The Brothers Karamazov
Book X, Chapter Seven; Book XI, Chapter One
by Dennis Abrams
“Ilyusha” “The doctor was just coming out of the room, already wrapped up in his coat and with his hat on his head. His face was almost angry and squeamish, as if he were afraid of dirtying himself on something.” Ilyusha’s death sentence is obvious. “‘What can I do? I am not God,’ the doctor replied in a casual, though habitually imposing, voice.” The doctor suggests that Ilyusha might have a chance if the family sent him to Syracuse (Kolya snaps that it is in Sicily), and that the rest of the family’s health could be helped by sending them to the Caucasus. The doctor’s grin. Kolya mocks the doctor until Alyosha jumps in, “Kolya, if you say another word, I’ll break with you forever,” which stops the mocking. Ilyusha embraces Kolya and his father. “Papa, don’t cry…and when I did, you get some nice boy, another one…choose from all of them, a nice one, call him Ilyusha, and love him instead of me…” Kolya insists he’s expected home, runs into the hallway and bursts into tears, and promises Alyosha he’ll come back right after dinner. The captain: “I don’t want a nice boy! I don’t want another boy!…If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my tongue cleave…” “At Grushenka’s” “Alyosha made his way towards Cathedral Square, to the house of the widow Morozov, to see Grushenka.” Grushenka had ill for almost five weeks following Mitya’s arrest; “Her face was greatly changed…But in Alyosha opinion, her face had become even more attractive…Something firm and aware seemed to have settled in her eyes. Some spiritual turnabout told in her;…” Her former frivolity had vanished but not her gaiety. Grushenka’s jealousy of Katerina Ivanovna. Maximov, ill, weak, and broke, has been living with her since the time of Mitya’s arrest. Mitya’s reaction to the pirozhki. Mitya’s jealousy over the Pole. Is Rakitin baiting Dmitri? Mitya’s murder trial is beginning the next day. Grushenka’s small loans to her former lover, the Pole. Grushenka on Dmitri: “…what hurts me is that he doesn’t love me at all and is being jealous on purpose now, that’s what.” Katerina Ivanovna arranged for Dmitri’s attorney, as well as the doctor who was to prove that if he had killed his father, he was insane at the time. Grushenka’s conviction that ‘the lackey’ killed Fyodor. The attorney cost 3,000 roubles. Everyone in town seems to believe in Dmitri’s guilt. Grushenka doesn’t understand Dmitri’s references to ‘the wee one.’ “‘Why is the wee one poor?’ he says. ‘For that wee one I’ll go to Siberia now, I’m not a murderer, but I must go to Siberia!” Is it Ivan that is upsetting Dmitri? Ivan’s two visits to Dmitri, his rare talks with Alyosha. Alyosha notes that there has been a change in Dmitri. Are Ivan and Dmitri sharing a secret? Dmitri had asked Grushenka not to tell Alyosha that he had seen Ivan. Grushenka urges Alyosha to visit Dmitri and “worm out their secret.” Is Katerina Ivanovna in on it? Does Dmitri love Katerina or Grushenka? Grushenka vows to get revenge on Katerina at the trial. Alyosha assures Grushenka that Dmitri love her more than anyone in the world, and promises to go and worm the secret out of him. Grushenka “had very little faith in his consolations.”
“In the last chapter of Book X, Dostoevsky, as he done in chapter 3 of Book II and will do again at the end of the novel, pull out all the stops and creates a narrative tour de force. The themes of the death of a child, seeds, tears, memory, and the overarching paradox of the Book of Job all coalesce. Kolya’s tears at last come with full force; tears engulf Ilyusha, his father, and many readers as well. Ilyusha tries to comfort his father, ‘Dad, don’t cry, and when I die get a good boy, another one…But don’t forget me, dad…come to my grave in the evening…and dad, bury me by our big stone.’ Each of his words has a special meaning endowed to it by the act of reading the novel. The incantatory language recalls the peasant woman who had lost her baby, yet here the dying child himself comforts the grieving parent; Ilyusha’s weeping and his words, ‘don’t cry’ embody the paradox of Zosima’s advice to her — first telling her not to weep, then telling her to do so. Memory, stones, the end of the day, and the setting sun are the living molecules of grace, as Dostoevsky understood it, and are all present.
As Kolya tearfully curses himself, Dostoevsky offers up his own recasting of the story of Job and his torments. Captain Snegiryov echoes the passion of Ivan in his refusal to accept any future solution to the problem of the suffering of children. But where Ivan’s agony was spiritual, the captain’s involves every aspect of his being, for he is actually losing his child; he is enduring the torments of Job. ‘I don’t want a good boy! I don’t want another boy.’ He repeats the words of Psalm 137.5-6, ‘If I forget thee, Jerusalem, may my tongue…’ With Captain Snegiryov and Ilyusha, Dostoevsky brings the metaphysical problems that have functioned at an analytical or anecdotal level — whether from philosophy or the Bible — into the very heart of his novel and its plot.
Our likable Kolya unwittingly finds himself, however much he resembles Mitya, Ivan, and the Grand Inquisitor, allied with the awful torturers of children whom Ivan had described. Is forgiveness possible? Dare one forgive? Dostoevsky will reserve the answer to this question until the epilogue. Meanwhile, Kolya leaves Book X seeking a knowledge different from the kind that had engaged him at its beginning. As Captain Snegiryov finds words for his agony through remembering — plagiarizing the words of the Bible, Kolya asks, ‘What did he mean by that?’
It may seem strange that Book V, ‘Pro and Contra,’ was not entitled ‘Ivan,’ for it is certainly his book. Yet Dostoevsky waits until Book XI to use Ivan’s name as a title, for it is only here, as the novels draws to its close that Ivan goes through a series of crises that result in a transformation comparable to what has already occurred for Alyosha, Mitya, and even Kolya. Book XI brings to the fore many varieties and theories of guilt; each chapter offers up, as it were, a separate meditation on the nature of guilt.
Books X and XI each take place on the day before Mitya’s trial is to begin. We already know that whether or not Mitya is guilty of murder, he is certainly guilty of spending a large part of the 3,000 rubles Katerina Ivanovna had entrusted to him. Now, in a nice ironic touch, we learn that Katerina Ivanovna, Ivan, and Alyosha have paid the same sum for a famous Moscow doctor to come to help Mitya. Katerina Ivanovna hopes to prove that Mitya was out of his mind when he committed the murder. Grushenka, on the contrary, steadfastly maintains Mitya’s innocence, even as she laments the monumental accumulation of evidence pointing to Mitya’s guilt.
The mass of incriminating evidence, we learn, has not particularly upset Mitya, for although two months have passed since his dream of the babe, he has continued in the same softened spiritual state. His concern is with his metaphysical guilt as a man before other men. Grushenka worries that he might be going mad, and she repeats his words to Alyosha, ‘He suddenly began talking to me about a ‘babe’ — that is, about some child. ‘Why is the babe poor?’ he said. ‘It’s for that babe I am going to Siberia now. I am not a murderer, but I must go to Siberia.’ And for the reader perhaps this babe has begun to merge with the dying Ilyusha, before whose father Mitya stands guilty of violence. Yet Mitya remains unconscious of the child who actually lies dying and whose fate is so connected to his own. His focus continues to be on the collective babe of his dream.
Grushenka, unable to keep a secret, reveals that Ivan has already twice visited Mitya in secret and that the two brothers to not want Alyosha to know of these visits. The notion of secret visitors who have secrets to tell recalls Zosima’s mysterious visitor, who, as we have already seen, resembled Ivan. Now Ivan himself plays the role of the secret visitor. Secrets have thus far exerted a peculiar force of their own; from the secret knocks on Fyodor’s door to the secrets of the soul, they have formed a vital, if obscure link to the chains of action and motivation. But Book XI literally teems and crawls with secrets and their revelations. Ya. E. Golosovker has aptly observed, ‘It is clear that the word ‘secret’ is connected with murder, baseness, theft, treachery, false testimony, intrigue, jealousy, and a confusion of thoughts and feelings. Basically, however, the ‘secret’ burns about the murder of old Karamazov, around that ‘devil’s deed.”
And from Joseph Frank:
“Even though Kolya knew that Ilyusha wished to see him most of all, he failed to join the other boys in visiting the beside of their stricken comrade. Kolya’s need to dominate others and to control every situation in which he becomes involved mimics the aim of Ivan’s creation, the Grand Inquisitor, to relieve humankind of the burden of freedom. Indeed, Kolya’s relation to Ilyusha in the past may well be seen as a callow facsimile of Ivan’s poetic invention. Ilyusha ‘was proud,’ Kolya tells Alyosha, ‘but he was slavishly devoted to me, and yet all at once his eyes would flash, and he’d refuse to agree with me, fly into a rage.’ Ilyusha seemed to be developing, as Kolya puts it, ‘a little free spirit of his own.’ The reason was that ‘I was cold in responding to his endearments,’ and ‘the tenderer he became, the colder I became.’ Kolya’s aversion to ‘sheepish sentimentality’ excludes any reciprocity of feeling, just as Ivan’s rationalism excludes (or represses) any emotions stemming from his moral conscience. But when Kolya comes face-to-face with the wasted, fever-ridden visage of the dying Ilyusha, his posture of commanding self-control breaks down, and he gives way to his feelings of pity and compassion.
Dostoevsky uses the long-suffering Snegiryov family, and the poignant love that exists between Ilyusha and his father as a foil to set off the rankling hatreds of the Karamazovs. The family’s condition has improved because the captain has accepted the charity of Katerina. But nothing can relieve his wrenching agony as he watches his doomed son expire before his eyes. Kolya had scornfully called the captain ‘a mountebank, a buffoon,’ but Alyosha’s analysis presents Dostoevsky’s own understanding of this particular character type. ‘These are people of deep feeling,’ Alyosha says, ‘who have been somehow crushed. Buffoonery in them is a sort of resentful irony against those whom they daren’t speak the truth, from having been for years humiliated and intimidated by them. Believe me, Krasotkin, that sort of buffoonery is sometimes tragic in the extreme.’ By such observations, Alyosha brings the boy to an awareness of how badly his pride had misled him in his treatment of Ilyusha and his contempt for the captain.’ [MY NOTE: Does that concept of buffoonery apply to Fyodor Karamazov as well?]
Zosima had sent Alyosha into the world to his work there, and the scene with Kolya and the boys is the first illustration of how such work might be accomplished. Alyosha listens patiently to all of Kolya’s prattle about ‘Socialism’ and the various other ‘subversive’ notions he had picked up from Rakitin about Voltaire, God, and so on, all of which ape Ivan. Alyosha answers him ‘quietly, gently, and quite naturally, as though he were talking to someone of his own age, or even older.’ Kolya thus undergoes a miniature conversion experience, similar to that of Alyosha and Dimitry, and confesses, ‘I am profoundly unhappy, I sometime fancy…that everyone is laughing at me, the whole world, and that I feel ready to overturn the whole order of things.’ He realizes now that ‘what kept me from coming [to see Ilyusha earlier] was my conceit, my egoistic vanity, and the beastly willingness which I can never get rid of, though I have been struggling with it all my life.’ After this avowal, he asks Alyosha if he does not find him ‘ridiculous,’ and Alyosha admonishes him to overcome any fear of confessing his faults. Indeed, such vanity is now ‘almost a sort of insanity,’ Alyosha declares. ‘The devil has taken the form of that vanity and entered into a whole generation.’ ‘It’s simply the devil,’ added Alyosha, without a trace of the smile that Kolya, staring at him, expected to see.’ Alyosha takes the devil seriously, refusing amusedly to dismiss such an antiquated superstition. Ivan will soon find himself oscillating between Kolya’s incredulity and Alyosha’s gravity as he struggles to determine whether the devil he sees is (or is not) a hallucination.
Book 10 ends with a variation on the Job theme that runs throughout the novel, and Dostoevsky now makes no effort to soften its emotionally devastating impact. The captain gives way to abject despair when the doctor from the capital fails to hold out any hope, and poignantly tells his father to ‘get a good boy’ when he dies and ‘love him instead of me.’ But the grief-stricken father, on leaving the room, tells Kolya and Alyosha ‘in a wild whisper’: ‘I don’t want a good boy, I don’t want another boy…’If I forget thee, Jerusalem, may my tongue…” — a biblical allusion that Kolya does not understand and asks Alyosha to explain. Such a scene could well have been maudlin, but from Dostoevsky’s pen it conveys an overpowering purity and intensity of emotion. The death of his son Aleksey just two years before certainly contributed its share to the moving pathos of these pages. and he had written, in an anguished letter in 1868 on the death of his two-month-old daughter, Sonya, expressing the same inconsolable grief as the captain’s; ‘And now the tell me in consolation that I will have other children. But where…is that little individual for whom, I dare to say, I would have accepted crucifixion so that she might live?'”
Book XI, Chapters Two and Three