The Grand Inquisitor/The Brothers Karamazov

The Grand Inquisitor

The Brothers Karamazov (at Wikisource) — The Grand Inquisitor (at Wikipedia) — The Brothers Karamazov (at Wikipedia)

Here we are going to briefly explain some of the plot of this book. Parts that bear no strong influence on the three chapters we will be annotating will be omitted.



Fyodor Karamazov, the father of the house, is a crude character. He is married twice and pays little in the way of love or respect to either wife. From his first marriage, he has a child named Dimitri. From his second wife, he has two children, Ivan (the older), and Alyosha (the younger).

Fyodor pays little attention to any of his children. After his wives die, the children are brought up by the servant Grigory and his wife Marfa. The children are then separated and sent out to live with relatives of their respective mothers.

Fyodor, on a bet, makes love to a mentally challenged girl in town, named Stinking Lizaveta. Lizaveta bears a child named Smerdyakov, and dies during the birth. Smerdyakov is also raised by Grigory, and eventually grows up to become a servant of Fyodor. It is assumed by many that Smerdyakov is the biological son of Fyodor, but this fact is never proven. As with his other children, Fyodor largely ignores Smerdyakov, and does not treat him like a son.

Through a series of events, all three brothers return to the house of their father. Dimitri and Fyodor have been quarreling over Dimitri's inheritance (of which Fyodor claims there is none left).



Alyosha is a monk in training at the local monastery, while Ivan is a well-educated and influential atheist. Despite their strong differences in the area of religion, the two brothers seem to get along fine and respect each other. The two brothers have not seen each other much before arriving at Fyodor's house, so they spend time talking at a local bar. Their conversation, which inevitably turns to the topic of religion, is recounted in the chapter on Rebellion. After this conversation, Ivan relates to Alyosha a "poem" he has been working on, known as The Grand Inquisitor.



Dimitri, a military service man, has captured the heart of a young woman, Katerina Ivanova, the daughter of a military commander. Katerina feels some amount of love and loyalty to Dimitri, but Dimitri does not return the feelings. While on duty in the military, Dimitri learns that Katerina's father is in debt and is at risk of losing his rank and doing time in jail for it. Dimitri gives the money to Katerina, and asks nothing from Katerina in return. It is because of this event that Katerina feels bound to Dimitri, and constantly refers to herself as being in his debt.

While Katarina feels hopelessly bound to Dimitri, who does not return her affections, Ivan has fallen for Katerina. Katerina has fallen for Ivan as well, but because of her debt to Dimitri she does not allow a relationship to form between them. The conflict between his love for Katerina and his loyalty to his brother is a major stressor for Ivan.

Dimitri is not in love with Katerina primarily because he is in love with another woman, Grushenka. Fyodor also has a romantic interest in Grushenka so father and son begin competing for her attention. Combined with the financial problems between them, the fight over Grushenka is a a major source of contention.



Ivan, upset about his own relationship with his father, and also upset about his relationship with Katerina, decides to leave town for Moscow. Smerdyakov says a few surprising things that catch Ivan off guard. First Smerdyakov says that without Ivan around, there were no strong men in the house to protect the father from Dimitri. Smerdyakov has told Dimitri the secret code of knocks that will cause Fyodor to open the lock on his bedroom door at night. Also, Smerdyakov mentions that he is planning to "have a seizure" the following night when Ivan is absent, thus leaving the entire house empty, except for Fyodor.

Ivan, not understanding the correlation between all these facts, or making some conscious effort to ignore them, leaves for Moscow the next morning. Predictably, things go the way Smerdyakov had anticipated: He had a seizure the following night, Dimitri used the secret signal to gain entry to Fyodor's bedroom, and Fyodor is found murdered the next day. Ivan, having been summoned to attend the funeral and the trial, questions Smerdyakov about the strange things he said in their last conversation. Smerdyakov admits to killing Fyodor, and framing Dimitri for the crime. More troubling then this, is the fact that Smerdyakov blames Ivan for the whole event. Smerdyakov told Ivan the plan, albeit in a circuitous way, and made it clear that if Ivan leaves for Moscow, Fyodor will get murdered. Ivan did go to Moscow, and therefore Smerdyakov took this as permission to murder Fyodor.

Ivan, upset about this new revelation, and desperate to save Dimitri from being wrongly punished for the murder develops a brain fever and begins having hallucinations.