The Brothers Karamazov
Book XII, Chapters 3-4
by Dennis Abrams
The storyline in Chapters 3 and 4 seems to me to be pretty straightforward, and Miller covers it very well in her synopsis of those chapter, but a few things I’d like to note:
1. Again, the conflicting medical testimony (he should have been looking to the right, he should have been looking left, he should have looking straight at the judge like he was…”‘Bravo, leech!’ Mitya cried from his place. ‘Precisely right!”
2. The lovability of Dr. Herzenstube, his searching for the right word, that remarkable story about the young Mitya…continuing the theme of planting seeds.
3. Alyosha’s sudden memory of Mitya on the road to the monastery, pounding not his chest but right above his chest, which, we now know, is where he had the amulet hanging that contained the 1400 roubles remaining from Katerina Ivanovna…”my brother precisely kept exclaiming to me then that he could remove half, half of the disgrace from himself at once (several times he said half!), but was so unfortunate in the weakness of his character that he would not do it…” Very nicely done, a great example, I think, of Dostoevsky’s absolute cleverness in laying out everything (or almost everything) we need to know (no cheats so far) to solve the mystery.
4. I liked very much the way that the narrator-chronicler let us know that after her testimony, rumors spread around town that Katerina Ivanovna had left something out of her story, and that it was unlikely that Dmitri would just “let her go” after loaning her the money she needed.
5. But, given how helpful her testimony was, why did Mitya exclaim at the end of it, “Katya, why have no ruined me!…Now I am condemned.”
Dostoevsky injects a note of absurdity into the very possibility of giving an account of the trial by having his narrator-chronicler suddenly become muddled. The narrator-chronicler cannot promise us anything about the accuracy of his own account. ‘Some things I did not hear, others I did not notice, and others I have forogten, [and]…I have literally no time or space to mention everything that was said of done.’ After this disclaimer, he proceeds to do just that.
Among the witnesses called to testify, two — Grigory and Dr. Merzenstube — serve to awaken the jury’s compassion through their recollections of Mitya as a child, although each believes in his guilt. Both of them function as stern but just father figures worthy of Mitya’s love, which they each receive. In particular, Dr. Herzonstube’s anecdote about the pound of nuts underscores yet again the power of the novel’s epigraph. Mitya had remembered, for some 23 years, Dr. Herzenstube’s gratuitous act of kindness to him as a child when the doctor had given him some nuts. Mitya had quite recently come to thank him. Both had then shed tears together, and as Dr. Herzenstube suddenly tells the story in the courtroom, Mitya weeps again. ‘And I am weeping now, German, I am weeping now, too, you saintly man.’
Dr. Herzenstube’s story recalls Mitya’s own dream of the babe, yet the babe here is the neglected child Mitya, who may suddenly be linked in the reader’s mind with Alexey, the dead child of the grieving peasant woman at the beginning of the novel, and with the dying Ilyusha, whom Mitya has himself wronged. The linkage occurs through the narrator-chronicler’s powerful evocation of detail. We recall the details about the three-year-old Alexey and about Ilyusha, and now Dr. Herzenstube projects a similarly detailed and heartrending image of the toddler Mitya: ‘Oh, I remember him very well, a little chap so high, left neglected by his father in the backyard, when he ran about without boots on his feet, and his little breeches hanging by one button.’
As we might expect, Alyosha’s evidence helps Mitya, but Katerina Ivanovna, though initially seeming to help, ends by hurting him. ‘Katya, why have you ruined me?’ With Alyosha’s testimony, we see Dostoevsky as the expert mystery writer, for Alyosha’s sudden recollection, his evidence about Mitya striking his chest at a point too high up to really be his chest — corroborating Mitya’s own story of the ‘little bag’ with 1,500 rubles in it — is fully consistent with those events at the beginning of the novel. “‘You see, here, here — there’s terrible disgrace in store for me’ (As he said ‘here’ Dmitri Fyodorovich struck his chest with his fist and a strange air; as though the dishonor lay precisely on his chest, in some spot, in a pocket, perhaps, or hanging around his neck.)” This detailed foreshadowing is particularly interesting given that the novel appeared serially.
Indeed, until Ivan takes the stand the trial seems to be preceding with a reasonable amount of evidence coming forth in Mitya’s favor. The affection of Grigory and Dr. Herzenstube, the drunkenness of Grigory on the night of the murder; the innkeeper Trifon Borisovich’s dishonesty about money, Rakitin’s discrediting as a hostile witness, Alyosha’s sudden recollection of Mitya’s oddly aimed gesture of striking himself on the chest, and Katerina Ivanovna’s claim that she did not expect the money to be repaid right away, and even her story of their first encounter — all these disclosures would seem to be potentially helpful to Mitya’s case.”
Book XII, Chapter Five