The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov Summary and Analysis of Book 4

Father Zossima is dying, and his devotees huddle around his bed. He tells them his theory of shared responsibility. A man is not responsible for his sins alone; he bears a portion of the burden for the sins of all other men. Alyosha is very upset at Father Zossima’s condition, so he leaves. He knows that everyone expects a miracle when Zossima dies. Many think that Father Zossima is almost saint-like—except a few detractors such as Father Ferapont. Ferapont hates all the other elders, Father Zossima most of all. He advocates severe asceticism. He believes that the devil is at work in all things. Father Zossima asks to see Alyosha in his cell. He tells Alyosha that the boy’s place is not in the monastery but alongside his brothers and father. They need his help more than the monastery does. When he goes back to town, Alyosha finds his father sitting by himself. Fyodor says he wants to live much longer. He says he needs money to make women sleep with him in his old age—thus he needs to be frugal in order to continue his lifestyle of debauchery. He vows that he will be a hedonist until he dies.

Alyosha leaves and sees some schoolboys throwing rocks at a delicate nine-year-old boy, who throws rocks back and then runs away. Alyosha runs after the boy, fascinated about what would make a nine-year-old so angry. He finds the young boy, but the youngster will not answer Alyosha’s questions. He eventually picks up a rock and hits Alyosha with it, bites his hand, and then runs away, leaving Alyosha confused. Alyosha goes to visit Katerina again, but he is surprised to find Ivan upstairs with her. He asks Madame Hohlakov for something for his bitten hand, and Lise comes to talk to him. She wants her letter back, telling him she wrote it as a prank. Alyosha says he does not have the letter, so he cannot give it back. Then he talks to Ivan and Katerina. Katerina tells Alyosha she will never leave Dmitri even if he wants Grushenka or marries her. She does not mind if her love goes unrequited, even though she understands the craziness of such a gesture.

Alyosha cannot take this anymore, and he tells her that they clearly love each other and should follow their hearts, not their intellectualizations. Ivan says he loves Katerina but that she and Dmitri are more complementary. He is unhappy about this fact, but he is resigned to the fact that he will not be with the woman he loves. Ivan declares that he is leaving for Moscow, and he says his farewell. Katerina tells Alyosha about a certain Captain Snegiryov whom Dmitri has beaten. She feels very bad about this and takes pity on the man. She tells Alyosha that she wants to help him in some way and that she has two hundred rubles that she would like to give him as a token of her sympathy. She asks Alyosha to deliver this money to the man, and he accepts. Alyosha continues to be a messenger for others, proving his willingness to help, but acting without his own volition. He goes to visit the man, troubled about what has happened to him during the day.

Captain Snegiryov lives in an old, dilapidated house with his wife and two daughters—one of whom is handicapped—and his son. His son Ilusha is the boy who bit Alyosha’s hand. Ilusha immediately assumes that Alyosha is there to bemoan his injured hand. Alyosha suddenly realizes that this boy felt such rage against him because he is Dmitri’s brother. Captain Snegiryov goes outside with Alyosha and tells him that Dmitri traumatized his poor son by beating him badly. He makes clear that his family is excessively poor, and Alyosha becomes very excited that he can help. He tells Captain Snegiryov that he came to give him money. The captain is overjoyed at first, telling Alyosha all the ways he can help his family with the money. But he changes his mind and suddenly throws the money on the ground, explaining that he cannot dishonor himself by accepting money from the brother of a man who has humiliated him; this would destroy his son. Alyosha takes the money and goes back to Katerina.


Alyosha encounters the two strongest father figures in his life at the beginning of this book. They both talk of old age, of dying, and of what Alyosha should do with himself. Father Zossima wants Alyosha to be with his family to help them through a difficult time, and Fyodor also wants Alyosha to leave the monastery and stay with him.

This may be the only area where the two men agree. Father Zossima knows he does not have long to live, and, according to rumors and hypotheses of men like Rakitin, Fyodor is about to be murdered.

The men have a parallel relationship regarding Alyosha, though they are quite different. Whereas Father Zossima is most concerned about his disciples and Alyosha as he nears his death, Fyodor talks mostly about himself. Zossima wants to make sure he has spread the word about living with love and understanding to as many people as he can before he passes; Fyodor is only concerned with sleeping with as many wenches as possible.

Alyosha does not try to change Fyodor; he simply listens to him. Alyosha is passive in the way he tries to help everyone around him. He does not change anyone’s behavior. Instead, he does their bidding, usually giving others messages for them, and he listens. He is loving and understanding, but he does not change the course of what they are doing. Just as he wants to be by Father Zossima’s side as he lays dying, Alyosha is there for his brothers and father, talking with them and aiding them when they need assistance. Alyosha provides comfort and support without actively protecting those around him. While this is a service that is much needed, it may not prove to be enough to keep his family from disasters ahead.

Alyosha encounters a boy, the first character who is of an even younger generation than the Karamazov brothers. The emphasis has been on the relationship between the older generation and the younger one, but this boy adds another generation to the mix. The boy has a strong sense of the connectedness of families. He feels responsible for his father’s honor, and he believes that any relative of someone who has wronged someone should be treated with as much disdain as the person who has committed the offense. His father also makes a great financial sacrifice by not taking Katerina’s money to gain his son’s respect. This family sees little generational divide; the Snegiryovs see a family as one unit, and all its members are inextricable from each other. Alyosha treats Ilusha with interest and care, but the boy clearly does not appreciate the attention. Alyosha reaches out to him, and he does not try to punish the boy’s violence; instead, he tries to understand his motives and feelings. Father Zossima tried to pass along salutary teachings to Alyosha, and now Alyosha is passing along those teachings to others, at least by example.

Katerina is proving to be a very active character who tries to make things right. After her father’s death, she made sure to find Dmitri and repay him for his loan. She also repaid him for his kindness by offering herself to him. She felt as if Captain Snegiryov had been wronged, and her instinct was to compensate him in some way. She actively tries to see justice done. She is also very kind. Earlier in the novel, it seemed as if she might try to gain a sort of karma by her actions. Even though she knew Dmitri was in love with another woman and had disgraced her, she vowed to stay by his side. This seemed less of an expression of her love for him and more of a gesture showing her fidelity and steadfastness. She seems to relish the obvious disparity between her actions and Dmitri’s. The worse he is, the better she seems to be. Katerina’s motivations continue to be mysterious. She may long for humiliation, or she wants to prove to the world that she is upstanding and honorable—or perhaps she simply is very loving. She trusts Alyosha very much, and she entreats him to help her often. Alyosha believes that she has good intentions, so he is very willing to help her.

Captain Snegiryov is a living reminder of the damage that can be done from living a reckless, profligate life. Dmitri not only hurts his conscience if he sins; he hurts those around him. He also reminds the reader what abject poverty existed in Russia in the 19th century. The fact that 200 rubles is a large sum to him puts the 3,000 rubles Dmitri spent with Grushenka into new perspective. Dmitri is obsessed with money, and not having his 3,000-ruble inheritance drives him to rage and violence. Dmitri acts as though this money is essential to his life, but he is far from the poverty in which the captain and his family live. The quarrel over Dmitri’s inheritance now seems like a battle characterized by greed and privilege. They are concerned with impressing women, and 3,000 rubles is an amount that will allow them to continue their courting. To a family like the Snegiryovs, however, 3,000 rubles would provide a great deal of food and medicine. They could repair their pathetic house and alleviate their misery. Captain Snegiryov refuses the money that could help his family because honor and dignity mean more to him than his or his family’s material situation. These circumstances show that money remains of great importance in this novel.