trifon Borisich’s statement that Dmitri announced positively that he had brought another three thousand roubles to spend at Mokroye. But did he? Going back to Chapter Six, “Here I Come,” the dialogue is slightly different than Trifon remembers:
“I ran through more than one thousand that time, do you remember, Trifon Boroisch?”
“You did, my dear, how could I forget it? Must have been three thousand you left here.”
“So, I’ve come with so much again, do you see?”
From Robin Feuer Miller:
“[Dmitri’s] words about the devil recall the famous closing passage of chapter 4, Book III. ‘The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield it eh heart of man. But a man always talks of his own ache.’ Perhaps in Mitya’s heart, at least, that crucial battle has been waged. Mitya’s confession to Alyosha had closed with his repeated assertions that he believe in miracles. Yet amid these protestations of faith had lurked the dark hint that he might yet murder his father. Mitya’s third torment embodies this same unresolved tension: he will not reveal where he got the money or how much of it he has. In both chapters Mitya ignores the mass of negative and positive expectations swirling around him and simply gives himself up, in a recklessly passive way, to the ripples of divine providence eddying around him.
When Mitya finally reveals his great secret — that he had not spent all of Katerina Ivanovna’s 3,000 roubles on the first debauch but had saved 1,500 roubles, which he had just now been spending at Mokroe — he has, by his own code of honor, made the most difficult confession of all. As true confessions typically manifest themselves in Dostoevsky’s fiction, the significance of his words passes virtually unnoticed. Later Mitya asks, ‘Why, why, did I degrade myself by confessing my secret to you?’ (And Mitya’s words are, of course, being transcribed as evidence against him, even as he speaks.)
Ippolit Kirillovich, the prosecutor at Mitya’s trial, even minimizes their importance, for he sees no disgrace, simply recklessness, in Mitya’s act. Yet for Mitya, the 1,500 roubles represent the very crux of the matter. ‘It’s not the fifteen hundred that’s the disgrace, but that I put it apart from the rest of the three thousand…I was calculating.’ We learn that Mitya is more tortured by the thought that he has been a theft than by the thought that he might have, in a fit of fury, murdered Grigory. Mitya’s judgement of himself has a Dantesque cast to it, for in Dante’s hell those who are guilty of willful and premeditated travel are even more guilty than those who have murdered out of passion.
The circumstantial evidence against Mitya mounts relentlessly. The crucial piece of evidence that could help him — the amulet into which he had put the money — has vanished in the marketplace, thrown carelessly there by Mitya as he ran from Grushenka’s frightened servant Fenya to Perkhotin’s. The innkeeper asserts that Mitya definitely must have spent at least 3,000 roubles on his first spree alone. The moving account by Andrey, the peasant driver, of his conversation with Mitya on the road likewise becomes fodder for Ippolit Kirillovich’s psychological theories. The young Kalganov unwillingly supports the innkeeper’s view, as do, of course, the two Poles. Poor old Maximov declares that Mitya must have been holding 20,000 rubles in his hand, and even Grushenka, despite her firm belief that Mitya is innocent of murder, also believes, like the innkeeper, that Mitya had spent a full 3,000 rubles on their first spree alone.
When the exhausted Mitya falls asleep, he has a visionary dream that constitutes a kind of conversion experience and, through its emphasis on the suffering of a child, also links him to Ivan, Alyosha, and Zosima. All four characters stand transfixed before the spectacle of a suffering child, for all four of them experience intense pain at the thought of such suffering. Moreover, for all four the possibility for religious faith is inextricably and mysteriously intertwined with the reality of such suffering.
In Mitya’s dream elements already familiar to us abound. Water in the form not of tears but of snow touches the earth. A mother whose breasts have no milk holds her shivering, crying baby. Mitya repeatedly asks his peasant driver and guide why the babe is weeping. He knows his questions are unreasonable and unanswerable, yet he is overcome by a passion of pity and a desire to ‘do something for them all,k so that the babe should weep no more.’ He then imagines he hears Grushenka’s voice beside him, promising to stay with him always. The image of the suffering child, which has provoked the agony of Ivan’s rebellion, awakens in Mitya the desire — even if it is unreasoning, senseless, ridiculous — to acknowledge his responsibility to his fellow man. What engenders this dream? Is it the knowledge that Grigory is alive? Is it Grushenka’s faith in him? Or is it the anonymous kindness of the person who has placed a pillow beneath his head and, in doing so, may have handed him that onion by which he could pull himself from the abyss?
Again, as with Alyosha’s vision of Cana of Galilee and his subsequent tears in the garden, this key moment for Mitya seems to have precursors that are as important as the dream itself. the night before, he had, in reality, been on the road to Mokroe with a peasant driver, Andrey. Mitya had suddenly asked him, ‘Tell me, will Dmitri Fyodorovich go to hell or not?’ Audrey had replied with yet another story about a visit to hell. This time it is the Son of God who visits hell after his crucifixion and sets free the sinners suffering there. And again, as in Zosima’s reading of the Book of Job, as in Ivan’s recitation about the Grand Inquisitor, and as in Grushenka’s fable of the onion, we see God and the devil locked in a kind of contest with each other.
Mitya is pleased by this peasant legend of the harrowing of hell. Andrey then assures Mitya that he will not go to hell, for he is like a small child. Suddenly Mitya asks Andrey to forgive him, ‘for everyone, for everyone, you here alone, on the road, will you forgive me for everyone?’ As we saw with Alyosha, Grushenka’s fable of the onion, and its subsequent relationship to his vision of Cana of Galilee, we see in this episode with the peasant on the road a miniature, yet powerful preenactment, or rehearsal, of the main event — the dream of the babe. In retrospect, this earlier moment, as with Alyosha, has as much significance as the moment it prefigures and engenders.
This incident with Andrey on the road also recalls a key moment in Zosima’s Life in a powerful and haunting way. We have already remarked on the correspondence between the young Zosima and Mitya. Both men had struck their servants (Afanasy and Grigory), and this violent act became part of a chain of events precipitating a spiritual conversion: the swashbuckling romantic hero suddenly decides, authentically, to live for others. This incident with Andrey on the road also resembles that key moment of Zosima’s preconversion conversation, after he has struck Afanasy. Like Zosima, Mitya asks forgiveness of a peasant who becomes baffled and alarmed by the sudden change in him. ‘Oh Sir! I feel afraid of driving you, your talk is so strange.'”
Book X (Boys), Chapters One and Two