Study Guide

The Brothers Karamazov Book 6, Chapter 2

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Book 6, Chapter 2

From the Life of the Hieromonk and Elder Zosima, Departed in God, Composed from his Own Words by Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov

a) Of the Elder Zosima's young brother

  • Zosima begins by telling everyone about his older brother, Markel, who died from consumption when he was only 17. All through his life, Markel had rebelled against any religious teaching. But at the age of 17, during Holy Week, his consumption took a turn for the worse, and the doctor said he had a very short time left to live.
  • Suddenly Markel underwent some kind of religious conversion. Zosima recalls his brother's joyful expression as he celebrated God's glory and exhorted everyone around him to welcome paradise on earth. His brother passed away a few weeks after Easter.

b) Of Holy Scripture in the Life of Father Zosima

  • Zosima then recalls the first time he felt God's word in his soul. When he was 8 years old, he heard the story of Job in church, and he felt overwhelmed with awe and astonishment. He tells his fellow monks that all they have to do to touch the souls of their flock is to share the moving stories of Scripture.
  • As an example, he relates the story of a young man he encountered in his early days as a monk. The young man wonders whether even animals "have Christ." Zosima tells the young man a story about how a saint once convinced a bear not to attack him by handing it a piece of bread. The young man is moved by the story.

c) Recollections of the Adolescence and Youth of the Elder Zosima While Still in the World, The Duel

  • Flash forward to an older Zosima, who's now a hip cadet officer partying in St. Petersburg. He falls in love with a girl who's smart and hot, but then he gets called away for a couple months on a military mission. When he gets back, the girl is married. Hurt and angry, Zosima deliberately insults the girl's husband during a conversation about an important event. This insult leads to a duel.
  • (He parenthetically remarks that it's 1826, so they might be arguing about the Decembrist uprising, when a radical group tried to overthrow the Tsar.)
  • The evening before the duel, Zosima is in a foul mood. He takes it out on his servant Afanasy by slapping him so hard that he bleeds.
  • The next morning, though, Zosima's mood is radically different. He's filled with a deep self-consciousness that there is something utterly shameful within him. He realizes that he treated Afanasy with inhuman cruelty. He realizes that Afanasy is a man created in God's image like himself, just like the guy he's going to duel. In fact, everyone is made in God's image.
  • Filled with this enlightenment, Zosima rides off to the duel with his second (in a duel, each man picks a second to help ensure the duel is fair), a fellow military officer. Zosima and the girl's husband take twelve paces apart from each other, and the girl's husband takes the first shot. Instead of shooting back, Zosima throws away his weapon and apologizes.
  • Everyone's in dismay. Zosima explains that if he hadn't let the girl's husband take a shot at him, everyone would have thought he was apologizing because he was a coward. No one knows what to do with that, but they all acknowledge that he's done something "original."
  • Back at his regiment, the officers debate whether Zosima ought to resign, but Zosima interrupts them to announce that he's resigning and joining a monastery.
  • When news of his actions spreads through the town, Zosima is greeted with laughter, but not with malice, as everyone seems to accept him with love. At a social gathering, the girl he was in love with embraces him with gratitude, as does her husband and everyone else.
  • Just then, Zosima notices an elderly man approaching him.

d) The Mysterious Visitor

  • This elderly man, an important and wealthy official well respected in the town, had never spoken to Zosima before. But after the dueling incident, the elderly man begins to visit him regularly in his rooms, where they have long philosophical discussions.
  • Zosima is impressed with his visitor's wisdom, and much of what he says echoes Zosima's later, more mature philosophy, including the idea that paradise is possible on earth if universal brotherhood can be achieved (a huge "if," given all the havoc the Karamazov brothers create).
  • Eventually Zosima's visitor confesses that he killed someone. Fourteen years ago he was in love with a widow who had already promised herself to an officer. Although the officer was away on a military campaign, the widow expected him to return to her soon.
  • Furious, the visitor snuck in at night and stabbed her to death. He then stole a few items to make it look as if a servant had robbed and murdered her.
  • The visitor's plan succeeded. A disgruntled servant was blamed for the deed and – conveniently, before the visitor could feel guilty about letting someone else take the fall for his crime – the servant died a couple weeks later of some illness.
  • As the years went by, the visitor was tormented by guilt. He fell in love again, married a young woman, and had three children, but he couldn't bear to embrace them because of his guilt.
  • Zosima advises the visitor to confess his deeds, but the visitor continues to waffle for a couple of weeks. The visitor leaves late one night, then suddenly returns. They sit together, and the visitor mysteriously tells Zosima to remember that he had returned that night.
  • The next day, the visitor confesses everything. Nobody really believes him, even though he kept some souvenirs from the widow he murdered, and many think he's crazy. As if on cue, the visitor falls seriously ill. On his deathbed, he confesses to Zosima that he had returned that night to kill Zosima for fear that Zosima would tell everyone about his terrible secret.
  • The town blames Zosima for the visitor's mad confession and subsequent decline. When the visitor dies a couple of weeks later, Zosima leaves town and joins a monastery. It's only at the end of this section that we finally learn the name of the visitor, Mikhail.

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