Book Three begins with an introduction to Fyodor’s servants, Grigory and Marfa. Grigory has been Fyodor’s servant for years. He is “stubborn … honest … incorruptible.” For instance, his loyalty to Fyodor is inextinguishable. When the serfs were emancipated in 1861, Grigory was free to do as he pleased. His wife Marfa asked to leave Fyodor, but Grigory would not hear of it. He decided that they would not leave old Karamazov. Years ago, Grigory and Marfa had a child. The poor boy had six fingers and died after only two weeks, devastating his parents. While Grigory was burying the child, he heard a baby crying. Puzzled and thinking he was hallucinating, Grigory followed the sound. He found a dying woman lying on the ground. Next to the woman he saw a baby boy. The woman was known as “Stinking Lizaveta,” the town idiot. She was abnormally short, unable to speak, and the daughter of a violent, drunken man. Everyone liked her; she was like an orphan whom the town collectively cared for. The citizens in the town would give her food and clothes, and when they realized that she was pregnant, they were furious. Rumors flew that the only person depraved enough to take advantage of one so innocent and helpless was Fyodor Karamazov. After Grigory and Marfa found the baby, Lizaveta died. They adopted the little boy and Fyodor named it Smerdyakov, “the stinking one.”
Alyosha leaves the monastery and is worried about his meeting with Katerina. Though he believes that she has noble intentions toward Dmitri, Alyosha cannot put his finger on the vague sense of dread he feels about the meeting. Coincidentally, Alyosha runs into Dmitri on the way to see Katerina, and Dmitri wants to talk. He has been drinking. He wants to tell Alyosha all his troubles and thinks that only Alyosha will understand. Dmitri proceeds to confess to Alyosha, intermittently quoting Schiller’s Hymn to Joy. He tells Alyosha his history of seducing women, spending money with abandon, and generally acting with “insect sensualism.” Then he tells Alyosha the story of how he met Katerina.
The daughter of a commanding officer of the camp, Katerina was a haughty and gorgeous girl who had always ignored Dmitri’s advances. One day, Dmitri found out that the commanding officer had lent 4,500 rubles to a man who would not pay him back. Dmitri told Katerina’s older sister that the military would come asking for the money, and if her father did not want to be court-martialed or jailed, he should send Katerina to visit Dmitri’s room. Dmitri planned on having his way with the girl, but when Katerina visited him, Dmitri did not try to sleep with her or do anything wayward. Instead, he gave her the money with no strings attached. He found her “noble and generous” while he was just a “bedbug.” He gave her the money with reverence, and she left without another word.
Later, Katerina’s father dies. When she comes into a large inheritance from a relative, she visits Dmitri again, deeply grateful for his generosity toward her father. She offers him the money he had lent her father and offers him her hand in marriage. He accepts. When Dmitri returns to Fyodor’s town, however, he becomes obsessed with a girl named Grushenka. Katerina remains faithful to him even though she has heard rumors of his relationship with Grushenka. She gives him 3,000 rubles and asks him to give the money to her half-sister, but he spends it on a bacchanal with Grushenka instead. Dmitri’s financial and moral indebtedness to Katerina makes him unable to bear Katerina’s love, so he asks Alyosha to break off his engagement with Katerina. Then he tells Alyosha he wants him to go to Fyodor and ask for 3,000 rubles for him. He knows that Fyodor has an envelope with 3,000 rubles for Grushenka, but he feels that Fyodor is morally indebted to him for his ill treatment of Dmitri’s mother. Dmitri wants to repay Katerina and never ask for money again.
We now meet Grigory’s and Marfa’s adopted son Smerdyakov. He has grown up to be an angry, epileptic cook of Fyodor, and he has a penchant for debate and intellectual discussion. He is talking to Fyodor and his foster father Grigory about his views about God. He says that it is hardly a sin to renounce God, for man can always repent and come back to God if he feels the urge. After he and Grigory leave, the Karamazovs continue to talk about their views of God. Ivan says that God does not exist—and neither does immortality. Alyosha disagrees.
Fyodor, who has been sitting through this lofty conversation for too long, decides to talk about “wenches.” When his tirade turns on Alyosha’s mother, however, Alyosha faints and has a seizure. Ivan is angry at his father for hurting his brother and verbally attacking his mother. Dmitri runs into the room at this instant looking for Grushenka, who is not to be found. When Fyodor begins chastising Dmitri for stealing money from him, Dmitri, already in a fit of rage, attacks the old man and kicks him in the temple. As he leaves, he threatens his father once more.
As Ivan and Alyosha are looking after their wounded father, Ivan’s hostility toward his brother decreases. Alyosha visits Katerina, who thinks that Dmitri will get over Grushenka. To Alyosha’s surprise, Grushenka comes out from behind a curtain; she has been there all along. Grushenka admits that she is going back to a former lover, and Katerina is ecstatic at the news. She compliments Grushenka profusely, but Grushenka does not return her affection. In fact, she says that she may not reunite with her old lover and may pursue Dmitri instead. Katerina becomes furious and screams at Grushenka as she leaves.
As Alyosha is returning from Katerina’s, he receives a letter from Lise. He sees Dmitri again, and the two talk about Alyosha’s visit with Katerina. Dmitri becomes sad about how cowardly he has been in his relationships toward the two women. Alyosha returns to the monastery to find that Father Zossima’s health is declining, and that Zossima will not live for much longer. Alyosha resolves to stay by the side of the man who has acted more like a father to him than Fyodor has. He reads the letter from Lise, which says that she is in love with him and that she wants to marry him one day. She apologizes for her earlier jokes at his expense, and she asks him to visit her. Exhausted from his day, Alyosha falls into a deep sleep.
Grigory and Marfa are less complex than the characters who have already been established. They do not have the verve of Dmitri or Fyodor, the high-minded intellectualism of Ivan, or the depth of purpose of Alyosha or Father Zossima. They lead simple lives with a singular purpose, staying faithful to their master. They are good, dependable people. They care for all of Fyodor’s children, and when their desire for their own child is thwarted by fate, they are rewarded with Lizaveta’s orphan. They both are very caring and compassionate.
Grigory acts as a third father figure in the novel. In addition to the biological paternity of Fyodor and the spiritual guidance of Father Zossima, Grigory acts as a father to the Karamazov boys and Smerdyakov in purely logistical ways. He spends time with them, feeds them, and cares for them. It is unclear whose method of paternity has the largest effect on a boy’s growth, or if they all have an equal effect. Interestingly, Smerdyakov, the one boy Grigory and Marfa raise as their own, is resentful and bitter. Their compassion does not turn him into a loving person. Perhaps it is Fyodor’s influence that makes him like he is.
Alyosha, on the other hand, seems unaffected by his biological lineage. This suggests that a person is responsible for his own personality. His reactions to the influences in his life depend on his own strengths, weaknesses, and proclivities.
This book also sheds more light on Dmitri’s character. He is quite likeable despite his foibles, since he is clearly well-intentioned but deeply fallible. His actions with the captain and Katerina are very complicated. He shows a manipulative streak, uncovering a depravity that is similar to Fyodor’s. Then he undergoes a complete change, acting nobly toward Katerina, feeling guilty about his former actions. But instead of learning from his mistakes, Dmitri does not continue to treat Katerina with respect. He spends her money and takes up with another woman after they get engaged. He becomes guilty about this, too, and feels that repaying Katerina is the only honorable course of action. Dmitri is perpetually caught between his desire to do good and his appetite for gratification. He seems unable to break the cycle of guilt and longing for redemption. He is too cowardly to ask his father for money again or to break off his engagement with Katerina in person. Nevertheless, he was re-promoted during his time in the army for “gallantry.” Dmitri is full of contradictions. He embodies many of the arguments in the novel, showing how one man can contain multitudes.
Grushenka is very much what the reader expects her to be, capricious and mischievous. Katerina is less transparent. It is unclear if Katerina loves Dmitri or if she is obsessed by the idea of being a martyr. Dmitri has shunned her, but she remains faithful to him. She does not even expect his love in return, though. She feels relatively complacent about the idea that Dmitri may never return her love. Perhaps she relishes suffering.
Indeed, yearning for suffering is a motif in the novel. Dostoevsky himself wrote most of his important works after spending years of hard labor in Siberia. He felt that suffering changed him, and many of his characters are either changed by their suffering or desire suffering. The value of this suffering is not based on the justice done, however. Katerina does not want to suffer because she deserves retribution for some sin. Instead, she wants to suffer for suffering’s sake. Katerina is not the only one who yearns for pain. Later in the novel, Dmitri and Lise express similar feelings. Aside from this, Katerina seems honorable. She has quite a temper, but she seems to be motivated mostly by love and the desire to do right.
Alyosha continues to get along well with his brother Dmitri, who clearly returns his affection. Alyosha has earned Dmitri’s trust, and Alyosha does what he can to help him out. It seems that everyone needs Alyosha’s help, and Alyosha is very willing to offer his services.
Ivan, however, has not warmed up to Alyosha yet. They represent two theological extremes. Simply put, Alyosha is a believer while Ivan is not. They very plainly disagree about faith, but not hostilely. They are civil as they discuss immortality and the existence of God. Since Alyosha has been proving time and again that he is thoughtful, helpful, and loving, Ivan is taking the position of a villain by disagreeing with his brother. The only way Ivan has revealed his character thus far, however, has been through his opinions about intellectual matters; his emotions and motivations are still veiled. It is curious that he is becoming a foil to Alyosha given that they both have the same mother. The only two characters who have the same parents have the widest disparity in their opinions about God.
Ivan does respect Alyosha, though at first he was suspicious that Alyosha’s opinions were the opinions of a thoughtless religious fanatic. The brothers have learned to understand each other, and they all are starting to be able to tolerate each other. The same cannot be said for Fyodor’s and Dmitri’s relationship. As expected, the first conversation they had since the meeting with Father Zossima turned violent. Their situation has worsened, and a resolution for them is nowhere in sight.