The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov Summary and Analysis of Book 10

Kolya Krassotkin is Ilusha’s friend. He is a young, headstrong boy who gets teased at school for being a “mummy’s boy” because his mother helps him with all his schoolwork and introduces herself to all his friends and teachers. But Kolya is unafraid of being bullied, and he is known for being “terribly strong.” Instead of playing with his fellow schoolchildren, he is fond of reading. His mother sometimes accuses him of being very cold toward her because he detests “that sickening slobbery stuff.” He loves his mother very much, though. He also has a mischievous streak, pushing his mother and his superiors at school—but he usually stops before he incurs any real punishment. One day, he decides to lie down as an oncoming train approaches in order to prove his bravery and daring to the other boys. This earns him their respect, and they begin to call him a “desperado.” This stunt upsets his mother greatly. She pleads with him never to do such a thing again, and they both become overcome with emotion. After this episode, Kolya returns to being sullen and aloof with his mother. One day, Ilusha stabs Kolya with a pen knife because Kolya is teasing him, and their friendship becomes strained.

Ilusha falls ill with consumption. The day before Dmitri’s trial, Kolya goes to visit him in the hospital. He sees a friend named Smurov, and the two talk about Ilusha’s condition. Smurov tells Kolya that his classmates have been visiting Ilusha in the hospital every day and that it seems as if Ilusha will not live much longer. He says that Alyosha has been spending time at the hospital even though his brother is going to trial. Smurov says that he wishes that Kolya’s dog Perezvon was another dog named Zhuchka. This would make Ilusha happy. Kolya shows off his intellect: he begins to criticize doctors, he says there is more stupidity among men than among dogs, and he comments on man’s tendency to form habits. He tells Smurov, “one has to know how to talk to the uneducated.” The boys walk toward the hospital, causing mischief with the townspeople along the way. When they reach the hospital, Kolya says he would like to wait outside to meet Alyosha. Smurov thinks this is a silly idea; he tells Kolya he should simply come in and meet Alyosha inside. Kolya tells Smurov he has his own reasons for meeting Alyosha in the bitter cold; he smirks, “we must sniff at each other first.” Smurov goes inside, and Kolya waits outside for Alyosha.

This is Kolya’s first visit to the hospital, though other boys have been visiting Kolya ever since Alyosha urged them to do so. Outside the hospital, Kolya feels nervous about meeting Alyosha. He has heard much about this remarkable man, and he wants to make a good impression on him as an intelligent, independent young man. When Alyosha comes out to meet the boy, he is smiling profusely. Kolya is put off by Alyosha’s good-natured disposition, but he continues talking with him openly. Kolya tells Alyosha about his relationship with Ilusha, saying that he and Ilusha have been good friends for some time. Kolya felt bad for Ilusha, and he protected him from the boys who would beat him up. One day, in a fit of mischievous childishness, Ilusha fed a dog a piece of bread with a pin in it. Smerdyakov had taught him how to do this, but when he saw the dog yelping and running around, he regretted the prank immediately. He told Kolya what had happened, and Kolya saw that he felt contrite. Even so, Kolya punished Ilusha by ignoring him. Ilusha became very angry at Kolya over this, and he sent a message to Kolya saying he would feed pins to all the dogs in town. Then, when the boys at school were taunting Ilusha, Kolya did not step in to protect his estranged friend. Ilusha became incensed and rushed at Kolya, which is when he stabbed his Kolya with his pen knife. Their relationship remained strained, which is why the two boys did not see each other until this day.

Alyosha and Kolya visit Ilusha, and Kolya brings his dog Perezvon. Then, he reveals that his dog is indeed Zhuchka, the very dog that Ilusha fed the pin. He has been training the dog, and he did not want to visit Ilusha until the dog was fully trained. This peace offering makes Ilusha very happy, and the boys’ friendship is restored, though in unhappy and dire circumstances. Kolya then produces a small cannon, which he gives to Ilusha as a present. Ilusha’s demented mother demands the present for herself, and the boys concede that she may have it.

Kolya and Alyosha step outside when the doctors come to see Ilusha, and Kolya tells Alyosha his theories about life. He loves man but does not want to “coddle” him. He very much hates all forms of sentimentality. He says he is a socialist, and he quotes from many texts he has read. Instead of being impressed, Alyosha tells him he is surprised that a boy so young could already be swayed by such “wicked nonsense.” They discuss matters of the mind and of the heart for a while longer and, since Alyosha treats the boy as an intellectual equal, they become good friends. The doctors come back, and all who see them know that Ilusha is doomed, including Ilusha himself. While Ilusha is talking to his father, Kolya is touched, and he tells Alyosha that he will visit Ilusha more often.


This book focuses on a younger generation. In addition to Ilusha, whom Alyosha met earlier, there is Kolya, a willful and precocious classmate of Ilusha. They are the youngest characters in the novel, and this is the first book devoted mostly to them. After the murder–the most important event in the novel–the focus shifts to a new storyline. This acts as a breath of relief from the heaviness of the murder trial, though this is by no means a section with a great deal of levity, for young Ilusha is dying.

His death will be a parallel to Father Zossima’s death. As Zossima slowly passes away in his deathbed, he is surrounded by his followers. Fyodor’s death is another thing altogether. Ilusha is also surrounded by his friends and family in his last days, and his bravery is inspiring to them all. Father Zossima was an old man when he died, but Ilusha is quite young to be on his deathbed. The suffering of such a young boy reminds the reader of Ivan’s outrage at the suffering of innocents.

The juxtaposition of this section with the one focusing on Dmitri’s unfortunate arrest calls into question Dmitri’s guilt. If an innocent child like Ilusha can suffer without reason, then suffering is not necessarily related to justice. Perhaps Dmitri is not being punished for some share of his guilt for the murder; sometimes people suffer without a discernible reason. This is one way to understand the juxtaposition of these books.

Another route to pursue is to wonder if Ilusha is not innocent after all. He has become tough and defensive from the strife he has encountered in his life, and he has tortured a dog. But unlike Fyodor, who is never good or thoughtful to anyone, Ilusha has a good heart and feels remorse. He even comforts his father, putting his own suffering below his father’s peace of mind. Ilusha does seem to be innocent in that he is good at heart, even if he has made mistakes. In this way he is similar to Dmitri. Both characters suffer, but neither one has committed a crime worthy of the suffering. It seems that fate is indiscriminate; that is, there is no guarantee that virtue leads to happiness or that vice leads to suffering.

The Karamazovs do not seem to be able to extricate themselves from their past. For Fyodor there is no redemption. He dies, never changing his ways or apologizing for his sins. His sons cannot escape the specter of tragedy either. Ivan is the best example of this phenomenon. Despite hating his father, he tries not to quarrel with him. He leaves the house so as not to be around him, and he tries to leave town to extricate himself from his own family drama. But despite his best efforts, he finds himself mired in guilt over the very tragedy he tried to avoid. Even Alyosha finds himself with his brothers, dealing with the fallout from the murder. Redemption is hard to find, and even if it is difficult for the Karamazov brothers to attain, perhaps a younger generation can find it. Kolya is healthy; he has his entire life in front of him. Alyosha gives him so much attention because Kolya represents hope. While one generation can feel the weight of sin and guilt from a previous generation, it also can break free from this cycle of suffering. While the Karamazov brothers are already caught up in their own family tragedy, finding it difficult to rid themselves of their father’s shadow, Kolya has a chance at living a life free from this burden.

This opportunity creates the feeling that life is more than a person or a family. Life encompasses generation after generation. Alyosha cannot help every single person in the world. He focuses on a younger generation, as many teachers do, because he realizes that they are Russia’s hope. Though he did not save his father, he can save Russia, or at least he can do something toward that goal.

Just as Father Zossima was a teacher and something of a celebrity to Alyosha, Alyosha is an idol to the young boys of the town. They revere him and listen to his every word. Kolya is scared to meet him, and he tries his hardest to impress this wise and important man about which he has heard so much. Alyosha has become an important figure in the lives of the younger generation, and he became close with this generation by choosing to teach rather than spend all of his time with his brothers.

Father Zossima told Alyosha to stay with his brothers during their time of need, but Alyosha expanded this request. Father Zossima meant that Alyosha should spend his time where it is most needed, not where Alyosha has the most attachment. Thus, as Alyosha chose to help his brothers instead of staying with Father Zossima during his last days, Alyosha now decides that his calling lies with the boys of the town who are the future of Russia, not his literal brothers. This is a large shift for Alyosha, for his family is very important to him. Perhaps he has taken Father Zossima’s words to heart, separating his heart from his choices. It is difficult to follow one’s heart to help others while denying one’s heart in other ways in order to ensure that one is not swayed from helping those most in need.

Ilusha and Kolya are an interesting pair. Both boys have a defiant streak, and both are very complicated persons. Each has committed an act that weighs on him. Ilusha fed a dog a pin and still feels guilty. Kolya does not protect his weaker friend when the other boys jeer at him, mostly because he is trying to teach Ilusha a lesson for his treatment of the dog. Ilusha confesses his guilt to Kolya, being honest about what he has done but expressing regret for his actions. Kolya, on the other hand, does not directly tell Alyosha how guilty he feels for letting Ilusha get attacked by the other schoolboys. Still, he is very transparent, and his fixation on the topic belies his preoccupation with it. Kolya has a strong connection to Ilusha, however, and despite their violent dispute, Kolya spends hours training the recovered dog and brings him to Ilusha as a present. Kolya still feels protective of Ilusha, and Ilusha still feels close to Kolya, despite his fierce individualism.

Both boys seem equally prone to spite and love. Alyosha tips the scales on this count; he encourages the boys to love one another and do good for one another, setting an example by visiting the dying boy even though his own brother is being tried for murder. The boys are connected because they share a similar struggle between good and evil. If Alyosha did not come along, these conflicted boys could very well have been swayed negatively by others.

Alyosha’s choices in a fallen world lead him to triage, that is, those who can survive without help are left alone while those who cannot be helped are also, sadly, left alone, leaving time to help those for whom help can make a difference. Although in Alyosha’s Christian tradition every person deserves help, Alyosha has limited time and must act like a surgeon, spending his time on those whom he can save, not on those who are already doomed.