The Karamazovs go to the meeting with Father Zossima to resolve the dispute between Dmitri and Fyodor over Dmitri’s inheritance. Ivan and Fyodor arrive with Ivan’s former benefactor, Peter Miusov, but Dmitri is nowhere in sight. Even though the group contains very influential citizens, no fuss is made upon their arrival. No monks rush to greet them. Instead, they are surrounded by beggars. Eventually, a monk invites them into the monastery, and they are all invited to dine with the Father after the meeting. Fyodor exclaims, “I wouldn’t miss it for anything!” Old Karamazov calls Zossima “Holy Elder,” “Your Reverence,” “angelic man,” and “blessed man.” He gets down on his knees and kisses the father’s hand. It seems as if he is playing. Peter Miusov is very annoyed by Fyodor’s ironic demeanor, and he bickers with the elder Karamazov, showing his embarrassment at his presence, chastising him for his inconsiderate nature in front of a respected man. After such pleasantries, Father Zossima leaves to greet some visitors for a moment.
The visitors are peasant women except for a more well-to-do pair: Madame Hohlakov and her sickly and paralyzed daughter Lise. All the women ask Father Zossima for advice. Many of them behave quite strangely, “wailing in ecstasy …barking like dogs,” as if “shocked” by the “host” himself. The narrator explains that this is the behavior of suffering women with an “intensely unhappy life, full of brutality and ill-treatment.” Father Zossima is patient with each woman, listening to her problems and offering thoughtful advice. When he gets to Madame Hohlakov, she thanks him profusely for “healing” her Lise. When the Father talks to Lise, instead of shedding tears she bursts into giggles. She blames her outburst on Alyosha, to whom she has taken a liking. Madame Hohlakov tells Father Zossima that she lacks faith in God and is not altruistic; instead, she expects gratitude for her good deeds. He advises her to “avoid lying, especially to yourself.” Again Lise laughs, then suddenly begins to cry, pining for Alyosha. Father Zossima tells her that he will send Alyosha to visit her.
When Father Zossima and Alyosha return to the Father’s cell, Ivan is talking to the monks about the separation of church and state. He advocates no separation, for he believes that if the church were the institution punishing crime, crime would be virtually nonexistent. Criminals would be more afraid of excommunication than jail time. Alyosha, who is still trying to figure out his intellectual brother, is impressed by Ivan’s respectfulness and lack of condescension toward the monks. Father Zossima responds to Ivan’s ruminations by saying that the only effective punishment is one’s “awareness of one’s own conscience.”
Before they can debate this issue, however, Dmitri bursts into the room. He apologizes for his tardiness, saying that Smerdyakov told him the wrong time for the meeting. Father Zossima is not angry, and he greets Dmitri warmly. Dmitri sits down, and the men continue their theological debate. Ivan argues that “there is no virtue if there is no immortality.” Men will cannibalize each other, figuratively and literally. Without belief in immortality, crime becomes inevitable. Dmitri and old Fyodor begin bickering. Karamazov accuses Dmitri of owing him money and attacking a captain in the army. Dmitri accuses old Karamazov of chasing after Grushenka, a girl he has been pursuing. Karamazov becomes so worked up that he challenges Dmitri to a duel, and an infuriated Dmitri exclaims, “why should such a man live?” As everyone bickers and shouts, Father Zossima bends down and kisses Dmitri’s feet. Everyone is shocked; they do not know what to make of this. Everyone exits and continues on to a luncheon with Father Zossima except Fyodor. He decides not to attend the luncheon.
While Alyosha is walking the Father back, Zossima tells him he should leave the monastery and rejoin the world. He tells Alyosha to “stay close to your brothers—not just one of them, but both.” Alyosha is very upset by this because he wants to be with Father Zossima, who is very ill. Disturbed by Father Zossima’s advice, Alyosha continues on. He discusses the father’s bow with Rakitin, a “career-conscious divinity student.” Rakitin is skeptical of Father Zossima’s motives. During Rakitin’s rant, he predicts the murder of old Karamazov by Dmitri. Alyosha is a bit shocked. Rakitin hypothesizes that Ivan would like to marry Katerina for her dowry. Alyosha refuses to believe this. He says that Ivan is after “higher things … perhaps it’s suffering and torment he’s after.” Rakitin does not like Ivan. The two see that the luncheon is breaking up, and they rush over excitedly to see what has transpired. Fyodor changed his mind and decided to go to the luncheon, a five-course feast. He decided, “since it was not in his power to regain their respect, why shouldn’t he go on and disgrace himself altogether?” After telling distasteful stories and attacking the monks for taking advantage of believers, saying that they “suck the blood of the poor,” Ivan puts him in a carriage. As they drive away, Fyodor yells at Alyosha to leave the monastery and move back in with Fyodor. As the father and son drive back, Fyodor promises Ivan a drink.
The much-anticipated meeting is, in fact, extremely telling about the personalities of the Karamazov men. Fyodor’s mischievous manner is very much in keeping with the stories about his past from the first book. It seems that he causes trouble arbitrarily, not because he is particularly angry or disgruntled but because he feels like causing trouble. He is not respectful of anyone or anything, and he is not afraid to embarrass himself or those around him. The accusation that Fyodor might be trying to bed the same girl whom Dmitri has been courting adds another dimension to their dispute. Fyodor and Dmitri are the two most undependable and explosive members of the Karamazov clan. Dmitri shows up late and quarrels with his father in front of a respected man. But he is also gracious, listening closely to Father Zossima’s advice. Their dispute is not resolved, and they part on bad terms. It seems unlikely that, if a calm and reasonable man such as Father Zossima could not help resolve their dispute, they will not be able to do so independently.
Father Zossima acts as a foil to Fyodor, matching the elder Karamazov’s vulgarity with quiet integrity, combating his acerbic remarks with patience and love. He is as much a father to Alyosha as Fyodor is, setting up an interesting duality for Alyosha’s character. Alyosha seems to align his actions and ideas wholly with Father Zossima’s, even though he is caring and understanding toward his biological father. Whereas Dmitri’s character may be an amalgam of his parents’ characters, bolstering the idea that one cannot escape his own genes, Alyosha is completely different from his father, affected more by his teachings than by his blood.
Both Father Zossima and Alyosha are very noticeably devoid of hatred and temper. Neither character is a simple embodiment of Dostoevsky’s ideas; each is individually human. Father Zossima has a sense of humor; he jokes with Fyodor by telling him to try not to tell any lies while Zossima steps outside for a moment. Alyosha is also prone to emotions such as embarrassment and worry; he is not the picture of calm holiness. It remains to be seen if Alyosha’s and Father Zossima’s reason and love will triumph over the hot-bloodedness of Dmitri and Fyodor.
Madame Hohlakov and Lise are interesting additions to the mostly all-male cast thus far. Lise’s girlish adoration for Alyosha reminds the reader how young Alyosha is, and it also brings up the possibility of a romance between the two. While making Alyosha seem more human, this budding romance could serve to compromise his pious status as a monk. Along with the other women who visit the monastery, Madame Hohlakov’s adulation for the man borders on infatuation. While he remains humble, his fame precedes him and his followers worship him. It is unclear if these women actually feel legitimately helped by him or if they are simply gravitating toward an icon. Father Zossima’s sensitive, loving manner puts to rest the fear that he may be a manipulative attention-seeker, but this does not mean his devotees come to him with wholly pure intentions. Father Zossima’s status is fascinating. The fate of a man surrounded by such hysteria is uncertain.
Ivan remains an enigma. While the rest of the characters are caught up in an emotional dispute, Ivan remains aloof and distant, instead talking about larger issues. He is very quiet and difficult to read, but he is polite and agreeable for most of the interview. When Maximov tries to get in the coach as it is leaving, however, he violently pushes him off, showing a shockingly violent streak. He seems very dangerous. When Rakitin hypothesizes that Dmitri will kill Fyodor and Ivan will benefit, it seems plausible that Ivan could have a hidden agenda. Alyosha defends his brother, and Alyosha’s honesty and thoughtfulness lead the reader to agree with him. The candid conjecture about murder is unsettling, as is Father Zossima’s bow. Such a vague and grand gesture seems to portend something. The final impression of this book is a feeling of foreboding. From Ivan’s covered smoldering to the impassioned feud between Fyodor and Dmitri, there are many clues that a great drama–perhaps a great tragedy–is to come.