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Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov > Brothers Karamazov, Book 11

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sorry to be late with this. Just got back much later than expected from an off island medical appointment. One of our ferries broke down and the back-up ferry is in drydock for major overhaul, so capacity was way down and the schedule was a mess. Fortunately, I got home eventually. Others aren't so lucky; they'll be spending the night on the mainland. Oh well, the price you pay for living in paradise.

Anyhow, just going to quickly post the thread for the start of the Book 11 discussion, and now off to get some late dinner.


message 2: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments At this point, Dostoevsky shows his Grushenka character as being somewhat humbled by the whole experience. Yet though she seems sad, she is still shown to be jealous and manipulative. She is still jealous of Katerina and suspects Dmitri of loving her. After all that...she still isn't sure of her role in Dmitri's emotional life. She then tries to manipulate Alyosha into finding out what Dmitri & Ivan are hiding from her. Basically, Dostoevsky paints her as a kind of classic "shrew" that has been taken down a notch.

And Lise? What is her problem? What does Dostoevsky want us to think about this woman? Why is she so in-comprehensively wishy washy?


message 3: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments Anyway, moving on to the main characters:

Ivan is presented with two contradictory explanations for the murder: the letter that Katerina shows him, and the "confession" of Smerdyakov. He can't seem to process these two conflicting pieces of *evidence* and so in the midst of all these misfiring neurons steps....The Devil. I am here guessing that what is described as "brain fever" is similar to what we call an extreme manic episode.


message 4: by Theresa (last edited Oct 12, 2016 02:36PM) (new)

Theresa | 856 comments I see Smerdyakov as a disabled orphan growing up in a very abusive environment. Did he really commit the murder? Why? He is obviously starved for intellectual stimulation, conversation, and respect. Ivan seems to be the first person he can relate to, and imagine himself to be a friend or brother to.

If he didn't commit the murder but has merely decided to kill himself and take all the Karamazovs down with him, then he could have set it all up to get Dmitri to kill Fyodor, knowing the noise would awaken Grigory and perhaps get him killed as well. Smerdyakov also feels despised by Ivan and probably knows he can drive Ivan insane with guilt over this false confession. He reckons that Ivan will not be believed and that Dmitri is too passionate to know how to cover up the crime of parricide.

I don't know if I am supposed to believe that Smerdyakov was the murderer. One way or the other, if a character like Smerdyakov - orphaned, disabled with epilepsy, despised, and raised to believe himself to be worthless - were to decide to end his own life, would he not want to bring everyone else down with him? Isn't that how psychopaths and sociopaths operate?


message 5: by Borum (new)

Borum | 516 comments Theresa wrote: "At this point, Dostoevsky shows his Grushenka character as being somewhat humbled by the whole experience. Yet though she seems sad, she is still shown to be jealous and manipulative. She is still ..."

I think most of the female characters are described in BK as either obedient or manipulative or somewhat hysterical/ sentimental. I didn't expect much feminism from this period but I am also puzzled by Lise's sudden change. I mean, I see that she can become influenced by Ivan like Kolya was by Rakitin with her precocity and sensitivity but why is she hurting the maid and herself? The girl with apparent insight and compassion in the previous chapters seems to have completely disintegrated.


message 6: by Borum (new)

Borum | 516 comments Theresa wrote: "I see Smerdyakov as a disabled orphan growing up in a very abusive environment. Did he really commit the murder? Why? He is obviously starved for intellectual stimulation, conversation, and respect..."

Yes, his real father treats him like a servant and his caretaker Grigory treats him like a monster. His hatred of his real father must be reflected in his hatred of Dmitri as he resembles his father the most among the Karamazov brothers. His hatred of a fatherhead is also transferred to God (the Father) and the most beloved son Alexei. So he tries to find an accomplice or a spiritual and intellectual brother in Ivan who is far removed from both Fyodor and God. However Ivan's final conclusion to testify against him in court whether he would be believed or not might have felt as a betrayal to his trust in Ivan. The stolen money was also taken away by Ivan. Left with no money and no support, he may have become desperate, but he probably was not willing to go down by himself.
BTW, I wonder what conversation went on between Katya and Smerdyakov?


message 7: by Borum (last edited Oct 12, 2016 06:35PM) (new)

Borum | 516 comments I am also wondering over this recurrent theme of the 'real murderer' or 'whose fault' it is. Smerdyakov keeps insisting that Ivan is the real mastermind behind all this although the action of the actual murder is committed by himself alone, because he 'triggered' and 'allowed' this to happen. Could this be representing the responsibility of the society for letting criminals or sociopaths to develop their criminal tendencies with abusive environment and systemic depravity? Or if it is the action alone that is at fault, why is Ivan so disturbed?
It seems that Dostoevsky is pointing out that evil lies not in the action alone but also in the intent or mind and that responsibility is more systemic or universal than the current justice system requires.
Ivan and Smerdyakov had been attracted to the nihilistic theory that everything is permissible, but in the end seems to have faced the fallacy in their nihilism and instead of denying the existence of any responsibility, they seem to be trying hard to throw the arrow of guilt off themselves and point at each other one to escape from their own guilt.
It's also interesting how although Ivan had denied the belief of God's existence in the world (or at least the ticket to heaven), he is struggling to get rid of the Devil in his own mind.


message 8: by David (last edited Oct 13, 2016 03:10PM) (new)

David | 2696 comments
And so I [Smerdyakov] want to prove to your face this evening that you [Ivan] are the only real murderer in the whole affair, and I am not the real murderer, though I did kill him. You are the rightful murderer.”

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov (p. 448). BookMasters. Kindle Edition.
Previously Zossima recommended being responsible for everyone. Does he mean to take that responsibility this far, or is this an example of where one should limit that responsibility? If this is a limit of responsibility are we to think one cannot assign ownership of responsibility of one's actions to someone else, but only take ownership of your own actions?

While there are many differing circumstances, chief among them being ordered to kill vs. killing on one's own volition based on the assumed wishes of another, I cannot help but be wonder how relevant Charles Manson's convictions of murder by proxy are:
Charles Manson was convicted on seven counts of first-degree murder for his role in the killings.

This is despite the fact that he never murdered anyone himself during the family’s killing spree. Instead, he ordered his followers to murder for him. This is known as murder by proxy. A proxy murder is defined as a murder in which the murderer does so at the behest of another, acting as his or her proxy.

Essentially, his family was doing Manson’s bidding when they killed on his behalf and in compliance with his orders. The court ruled that Manson’s family was an extension of him. The judge concluded that when his followers committed murder for him it was the same as if Manson had done it himself.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/...



message 9: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4510 comments David wrote: "Previously Zossima recommended being responsible for everyone. Does he mean to take that responsibility this far, or is this an example of where one should limit that responsibility? If this is a limit of responsibility are we to think one cannot assign ownership of responsibility of one's actions to someone else, but only take ownership of your own actions?
"


As Ivan is entering Smerdyakov's house he is irritated by a drunk peasant who runs into him. Ivan tosses the peasant aside and thinks, "he'll freeze," and proceeds into the house to attend to his business. Later, when Smerdyakov tells Ivan that he is responsible for the murder of his father, the song that the peasant was singing rings in his ears. Ivan would let the peasant die of exposure the same way that he let his father die; he bears the responsibility for these events in the same way, through inaction. The sin is one of omission rather than commission.

Ivan seems to believe that God should be responsible as the supreme Actor, the one who makes the world good or evil. Ivan takes a passive role in this respect -- the responsibility lies elsewhere, whether it is Smerdyakov's doing, or God's. Zosima takes the converse point of view -- morality is a matter of "active love," and everyone is responsible. The peasant may die, and Ivan knows it. He throws him aside anyway.


message 10: by Hilary (new)

Hilary (agapoyesoun) | 229 comments I know that Smerdyakov was a schemer, though what exactly was his goal I do not know, but I can only pity him. He really didn't have much of a chance in life and that is unbearably sad.


message 11: by Dave (new)

Dave Redford | 145 comments Agreed Hilary, I also pity Smerdyakov.

Zosima's teaching about taking responsibility for all becomes clearer to me as we approach the end of the book. All those who act selfishly, perform evil deeds or engage in rebellious thought appear to become increasingly isolated, whereas a surrender of the self and an awareness of the needs and hopes of others offer a route out of this despair. Two of the brothers experience epiphanies – Mitya's dream and Ivan's second encounter with the drunk peasant – that make them more aware of this sense of a wider responsibility to humanity, offering them hope of redemption from their isolation.

Looking back to Book 10, Ilyusha and Kolya benefit from Alyosha's guidance and deeply ingrained sense of responsibility to others, but here Smerdyakov is left alone without any support, notably from his family. So, I guess the thing that troubles me most is: why doesn't anyone take responsibility for Smerdyakov?


message 12: by Hilary (new)

Hilary (agapoyesoun) | 229 comments It is certainly strange, David, especially on the heels of an epiphany, as you correctly call it (or them!). I can only think that their wake-up calls have really only scratched the surface. Well, that's probably unfair, but there at least appears to be a certain superficiality in the outworking of faith. It seems to me to be an 'I'm all right, Jack." attitude. Selfishness is at the core.


message 13: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments David wrote: "Previously Zossima recommended being responsible for everyone. Does he mean to take that responsibility this far, or is this an example of where one should limit that responsibility?"

This is a question which has been interfering with my sleep for a few nights now.

To what extent is one person's philosophy responsible for another person's actions?

The instinctive (for me, at least) response is not at all. Smerdyakov is responsible for his actions no matter what anybody else says or thinks.

But then, it isn't as simple as that, is it? Are the teachers in Islamic schools who espouse a philosophy of violence toward the West not in any way responsible for the atrocities which are perpetuated by those who are inspired by those philosophies?

Even in the law we recognize that there can be responsibility for the actions of others. Inciting to riot, for example. Richard Butler was successfully sued by Native Americans who had been held at gunpoint by Aryan Nations members inspired by Butler's teaching even though Butler never explicitly directed or approved of their actions.

But I am also troubled by the principle that people, not insane, are not solely responsible for the decisions they make, but that they can go so far as to decide to commit murder, and commit it, and shift the blame at least in part to the philosophy espoused by another.

There haven't been very many situations in BK which have disturbed my rest thinking about them, but this is one.


message 14: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4510 comments Everyman wrote: "To what extent is one person's philosophy responsible for another person's actions?

The instinctive (for me, at least) response is not at all. Smerdyakov is responsible for his actions no matter what anybody else says or thinks.."


I think your instincts are right. There are no morally perfect characters in this novel, but all of them, with the exception of Smerdyakov, have some redeeming quality. Perhaps the abuse he suffers is an excuse for the way he is, but everyone in this book suffers in one way or another. Only Smerdyakov doesn't "give an onion." Only Smerdyakov engages in pure sadism when he feeds a pin to a dog. It's a similar kind of sadism when he persuades Ivan that he, Ivan, is the murderer of his father.

Sadism aside, I wonder if this might also be a comment on Ivan's comment that "everything is permitted." If everything is permitted, then what does it matter that Smerdyakov transfers responsibility to Ivan? And if everything is permitted, why does Ivan react the way he does?


message 15: by Dave (new)

Dave Redford | 145 comments Everyman wrote: "The instinctive (for me, at least) response is not at all. Smerdyakov is responsible for his actions no matter what anybody else says or thinks."..."

I agree, Smerdyakov does ultimately have to take responsibility for his own actions. It's a shame he wasn't put on trial, as it would have been useful to examine his motivations for killing his father more precisely and get his perspective on how badly he was let down by his family.

That said, I have trouble with the idea that someone can be pure evil, with no redeeming qualities (though I accept there are none presented in the novel). From his father, Smerdyakov inherits poor social skills and a certain cruelty, from his mother the "falling sickness" (epilepsy) and from his brother Ivan a shaky morality. He's also treated like a subhuman by his entire family.

The role (or absence) of Alyosha in all this is what troubles me most. Alyosha is always happy to make time for everyone, buy why not his own brother? If Smerdyakov had been treated on a par with his three brothers from the outset, would he have turned out the way he did?


message 16: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments I wonder how it is that Smerdyakov's mother is not so "evil" as her child? I believe it might be because she doesn't have to live up to certain standards of masculinity that her male offspring does. She can bear the humiliation without her soul being damaged by the treatment of others. We aren't told how she was raised, but we are told that she is very poor, homeless, sometimes the beneficiary of kindness in her community and sometimes the victim of violent rape.
We haven't been told with any certainty who Smerdyakov's father is so, I assume D expects us to continue to entertain some doubt about this.


message 17: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments Everyman wrote: "But I am also troubled by the principle that people, not insane, are not solely responsible for the decisions they make, but that they can go so far as to decide to commit murder, and commit it, and shift the blame at least in part to the philosophy espoused by another?"...

I don't feel particularly troubled by this. Some processes (or social constructs) are pure evil and bring people down. Possibly there are also some individual people who are pure evil, quite apart from any influence from their upbringing, environment, or philosophical influences.

I really think a process itself can become evil. The people who get caught up in it can still be redeemed (I believe this is the Christian message) if they truly take responsibility for having participated in the process, or having benefited from it (from their ancestors actions, ie building wealth through slave trade).

I have another theory that these evil processes or systems are not unlike the monsters of ancient times, but that idea is bit far out for most people.


message 18: by Acontecimal (new)

Acontecimal | 111 comments Theresa wrote: "At this point, Dostoevsky shows his Grushenka character as being somewhat humbled by the whole experience. Yet though she seems sad, she is still shown to be jealous and manipulative. She is still ..."

Although I don´t like her, I can understand her jealous and suffering. I think she really loves Dmitri, at least for now haha


message 19: by Acontecimal (new)

Acontecimal | 111 comments Borum wrote: "Theresa wrote: "At this point, Dostoevsky shows his Grushenka character as being somewhat humbled by the whole experience. Yet though she seems sad, she is still shown to be jealous and manipulativ..."

Lize´s "madness" was pretty disturbing to me


message 20: by Acontecimal (new)

Acontecimal | 111 comments It seems everyone is going crazy


message 21: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments Luiz wrote: "It seems everyone is going crazy" That is a good observation. Dostoevsky ends this book (and in a certain sense begins the next book about the trial) with many of the characters in a kind of insane vortex or moral vacuum. It is from this state of affairs that the trial takes over the narrative.


message 22: by Acontecimal (new)

Acontecimal | 111 comments Sadism aside, I wonder if this might also be a comment on Ivan's comment that "everything is permitted." If everything is permitted, then what does it matter that Smerdyakov transfers responsibility to Ivan? And if everything is permitted, why does Ivan react the way he does?

Smerdyakov put it into action Ivan´s "everything is permitted". Ivan seems to start regreting this thought


message 23: by Zippy (new)

Zippy | 155 comments Theresa wrote: "I wonder how it is that Smerdyakov's mother is not so "evil" as her child? I believe it might be because she doesn't have to live up to certain standards of masculinity that her male offspring does..."

Wasn't Smerdyakov's mother what we would today called learning-disabled?


message 24: by Zippy (new)

Zippy | 155 comments Dave wrote: "Smerdyakov does ultimately have to take responsibility for his own actions."

D really assigned him the extreme version of taking responsibility: Removing himself from the gene pool! But since it was his own choice and his own method, he cheated the social justice system of its due process.


message 25: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda (rhondak) | 202 comments Book XI is another example of how carefully Dostoevsky designed TBK. It appears to be deceptively chaotic once more, first running in one direction and then another. I have been making notes for some time and you will perhaps forgive another lengthy essay on this chapter.

Like many of us, I have been waiting to understand a real purpose for the character of Lise. While I have read that she is based on Dostoevsky's first wife, her real function in the book has been nebulous. Even her mother has been used as counterpoint, (Peasant Women who Have Faith/A Lady of Little Faith of Book II,) early in the book, as well as an introductory figure, but Lise continues to appear incongruous, or at least until Book XI.

The thesis which I would like to provide, or rather, a thesis which I believe that Dostoevsky intends to make is that he is pairing characters in book XI. The characters which I suggest that he is pairing together are Grushenka and Dmitri and Lise and Ivan. While Grushenka and Dmitri are probably not too much of a stretch, especially considering the changes which each are undergoing, Lise seems a rather childish and flippant figure compared with Ivan, the intellectual who wrestles with the great questions of philosophy. But a careful reading of this book and, indeed, a comparison to the ways in which each treats matters of reality deserves, at very least, a fair comparison.

Initially I thought it odd that Ivan might be visiting Lise and it was only when Lise began to recount their conversation with Alyosha that I began to have an idea in my head that Dostoevsky was trying to explain something further about Ivan. In a nutshell, I am going to suggest that Dostoevsky was explicating how much alike Ivan and Lise were in their fundamental way of treating the world.

However, before we get to them, let's examine the issue of Grushenka and Dmitri.
We find that Gushenka has undergone a magnificent transformation:
A look of firmness and intelligent purpose had developed in her face. There were signs of a spiritual transformation in her, and a steadfast, fine and humble determination that nothing could shake could be discerned in her. There was a small vertical line between her brows which gave her charming face a look of concentrated thought, almost austere at the first glance. There was scarcely a trace of her former frivolity.

She is even taking care of the Pole, Maximov, simply because he has no place to go. She says, "Well, God bless you, you'd better stay, then," Grushenka decided in her grief, smiling compassionately at him. It comes not from sentimentality or from sense of future remuneration, but through a sense of caring which is the result of the change in her character. Grushenka is changing alongside of Dmitri.

Even Madame Hohlakov cannot help but say, somewhat comically, “They say she has become a saint, though it's rather late in the day. She had better have done it before.”

Dmitri, in jail and waiting for his trial, is intent on paying penance, but for his own life of sin and blindness to the plight of others rather than for murdering his father. He denies killing his father and although Ivan believes him guilty, Alyosha assures him that he believes that he did not do this.
However, it is clear that Dmitri has a great distance to go in undergoing his suffering and is afraid that he will not be able to endure this without Grushenka. Nevertheless, he is committed to go because he has been awakened to the truth by the grace of God.
Brother, these last two months I've found in myself a new man. A new man has risen up in me. He was hidden in me, but would never have come to the surface, if it hadn't been for this blow from heaven. I am afraid! And what do I care if I spend twenty years in the mines, breaking ore with a hammer? I am not a bit afraid of that- it's something else I am afraid of now: that that new man may leave me. Even there, in the mines, underground, I may find a human heart in another convict and murderer by my side, and I may make friends with him, for even there one may live and love and suffer. One may thaw and revive a frozen heart in that convict, one may wait upon him for years, and at last bring up from the dark depths a lofty soul, a feeling, suffering creature; one may bring forth an angel, create a hero! There are so many of them, hundreds of them, and we are all to blame for them. Why was it I dreamed of that 'babe' at such a moment? 'Why is the babe so poor?' That was a sign to me at that moment. It's for the babe I'm going. Because we are all responsible for all. For all the 'babes,' for there are big children as well as little children All are 'babes.' I go for all, because someone must go for all.

Dmitri is incapable of being held prisoner by the walls of a prison because his very soul has been freed. I have no doubt that Dostoevsky was echoing a sentiment of Isaiah 61. Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
Still he cannot manage without Grushenka, despite their fiery displays together.
Alyosha repeated all Grushenka had said to him that day. Mitya listened, made him repeat things, and seemed pleased. "Then she is not angry at my being jealous?" he exclaimed. "She is a regular woman! 'I've a fierce heart myself!' Ah, I love such fierce hearts, though I can't bear anyone's being jealous of me. I can't endure it. We shall fight. But I shall love her, I shall love her infinitely. Will they marry us? Do they let convicts marry? That's the question. And without her I can't exist..."

He is as determined to be with her as she is to be with him and it is finally for the right reason

When Alyosha speaks to Ivan in the street, he first gives him the letter which Lise has given to him to give to Ivan. Ivan rips it up insisting that he is not Lise's nurse. Alyosha tries to argue that he should help the girl who is sick, but Ivan is not inclined. They argue about Katerina's testimony the following day wherein Ivan insists that Katerina has a letter which will prove that Dmitri killed their father. When Alyosha says that Dmitri did not do it, Ivan demands to know who he thinks did kill Fyodor Pavlovich. Ivan asks. “"Who? You mean the myth about that crazy idiot, the epileptic, Smerdyakov?"
Alyosha responds:
"You have accused yourself and have confessed to yourself that you are the murderer and no one else. But you didn't do it: you are mistaken: you are not the murderer. Do you hear? It was not you! God has sent me to tell you so."


As much as anything else, it is a key point to note that this ability to look into men's hearts has been passed on to Alyosha. Still, much as with Zossima's guest, accepting this truth does not initially go well and after the shock, Ivan recovers his character and responds to his brother:
"Alexey Fyodorovitch," he said, with a cold smile, "I can't endure prophets and epileptics- messengers from God especially- and you know that only too well. I break off all relations with you from this moment and probably for ever. I beg you to leave me at this turning. It's the way to your lodgings, too. You'd better be particularly careful not to come to me to-day! Do you hear?" He turned and walked on with a firm step, not looking back.


One of the key points to follow here is not only the parallel with previous behavior of Ivan, but a parallel of behavior with that of Lise. First and foremost, the two have the denial of any responsibility for anything and anyone other than themselves in common. Yet it is a curious kind of commonality which causes Lise to be drawn to Ivan and, Ivan to Lise,(which he admits later in the chapter about his devil-visitation,) although he displays it, initially, in his open contempt for her, even when a slight effort might be worth a great deal to the young woman. I suspect that it is her admiration of him, her invitation to come to her, which makes his contempt so much easier.

Consider the case in which she, while talking to Alyosha, depicts an incredibly horrible instance of a Jew who is tortured and crucified. She says:
”I sometimes imagine that it was I who crucified him. He would hang there moaning and I would sit opposite him eating pineapple compote. I am awfully fond of pineapple compote. …. In the morning I wrote a letter to a certain person, begging him particularly to come and see me. He came and I suddenly told him all about the child and the pineapple compote. All about it, all, and said that it was nice. He laughed and said it really was nice. Then he got up and went away. He was only here five minutes.”
"Tell me," Alyosha asked anxiously, "did you send for that person?"
"Yes, I did."
"Did you send him a letter?"
"Yes."
"Simply to ask about that, about that child?"
"No, not about that at all. But when he came, I asked him about that at once. He answered, laughed, got up and went away."
"That person behaved honourably," Alyosha murmured.
"And did he despise me? Did he laugh at me?"
"No, for perhaps he believes in the pineapple compote himself. He is very ill now, too, Lise."


Clearly Lise is speaking of Ivan and Alyosha is suggesting that in them both liking pineapple compote, they are both, as he says, ill, running away from the truth of God. Even in Lise's dream about being in the room with demons, she tests the very limits to which she can persist before she crosses herself which causes the devils to shrink back. Alyosha suggests that he has the same dream and this suggests that the common theme which runs through this book of God and the devil fighting for the soul of man on a new level of reality. Perhaps free will is the real testing ground for the limits of disobedience and rebellion. Ivan's coming experience with the devil will in turn send him to his real limits,

Lise's final act of desperation as Alyosha leaves is to slam her finger in the door. Why does she do this? She does this to cause herself to suffer....but, much like that of Ivan, it is invoked or artificial suffering. It is not real suffering, but feigned and without a purpose. One cannot help but remember the stories in Rebellion which Ivan collected which sound a great deal like the horrible one which Lise has related to Alyosha....and yet Lise is reacting as if it were a very morbid and demented game in which she can watch and eat pineapple compote!

As she will not suffer for anyone but herself, she therefore suffers as her own martyr. While Lise's actions seems somewhat ridiculous, I believe that they are meant to show how Ivan's beliefs are essentially mirrored in her behavior, an adolescent refusing to recognize that which is most obvious mostly because, in Lise's case, she is shielded from the realities of life from her mother's privileged position in living, her wealth and comforts. It is this book, rather than the earlier Book V, wherein Rebellion and The Grand Inquisitor are first discussed, which truly show the limitations and the consequences of Ivan's character and his choices. That discussion is, perhaps, better left for a discussion of The Devil: Ivan's Nightmare on its own. That chapter clearly demonstrates Ivan's failures to accept anything which he cannot prove. As the devil says to him, Besides, proof is no help to believing, especially material proof.”
Amen indeed!


message 26: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda (rhondak) | 202 comments It takes Ivan a great deal of time to be able to recognize the truth of things, even when he suspects that they may be different that the way he has reasoned them to be. One can sense that he has certain feelings about things, but always goes back to what he believes is logical and probable. As we have seen throughout the book, appearances can be very deceiving.

Ivan has 3 meetings with Smerdyakov, but despite his best efforts to get to the truth of what Ivan suspects, Smerdyakov is unable to understand that Ivan doesn't really understand his own complicity in his own father's murder, or at least tacit acceptance. When Ivan tries to blame the entire act on Smerdyakov, Ivan self-righteously says that he will take this information to the authorities. However Smerdyakov is more than willing to release the evidence to the public that Ivan left his father knowing that he was going to be murdered and hence this would leave Ivan guilty in the public's eye. Smerdyakov has Ivan over a barrel:
"To my thinking, you'd better keep quiet, for what can you accuse me of, considering my absolute innocence? And who would believe you? Only if you begin, I shall tell everything, too, for I must defend myself."
"Do you think I am afraid of you now?"
"If the court doesn't believe all I've said to you just now, the public will, and you will be ashamed." "That's as much as to say, 'It's always worth while speaking to a sensible man,' eh?" snarled Ivan. "You hit the mark, indeed. And you'd better be sensible."


But a great deal more has changed beyond Ivan's revelation that Smerdyakov has killed his father. He has listened to Smerdyakov explain to him how it would have been impossible for him to do so had he not listened and conversed with Ivan's on those evenings he spent at his father's house discussing philosophy. The greater question in Ivan's mind now is whether he is now partly responsible for his father's murder, not because he decided not to be there at the time, but because he was the significant influence in Smerdyakov's actions!

Afterwards Ivan reasons it all out in his head:
At last he sat down, put his elbows on the table, leaned his head on his hands and pronounced this strange sentence: "If it's not Dmitri, but Smerdyakov who's the murderer, I share his guilt, for I put him up to it. Whether I did, I don't know yet. But if he is the murderer, and not Dmitri, then, of course, I am the murderer, too."

He says to Katerina, raving like a madman, "If it's not Dmitri, but Smerdyakov who's the murderer, I share his guilt, for I put him up to it. Whether I did, I don't know yet. But if he is the murderer, and not Dmitri, then, of course, I am the murderer, too."

Katerina shows him the letter from Dmitri and it relieves him of the guilt.. at least temporarily. He has the beginnings of a conscience...but loses it because of his reasoning over Katerina's letter from the drunk Dmitri promising to pay her the whole 3000 rubles and kill his father if he must in order to get the money. As circumstantial as this is, it appears damning...and Ivan lets himself off the hook, albeit temporarily. We have our first glimpse into Ivan's inability to deal with the responsibility.

On their third meeting when Smerdyakov is ill, finally Smerdyakov reveals how the murder was committed. He is somewhat surprised that Ivan really didn't know that he did it.
"Aren't you tired of it? Here we are face to face; what's the use of going on keeping up a farce to each other? Are you still trying to throw it all on me, to my face? You murdered him; you are the real murderer, I was only your instrument, your faithful servant, and it was following your words I did it."
"Did it? Why, did you murder him?" Ivan turned cold. Something seemed to give way in his brain, and he shuddered all over with a cold shiver.
Then Smerdyakov himself looked at him wonderingly; probably the genuineness of Ivan's horror struck him..........
"There's no phantom here, but only us two and one other. No doubt he is here, that third, between us."
"Who is he? Who is here? What third person?" Ivan cried in alarm, looking about him, his eyes hastily searching in every corner.
"That third is God Himself- Providence. He is the third beside us now. Only don't look for Him, you won't find him."


Ivan leaves the meeting a changed man. When he comes away, he is momentarily so exhilarated with a change that has come over himself that when he stumbles onto a peasant he previously saw fall drunk in the snow, someone he knew would soon be frozen to death, he now takes great pains to help him. The reader wonders at this activity until we realize that for the first time, just as with Dmitri, Ivan has become aware of his responsibility for other people. It has not been a pleasant revelation because it has been unintentional: Smerdyakov has convicted Ivan of having an effect upon him with his ideas. It is interesting to watch the first flurry of activity take hold in him, the first responsibility of being human, essentially the denial who he has been!

But it only lasts an hour and by the time he reaches his home, he decides to put off going to the prosecutor until the following day.
"Everything together to-morrow!" he whispered to himself, and, strange to say, almost all his gladness and self-satisfaction passed in one instant.
As he entered his own room he felt something like a touch of ice on his heart, like a recollection or, more exactly, a reminder, of something agonizing and revolting that was in that room now, at that moment, and had been there before.


Ivan is himself again and, of course, ready to experience the devil and engage a new wrestling match which measures the real quality of his shattered philosophy.


message 27: by Nemo (last edited Oct 25, 2016 11:57PM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Rhonda wrote: "It takes Ivan a great deal of time to be able to recognize the truth of things..."

Why did Alyosha told Ivan, "You are not the murderer. Do you hear? It was not you! God has sent me to tell you so", when Ivan was struggling with accepting the responsibility for his father's murder.

What exactly is Ivan responsible for, if anything?


message 28: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda (rhondak) | 202 comments Nemo wrote: "What exactly is Ivan responsible for, if anything?"

We know that Ivan and Smerdyakov had conversations concerning what was permissible. We also know that Ivan was vaguely aware that something might have happened to his father if and when he took the trip. Smerdyakov does his best to convince Ivan that the blame for his father's death should fall on Ivan....but Smerdyakov knows fully well that he himself chose to murder the old man...for whatever reason, but he wants Ivan to share the blame.
Smerdyakov is correct in saying that if Ivan told the authorities that he, Smerdyakov, murdered the old man, he would blame Ivan... and public opinion would certainly work against him. Ivan realizes this to be true.
Just as Smerdyakov's presence has seemed to bother Ivan, he senses that somehow he has manipulated him into being guilty but he cannot help himself from feeling guilty. Ivan, himself, despised the old man and wouldn't have minded him dead.
But the real truth is that Ivan didn't kill Fyodor Pavlovitch...and Smerdyakov did! Alyosha wants to relieve him of his guilt in this respect.

But suddenly, though only for an hour after he leaves Smerdyakov, Ivan does become responsible...and this harkens back to Zossima's dictum that we are responsible for every other human being on the planet. The very peasant he watches stumble and fall in the snow on the way to Smerdyakov he now saves with great compassion. There is a fire in Ivan's heart for the first time, just as there was when Dmitri awoke from his dream.
But like so many people who find truth in their hearts, Ivan decides to wait and puts off what he should have done until the next day. Ivan returns to his heart of ice because he would not act, because it was easier to put off doing the right thing. Ivan is no longer responsible.


message 29: by Nemo (last edited Oct 26, 2016 08:25PM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Is Ivan responsible for his father's death? That is the question unanswered. :)


message 30: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Nemo wrote: "Is Ivan responsible for his father's death? That is the question unanswered. :)"

Not in my opinion.

Though if you substitute the words "influential in" rather than "responsible for," I might not be quite so sure of my answer.


message 31: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Everyman wrote: "Nemo wrote: "Is Ivan responsible for his father's death? That is the question unanswered. :)"

Not in my opinion.

Though if you substitute the words "influential in" rather than "responsible for,..."


Do you mean he is not legally responsible but maybe morally?


message 32: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Nemo wrote: "Do you mean he is not legally responsible but maybe morally? ..."

Certainly not legally. But the term "responsible" implies a more direct relationship than I think is warranted. If I hold strong views against marriage, and a close friend is influenced by them and decides not to get married, I don't think I am responsible for his or her remaining unmarried because he or she is free to make his or her (gad, it's awkward to try to be gender-sensitive in a language not built for it) own decision. But clearly I have influenced the decision. So I make a difference morally/ethically between responsibility and influence.


message 33: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Everyman wrote: "Nemo wrote: "Do you mean he is not legally responsible but maybe morally? ..."

Certainly not legally. But the term "responsible" implies a more direct relationship than I think is warranted. If I ..."


That makes sense. I'm still wondering what Zosima meant by "responsible for all". Does being a positive influence count?


message 34: by Kerstin (last edited Oct 29, 2016 12:34PM) (new)

Kerstin | 583 comments Nemo wrote: "I'm still wondering what Zosima meant by "responsible for all"

We all seem to be gnawing on this one! It is one of those statements that just doesn't leave you. There is something deeply unquieting about it.

My thinking has been that Zosima is making the spiritual leap into the cosmic dimension of "love thy neighbor as thyself." Ultimately we are all connected, none of us lives in a vacuum, and we influence the people we come in contact with, either positively or negatively (and I am sure on many folks we make no impression at all). This has reverberations beyond ourselves. So in this broader sense we are responsible for all, whether we perpetuate peace or strife.

I have a hard time believing (and accepting!) he meant personal responsibility for the sins of others they committed out of their free will. Our sense of justice mightily rebels against this.

Of course Dostoevsky hasn't given us a satisfying answer yet. I am slowly catching up on the last few chapters, so I am still holding out hope :)


message 35: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Kerstin wrote: "I have a hard time believing (and accepting!) he meant personal responsibility for the sins of others they committed out of their free will. "

But, isn't that the Atonement of Christ, One who is without sin, being held responsible for the sins of men committed out of their free will?

Our sense of justice mightily rebels against this.

Where does our sense of justice come from?


message 36: by Kerstin (last edited Oct 29, 2016 03:35PM) (new)

Kerstin | 583 comments Nemo wrote: "But, isn't that the Atonement of Christ, One who is without sin, being held responsible for the sins of men committed out of their free will?"

Now you're making me think! :) and I am not sure I have a ready answer. Christ's sacrifice was voluntary, he didn't have to do anything. Love compelled him.

Now looking at it from the perspective of offering up reparation, then we might come closer. As individuals we can pray and offer up penance, such as fasting, for the reparation of any sins, not just our own. Same is true when Masses are held in reparation and atonement for certain wrongdoings. Though I don't know under which circumstances these are applicable. I just know they exist. In these cases we have forms of taking responsibility for sins not necessarily our own. And as a Catholic, I wouldn't have to go to confession for them either. I didn't personally commit them.

Still, I am not sure if we're getting closer to what Zosima meant.


message 37: by Rhonda (last edited Oct 31, 2016 11:28AM) (new)

Rhonda (rhondak) | 202 comments The chapter on Ivan's meeting with the devil is perhaps the most carefully written chapter of The Brothers Karamazov according to Dostoevsky's records. He spent a lot of time working on individual lines to get past the censors. Thus even though this is the last day in which we are discussing TBK, it would be a disservice to leave the discussion as a whole without mentioning these passages.

With all the attention given to The Grand Inquisitor chapter, it is interesting that readers do not choose to see this chapter as far more profound. Without a doubt it is a far more conclusive chapter in Ivan's life and the result of his way of living and thinking which he has attempted during the entire book to defend.

The devil's appearance is described with great detail and one gets the impression that Dostoevsky is criticizing the earlier landowner generation of the 1840's as he has in the past. Several critics have suggested that the appearance described might pass for Turgenev, (who would have been a prime example of the class,) but that is speculation. Regardless, these individuals belonged to the idle class of landowners who passed between families and stayed for indeterminate periods of time and moved on to other relatives when it was time. We get a hint of that behavior in Fyodor Pavlovitch in the beginning of the book, acting like a parasite, and we are led to believe that this is the character of Maximov, for example, one for whom the families have simply disappeared due to social misfortunes. Dmitri's prosecutor, in the next book, seems to also belong to this class and era.

Dostoevsky uses the narrator effectively to let us know that Ivan is already ill and is proceeding against the doctor's advice, essentially waiting until he collapses before he takes any medical advice. Hence, we wonder whether the devil is a figment of his imagination or not. But the devil is insistent that this isn't a dream or nightmare. He says: Listen, in dreams and especially in nightmares, from indigestion or anything, a man sees sometimes such artistic visions, such complex and real actuality, such events, even a whole world of events, woven into such a plot, with such unexpected details from the most exalted matters to the last button on a cuff, as I swear Leo Tolstoy has never invented.
One wonders whether Tolstoy were pleased by the comparison.

Later we read that Ivan has had such visitations (or hallucinations) before, but this one seems to push the envelope. Such things certainly appear in the realm of literature, but it gives us pause and we wonder whether it is true or whether it could be true: does the devil appear before us for his own purpose or for another's?

Their conversation begins with quite an explosive effort from the devil.:
"Don't believe it then," said the gentleman, smiling amicably, "what's the good of believing against your will? Besides, proofs are no help to believing, especially material proofs. Thomas believed, not because he saw Christ risen, but because he wanted to believe, before he saw. Look at the spiritualists, for instance.... I am very fond of them... only fancy, they imagine that they are serving the cause of religion, because the devils show them their horns from the other world. That, they say, is a material proof, so to speak, of the existence of another world. The other world and material proofs, what next! And if you come to that, does proving there's a devil prove that there's a God? I want to join an idealist society, I'll lead the opposition in it, I'll say I am a realist, but not a materialist, he he!"

The devil hits Ivan where he lives, because Ivan is incapable of believing that for which he has no proof. By this point, Ivan has already come to grips with his first and only experience with other people, helping out the poor peasant in the snow, but his failure to act, his failure to take the information on Smerdyakov immediately to the authorities has allowed his mind to slip back into its easy rationalistic ways. Although he desperately WANTS to believe, he doesn't know how to find a proof for it. Indeed, I have seen arguments very much like Ivan's defending his own point of view so this is not all that surprising.

But the devil doesn't want Ivan to believe in God but to admit to his belief in him....and Ivan balks at this but admits to several weak moments in which he did believe. He even makes a pun on a a well-known quote from Terrence which is quite funny: Satan sum et nihil humanum a to alienum puto," the original being “Homo” instead of “Satan.”

It is something of a surprise that the devil appears to be the most human character who has appeared in the book. He prophetically describes an axe orbiting in space,(The New Yorker published a short piece about this very thing in December,1957, I believe, and the Sputnik launch in October of the same year.)

The devil gets to the heart of the dialectic, setting the real stage for the trial:
Without criticism it would be nothing but one 'hosannah.' But nothing but hosannah is not enough for life, the hosannah must be tried in the crucible of doubt and so on, in the same style. .... Without suffering what would be the pleasure of it? It would be transformed into an endless church service; it would be holy, but tedious."

Ivan is confused as to why the devil is plaguing him like this and he finally suggests:
"Then it's for the salvation of my soul you are working, is it,you scoundrel?"
"One must do a good work sometimes. How ill-humoured you are!"
Indeed Ivan has been fighting salvation every step of the way. Before he arrived home, he was on his way just an hour before and yet he turned away from it.
But Ivan truly reacts badly when the devil reminds Ivan of The Grand Inquisitor and another called The Great Cataclysm, apparently about a kind of man who rises above morality, a kind of Nietzschean Ubermensch.
'There are new men,' you decided last spring, when you were meaning to come here, 'they propose to destroy everything and begin with cannibalism. Stupid fellows! They didn't ask my advice! I maintain that nothing need be destroyed, that we only need to destroy the idea of God in man, that's how we have to set to work. It's that, that we must begin with. Oh, blind race of men who have no understanding! As soon as men have all of them denied God- and I believe that period, analogous with geological periods, will come to pass- the old conception of the universe will fall of itself without cannibalism, and, what's more, the old morality, and everything will begin anew. Men will unite to take from life all it can give, but only for joy and happiness in the present world. Man will be lifted up with a spirit of divine Titanic pride and the man-god will appear. From hour to hour extending his conquest of nature infinitely by his will and his science, man will feel such lofty joy from hour to hour in doing it that it will make up for all his old dreams of the joys of heaven. Everyone will know that he is mortal and will accept death proudly and serenely like a god. His pride will teach him that it's useless for him to repine at life's being a moment, and he will love his brother without need of reward. Love will be sufficient only for a moment of life, but the very consciousness of its momentariness will intensify its fire, which now is dissipated in dreams of eternal love beyond the grave'


While Ivan covers his ears, trembling, the devil rips his argument to shreds.
"The question now is, my young thinker reflected, is it possible that such a period will ever come? If it does, ,,, 'all things are lawful' for him. ...There is no law for God. Where God stands, the place is holy. Where I stand will be at once the foremost place... 'all things are lawful' and that's the end of it! That's all very charming; but if you want to swindle why do you want a moral sanction for doing it? But that's our modern Russian all over. He can't bring himself to swindle without a moral sanction.”


The heart of chapter 9 is not so much that Ivan is becoming delirious, but, whether he is imagining the devil in his room or not, he has taken every argument of his life and argued it into a corner from which there is positively no escape. Whether it is the devil or Ivan himself playing at the other side of the argument, the conclusion is a complete and utter demolition of any and all legitimization for the Grand Inquisitor argument as well as The Great Cataclysm argument. The greater issue to be decided as a whole from this book, however, is whether Dostoevsky makes the case for freedom being the dominant and sufficient reason for belief in the process of suffering and salvation in the name of Jesus Christ.
For Ivan, there remains, at this particular point, only hope.


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