The Brothers Karamazov
“That remark you just made: ‘Not to be so ashamed of myself, for that is the cause of everything’ – it’s as if you pierced me right through and read inside me. That is exactly how it all seems to me, when I walk into a room, that I’m lower than anyone else, and that everyone takes me for a buffoon, so ‘Why not, indeed, play the buffoon, I’m not afraid of your opinions, because you’re all, to a man, lower than me!’ That’s why I’m a buffoon, I’m a buffoon out of shame, great elder, out of shame. I act up just because I’m insecure. If only I were sure, when I came in, that everyone would take me at once for the most pleasant and intelligent of men – oh Lord! What a good man I’d be! Teacher!” he suddenly threw himself on his knees, “what should I do to inherit eternal life?” It was hard even now to tell whether he was joking or was indeed greatly moved.”– The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, p. 43-44“It seems to me that I am constantly being taken for a fool, and because of that I actually become a fool, I am not afraid of your opinions! That’s why I’m a fool – from spite and defiance. I am rowdy because of a lack of trust. It was difficult to decide if he were fooling, or if he actually was depreciating himself.”– The Notebooks for The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, p. 28“1) You have
Will Justice Be Served?: Dostoevsky’s Depiction of Justice in The Brothers Karamazov
One of the major themes of Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov is the concept of justice, both earthly and divine. Dostoevsky investigates the differences between the two forms and examines several aspects of justice. The novel introduces several different philosophies on justice and shows what the people who follow each are like. The investigation of these concepts culminates in a trial, which is the setting for the final demonstration of the power of divine justice. Earthly justice is the far more basic concept introduced in the novel. It simply is the idea of the actual justice system, laws imposed by the government, trials, and the punishments handed down by them. In the novel, earthly justice is represented by several characters with careers in law enforcement, who are introduced towards the end of the novel when Dmitry’s arrest is imminent. Guilt under the system of earthly justice means that the person actually committed the crime he or she is being accused of. For example, in this novel, Dmitry is guilty under earthly justice if he actually killed his father and stole the money that his father had hidden. His previous thoughts and desires are not relevant to whether or not he is guilty, all that matters is if he performed the action he is being accused of. Under the system of earthly justice, it is the burden of those who are responsible for upholding justice to find the concrete evidence that the person they are accusing has committed the crime. This evidence should involve outside witnesses and some physical evidence that helps establish that the person who is accused was definitely involved.In contrast, divine justice is the moral code as handed down by religion. The punishment under the system of divine justice is ending up in Hell rather than Heaven after one’s death. The system of divine justice is based on the notion of man’s immortality. The only punishment received during earthly life is the burden placed on people by their own consciences, which are really just the ingrained teachings of religion helping to prevent them from ending up eternally damned. People may avoid punishment in the afterlife through atonement. One of the major distinctions made between divine and earthly justice is the distinction between sins of omission and sins of commission. Divine justice stands by the principle that sins of omission are worse than sins of commission and should be more severely punished. Manipulating someone else to commit the crime for you is infinitely worse than committing the crime yourself, as it means that you are not only guilty of desiring that a crime be committed, you are responsible for someone else committing a crime. However, in earthly justice the only sin that can be punished is the sin of commission. It is not up to the juries and judges to punish those who lead others into temptation; that is something that must be left up to God. Brothers Karamazov demonstrates many occasions of sins of omission. Smerdyakov is a major agent of temptation and is responsible for quite a number of sins in other people. He does not seem to have any punishment meted out to him; his suicide is not a result of guilt, but rather a method of revenge upon the Karamazov family. He sets up the murder of Fyodor Pavlovich and his own suicide in such a way that all members of the Karamazov family end up hurt. Smerdyakov is depicted as the one truly conscienceless character in the novel. He is the living proof of what would happen to all of society if the belief in God and immortality did not exist. He does not fear earthly justice and doesn’t believe that there is divine justice. Without the threat of divine justice to keep him within the bounds of the moral code, he does whatever he wants in order to obtain the revenge he’s sought for years. He exists in order to lead others into the temptations of doing evil, simultaneously committing sins of commission and omission, all for his own selfish purposes.While Smerdyakov is depicted as the tempter and foil for Ivan Karamazov, Grushenka bears her fair share of the sins of omission as well. When Dmitry is first accused of the murder, she proclaims her own guilt, which is quite true under the principles of divine justice. The entire affair comes about because both Dmitry and Fyodor are trying to woo Grushenka and Dmitry does not have the money to be able to impress her in the same way as his father can. He believes that Fyodor has money that is rightfully his left over from his mother’s death and thus believes that the 3,000 rubles that he learns Fyodor has laid aside for Grushenka are rightfully his. Grushenka is fully aware of this conflict and encourages it, by refusing to choose between the men. She continues to draw out the competition between them, so that she may continue to enjoy the attention from both. When Dmitry is first accused of the parricide, she acknowledges her own guilt and proclaims her love for him. She becomes determined him to follow him anywhere and to share in his punishment as best she can. The major sin of omission comes from Ivan Karamazov. He allowed Smerdyakov to talk him into making it possible for the murder to happen. He had himself fully convinced, albeit unconsciously, that he had no idea of what would happen if he left town when Smerdyakov asked him to, despite Smerdyakov having all but come out and said that Fyodor Pavlovich would be murdered. He confronts Smerdyakov after being convinced of Dmitry’s innocence and comes to terms with the fact that he is actually highly responsible for the murder. He had previously wished for the parricide to take place, which under the bounds of divine justice renders him already guilty of parricide, and then leaves town to let Smerdyakov do as he pleases. This leaves him doubly guilty, as he had the first guilt over wishing for his father’s death and the second guilt for committing the sin of omission that would allow that to happen. Not only did he help provide the opportunity for the parricide, but he is the one who helped convince Smerdyakov that there is no God and no reason to obey earthly laws. He also let Smerdyakov know that he desired his father’s death, thus causing Smerdyakov to believe that he was acting on Ivan’s wishes. Ivan ends up terribly ill and hallucinates conversations with the devil. This is a fairly clear example of divine justice being served, as these hallucinations become strong immediately after realizing his guilt and the image is one of the devil. The devil converses with Ivan about all the theories that he has been proclaiming during the course of the novel. These theories are the same ones that he passed on to Smerdyakov, the ones that helped influence Smerdyakov’s decision to kill Fyodor Pavlovich. Thus, the hallucination is a clear manifestation of Ivan’s guilt. The devil is the master of temptation and in repeating Ivan’s theories back to him, helps to demonstrate just how Ivan was responsible for the temptation of Smerdyakov.The devil haunts Ivan up until the moment that he confesses his crime at Dmitry’s trial. Despite the fact that he knows there is no way he can really prove that Smerdyakov committed the crime, he brings the 3,000 rubles in to the court and declares that Smerdyakov is the actual murderer and that he himself is guilty of planting the idea in Smerdyakov’s head. However, by this point he has been driven insane with guilt and needs to confess his crime in order to relieve himself of the burden. In both this novel and Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky depicts confession as one of the most necessary steps for the atonement of sins and the alleviation of guilt. Ivan’s confession allows him to begin atoning for his guilt, which he continues to try to do by trying to help Dmitry escape after the sentence is passed downThroughout the novel, Dostoevsky demonstrates the extent to which earthly justice and divine justice are connected. The characters frequently debate whether there would be any morality in the world if there were no God. If people cease to believe in God, and thus in an afterlife, then they cease to have a reason to follow the moral code that is in place. After all, as Ivan Karamazov states during the trial, “Who doesn’t desire his father’s death?” (Dostoevsky, p. 651). Without divine justice telling us to honor our fathers and mothers and not to kill, everyone would be out committing parricide. Earthly justice could not have come about or been upheld without divine justice, as there would be no basis for creating laws. Earthly justice is merely a tool which provides a secondary method of enforcing divine justice and helping those who commit sins to atone.The entire trial is a demonstration of the way in which earthly justice can become the tool of divine justice. Dmitry has spent the entire novel struggling within his paradoxical personality, attempting to find a balance between his base, animalistic side and his noble, honorable side. After his lengthy interrogation in Mokroe, he has a dream about an innocent baby suffering and realizes that he has an opportunity to shoulder some of the innocent suffering. This appeals to his better nature and he begins to accept that while he has not committed any crime in an earthly sense, he can atone for his past misdeeds by suffering for the innocents. In this moment, despite all his earlier waffling he has found himself firmly ensconced within the honorable side of his personality. This is especially important because up until this moment he seemed to have settled on the baser side. He had gone to use the 1,500 rubles left over from his initial theft of Katerina’s money, which was the one thing that had been firmly anchoring him as not completely ignoble. As long as he held on to that money, he could still return it to her and thus cease to be a thief and return to merely being a scoundrel. When he went to Mokroe, he was ready to spend all that money and die as a thief. Instead, the prosecutors arrive in time to prevent him from committing suicide, and thus enable him to atone for his past sins and embrace his honorable side.During the trial, the prosecutor who had earlier intervened to prevent Dmitry from committing suicide continues to act as the hand of divine justice, with the result that the man who is convicted is not the one who actually physically committed the act of murder. It is not his job to examine the thoughts of the defendant; if it were purely earthly justice he would just be examining his actions. They hear from many people about Dmitry’s proclamations of parricide and use this fact to determine that he must in fact be guilty, and then ignore the evidence that shows that Dmitry is not the one who actually killed his father. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing to the fact that Dmitry did not have 3,000 rubles in Mokroe, which would be a key point in determining that he did not rob his father and was in fact telling the truth about hoarding the money he had stolen from Katerina Ivanovna. However, since the prosecutors have inadvertently become the agents of divine justice on Earth, they continue to gloss over the facts that disprove their case. It is particularly significant that this occurs in the case of the 3,000 rubles, as the 3,000 rubles and Dmitry’s interactions with Katerina Ivanovna in general are symbolic of his baser side. This demonstrates that Dmitry is not just on trial for the specific crime, which is what an earthly justice trial should be, but rather his whole being is on trial so that he may solidify his rejection of his baser nature and actually follow through on his move towards nobility.There are several other examples of evidence that exonerates Dmitry of having committed an earthly crime being ignored in favor of the prosecutors upholding divine justice. The prosecutors take every incident of Dmitry giving in to his baser side and use that as evidence against him in the interrogation and trial, so that he may atone for all of them and become more firmly settled in his honorable side. They ascribe his lingering over the wounded Grigory as the desire to make sure the lone witness of the crime was dead, rather than the example of compassion it actually was. While Dmitry’s attempt to wipe some of the blood off of Grigory’s face and see that he was still alive was actually an example of his nobler side, the prosecutors are including it among his litany of sins because the action of striking him was purely animalistic. There is no instinct more primitive than fight or flight and it was from this drive that Dmitry struck Grigory; Dmitry had been trying to escape the grounds of his father’s house and panicked upon encountering Grigory and so he acted purely out of an instinct for self-preservation. This is also a truer parricide than if Dmitry had actually killed Fyodor, as Grigory was much more the man who raised Dmitry than Fyodor was. This novel also briefly addresses the issue of mental illness as a defense for crime. One of the strategies of Katerina Ivanovna and the defense attorney is to attempt to get Dmitry declared insane and thus not responsible for any actions he may have taken. However, mental illness has previously been shown to almost always be the result of the victim being overwhelmed by guilt for failing to atone for a sin. Thus, it is no surprise when the doctors who knew Dmitry prior to the trial conclude that he is in fact insane, while the doctor who has been brought in to examine him for the trial concludes that he is perfectly normal. He is using the trial as an opportunity to atone for all his sins, thus he would not be suffering from mental illness when examined by this doctor. The ones who had known him prior to the trial knew him when the two halves of his personality were still at war and he was beginning to give in to the baser side of things.After all the evidence is presented and both lawyers have been given the chance to give their final speeches, Dmitry is found guilty. However, this verdict is clearly not one being handed down from earthly justice, but instead from divine justice. The prosecution, in using the evidence they did, transformed the trial from a question of whether Dmitry had physically committed the crime to whether Dmitry was guilty of giving in to his baser nature. The defense attorney, rather than try to get the trial back to what it was supposed to be, merely spends his time discrediting the prosecution’s witnesses. All in all, the trial serves to present Dmitry with his opportunity to atone for all his sins of the past and present and then start life after prison anew, so that he may begin to follow his honorable side with a clean slate. Although at first glance this seems to be an example of earthly justice failing and condemning an innocent man, it is in fact just an example of divine justice’s supreme power.
Nature of Crime in The Brothers Karamazov
Nature of Crime in The Brothers Karamazov The central act in The Brothers Karamazov is the murder of father Fyodor Karamazov. As such, the novel could be thought of as a crime story, the purpose of which is to find out who committed the heinous act of parricide. Central to any crime story, however, are three important elements: first, is the process of finding out who perpetrated the crime, the “whodunit” part; second, is the determination of what that individual is responsible for or guilty of; and third, is the verification that the crime was committed under the individual’s free-will. This novel, however, does not fulfill any of the three elements of the traditional crime story. Instead, Dostoyevsky sets out to write in The Brothers Karamazov a crime where more than one person is guilty but where it is also unclear what each person is guilty of; it is a story that examines the assumption of free-will and the implication that has on our judgment of the crime. While the story starts out with the Ivan’s theory of “if there is no immortality of the soul, then…everything is lawful” (90), it ultimately swings to the other extreme of “every one is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything” (328). Dostoyevsky, however, through the novel’s indeterminate ending, rejects both these extremes and suggest that the real nature of crime and guilt is somewhere between two theories. The first element of crime that Dostoyevsky examines and rejects is the traditional “whodunit” part of a crime story, that is, the idea that there must be one person who caused and carried out the offense. Yet, in The Brothers Karamazov, the line between who is guilty and who is innocent is not that easy to draw. It is true that there is a trial where Dmitri Karamazov, the eldest brother, is accused and convicted of killing the father. Although all evidence seems to point the other way, it turns out, as Dmitri always proclaimed, that he “is innocent of [his] father’s blood” (870). The actual murderer is Fyodor Karamazov’s illegitimate son, Smerdyakov, who confesses to Ivan that “I did kill him” (725) and showed him the three thousand roubles he also stole. At this point, a traditional murder mystery would have been solved. Smerdyakov is the killer and the one guilty of the crime. Yet, in this story, the murderer proclaims his innocence sincerely. Smerdyakov tells Ivan, “You are the murderer! I was only your instrument, your faithful servant, and it was following your words I did it” (721). Smerdyakov was inspired by Ivan’s theory of “all things are lawful” (730) without God, and believed Ivan “wanted [him] to do it, and went away [to Tchermashnya] knowing all about it” (725). Suddenly, what seems to be a straightforward murder mystery becomes much more complicated. Who is responsible for the crime? Dmitri confessed at one point that he “meant to kill [his father], and perhaps I really might have killed him” (590). Ivan ultimate comes to terms with his implicit guilt in the crime, for “if [Smerdyakov] is the murderer…then I am the murderer, too” (714). Indeed, the whole town wanted and rejoiced in Fyodor’s death, as Lise points out, “everyone loves his having killed your father” (673). Dmitri is the one convicted of the crime at the trial, but in a way, isn’t everyone partly guilty? Everyone wanted old Karamazov dead – does it matter so much who did the physical act? If everyone is guilty to some degree, it raises the question of exactly what each person is guilty of. Is Dmitri guilty of the same thing as Smerdyakov or Ivan? Clearly, Smerdyakov is guilty of physically committing the murder, yet, he did so because he thought he was following Ivan’s orders. But what exactly is Ivan guilty of? For having a philosophy that “all is permitted if there is no God”? Smerdyakov tells Ivan that by going to Tchermashnya “with no reason, simply at [his] word, it shows that you must have expected something from me” (712). But is Ivan then guilty of simply leaving town at Smerdyakov’s request? The murder demonstrates that it is hard, if not impossible, to pin responsibility on someone for causing a crime. Everyone’s action is so interconnected to everyone else’s, is influenced by so many factors that it is foolish to say only one person is responsible for the murder. Dmitri, although he did not physically kill his father, decides he too is guilty after having a dream where babies are crying out of hunger and cold. Dmitri asks “why is the babe poor?” (657) and accepts that “it’s for that babe that I’m going to Siberia. I am not a murderer, but I must go to Siberia!” (657). Dmitri believes he is in some way responsible for another’s suffering. Here, he rejects Ivan’s philosophy – that if everything is permitted, then no one can be guilty or accountable for anything – instead, Dmitri embraces a concept of shared responsibility which stems from the belief that we are all interconnected and our actions impact many others. This is a philosophy advocated by Father Zossima who believes that “every one is really responsible to all men and for all men and for everything” (328). As the moral compass of the novel, Father Zossima seems to be telling us that we are all implicated in the injustice of this world. However, another way of saying we are all responsible for everything is that each of us is responsible for nothing. That is, Father Zossima’s theory takes away the individuality of crime and guilt – if we’re already responsible for “everything”, then where is the accountability for the person who commits a crime? Thus, we can see that Father Zossima’s and Ivan’s theories are really two sides of the same coin – both acquit the individual of the responsibility of crime. In order for a person to be guilty of a crime, that person must commit that crime under free-will, yet free-will as a concept is attacked several times in The Brothers Karamazov. Most famously, Ivan in his Grand Inquisitor story claims that “nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom” (286). Humans need bread and material security, instead of free-will and the burden that comes with the autonomous exercise of one’s mind and judgment. Ivan believes that we are all weighed down with “the fearful burden of free choice” (289) and look for someone to take that burden away from us and want to “again [be] led like sheep” (292). “All that man seeks on earth”, according to Ivan, is “someone to worship, someone to keep his conscience, and…universal unity” (293). Thus, to Ivan, submission and obedience to higher authority is the ideal antithesis to the burden of free choice. Not only Ivan, however, but Father Zossima also advocates a rejection of individual autonomy in favor of obedience to higher authority – that is what the elder system is founded upon. An elder is someone “who tool your soul, your will, into his soul and his will” (27). When you choose your elder, you “renounce your own will and yield it to him in complete submission, complete self-abnegation” (28). However, by renouncing one’s free-will, one also cannot be held accountable for any crime or wrongful deeds, since there cannot be guilt and responsibility when there is no free-will. By challenging the assumption of free-will, Dostoyevsky is also challenging the nature of crime. For when Smerdyakov tells Ivan that he was “only [Ivan’s] instrument, [his] faithful servant” (721), the reader is asked to reevaluate Smerdyakov’s guilt if he indeed killed the father because he thought he was obeying Ivan’s command It seems that Dostoyevsky, through the murder of father Karamazov, questions the three central tenets of any traditional crime story: that there is usually one person responsible, that we are usually clear on what the guilt is, and that the crime is committed under free-will. However, what is the implication of all this? It seems that the novel starts out with Ivan’s theory of “all is permissible without God” but gradually rejects it in favor of Father Zossima’s theory of shared guilt. This explains why Dmitri, although he did not physically commit the murder, accepts the punishment nonetheless because he believes he has a responsibility for more than himself and his actions, that he has a stake in the baby crying out of hunger, that he is responsible in part for all the injustice in the world. Yet, this theory also is weak, for if we are all responsible, then the accountability of individual crimes gets erased and we end up being responsible for no individual action. Moreover, if it is true that Dmitri should accept the guilt and crimes of all others, then why does he try to escape at the end of the novel? Ultimately, he rejects Father Zossima’s theory of bearing responsibility for all evil that is perpetrated in this world. The Brothers Karamazov seems to offer us two theories of crime and nature of guilt and responsibility. While on the surface, the two seem very different – one which advocates that all is lawful and there is no individual responsibility and another that advocates that we should all bear responsibility for each other’s actions. Yet, ultimately, the two theories prove to be similar and both are rejected by the author by the end. What is left in its place? It seems that while Dostoyevsky have rejected the two extreme takes of human nature and crime, he does not offer a convincing alternative. Just like the ending of the novel, where everything is left indeterminate (whether Dmitri successfully escapes, whether Ivan survives, etc), this question too, is left up to the reader. Is there a middle ground between rejecting God and responsibility and having to embrace shared guilt and responsibility for all evil?
Submission in The Brothers Karamazov
Often, authors develop a central idea in a novel by presenting it repeatedly in differing forms throughout the work. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov is a perfect example of this technique. Specifically, over the course of the work Dostoevsky speculates about the nature of submission with respect to major issues such as inter- and intra-personal relationships, freedom, and even happiness. The theme of submission presents itself early on in the text. The father, Fyodor Pavlovich, along with his two older sons and some extended family members, visits the monastery where the third son, Alyosha, is studying. The monastery is characterized by its institution of elders: wise monks who are heralded almost as saints. The elder Zosima is the one who is responsible for teaching Alyosha the principles of the monastery and religion. The elders, and specifically Zosima, introduce the idea of submission with relation to one’s personal freedom. When describing the elders, the narrator states that an elder “is one who takes your soul, your will into his soul and into his will. Having chosen an elder, you renounce your will and give it to him under total obedience and with total self-renunciation” (Dostoevsky 27). Thus, it is clear that men such as Alyosha are expected to place their entire will and being in the hands of a trusted elder. However, this is not an action that has been forced upon him; rather, the narrator describes how one who “dooms himself to this trial” does so willingly; he “does so voluntarily in the hope that after the long trial he will achieve self-conquest, self-mastery to such a degree that he will, finally, through a whole life’s obedience, attain to perfect freedom- that is, freedom from himself” (27-28). In this way, Alyosha and other young men hope to “avoid the lot of those who live their whole lives without finding themselves in themselves” (28). This seemingly paradoxical process allows individuals to attain “perfect freedom” because they are able to find themselves through interactions with other individuals and society. They achieve self-mastery by gaining an understanding of others and their relationships with them. This chapter states that complete obedience- however much of a “trial” it may be- is the way to reach this higher state of existence.The faith that thousands of followers have in the elders, in addition to the trust that young men like Alyosha must have in them, helps to present the elder institution and its customs as highly respectable and trusted. However, the discussion is not without a slight disclaimer. After expounding upon the institution, the narrator adds: It is also true, perhaps, that this tested and already thousand-year-old instrument for the moral regeneration of man from slavery to freedom and to moral perfection may turn into a double-edged weapon, which may lead a person not to humility and ultimate self-control but, on the contrary, to the most satanic pride- that is, to fetters and not to freedom. (29) This represents a stylistic element that is present in regards to almost every major thematic idea in the novel. Rather than providing a concrete answer to great philosophical or moral questions, Dostoevsky creates rounded contemplations that encourage the reader to examine both sides of a question before jumping to conclusions. In this case, Dostoevsky’s narrator quite bluntly reminds the reader that the heralded elder teaching practice always has the capacity to become destructive rather than productive. He seems to be hinting that there is hardly ever a simple solution to a big problem, particularly those concerning concepts like morality and man’s existence on earth. Dostoevsky even goes so far as to suggest that the saintly elders could give rise to “satanic pride.” An interaction that Zosima has with a lady landowner, Madam Khokhlakov, indirectly provides insight as to how the elders seek to achieve freedom and self-control through their relations with others. The woman is anguished by her lack of faith in the afterlife and her inability to perform altruistic deeds without expecting gratitude in return. She states: “I work for pay and demand my pay at once, that is, praise and a return of love for my love. Otherwise I’m unable to love anyone!” (57) Zosima relates her predicament to that of a doctor with whom he once spoke who said, “the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons,” because “as soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom” (57). This inverse proportion suggests that it is not possible to love both individuals and humanity equally. However, Zosima himself seems to contradict this idea, since he appears to be dedicated to and loved by both individuals (such as Alyosha) and by general society. In addition, it is interesting to note that freedom and self-esteem are inhibited by the presence of other individuals, an exact reverse of the previously described goal of the elders. Zosima’s solution to Madam Khokhlakov’s dilemma is the practice of “active love,” which he describes as “labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a whole science” (58). Zosima instructs the lady: Try to love your neighbors actively and tirelessly. The more you succeed in loving, the more you’ll be convinced of the existence of God and the immortality of your soul. And if you reach complete selflessness in the love of your neighbor, then undoubtedly you will believe, and no doubt will even be able to enter your soul. This has been tested. It is certain. (56) Previously it was described that meaningful relationships (such as selfless love) allow one to find oneself and attain perfect freedom. In this case, the same relationships bring security and faith about God and immortality, suggesting that the two are interconnected. Zosima’s assertions that this has “been tested” and “is certain” help the reader recall the earlier presence of Zosima’s method: self-mastery through self-renunciation and submission. However, rather than telling the woman to join the monastery, Zosima seems to imply that complete submission to a higher power is attainable outside of the institution. As described earlier, selflessness and altruism allow one to better realize and control oneself. In fact, during Zosima’s conversation with the woman, he references her need for retribution when interacting with others; she realizes that she was indeed expecting praise from him, and exclaims: “You’ve brought me back to myself, you’ve caught me out and explained me to myself!” (58) Therefore, although the theme of submission is present both when discussing the elders and Zosima’s meeting with Madam Khokhlakov, the nature and premises for submission vary slightly. An interpersonal situation further in the text presents the theme of submission in another slightly different form. A young woman named Katerina Ivanovna is torn between marrying Fyodor’s older son Dmitri and being with his brother, Ivan. Alyosha, known for his intrinsic ability to immediately perceive the inner workings of other characters, has some insight about Katerina’s situation. The narrator states that he “sensed by some sort of instinct that a character like Katerina Ivanovna must rule, and that she could only rule over a man like Dmitri, but by no means over a man like Ivan” (186-187.) The reason for this is that Dmitri “might finally submit to her ‘for his own happiness,’… but not Ivan, Ivan could not submit to her, and such submission would not bring him happiness” (187.) Whereas previously submission was discussed in reference to attaining freedom, in Katerina’s case submission is considered with respect to the happiness of individuals. As the novel develops, it becomes apparent that Ivan continuously agonizes over inner philosophical conflicts concerning morality, immortality, faith, and humanity. He could not submit to Katerina because he is constantly in a state of doubt, skepticism, and mistrust; even if he attempted to submit to Katerina, he would be unhappy because he would never be fully loving and secure with her. On the other hand, Dmitri is presented as a character that, though often carried away with his passions, has a strong inclination towards morality, faith, and love. He could theoretically submit to Katerina because he can recognize how to attain happiness with individuals and humanity. Katerina’s situation thus relates submission to happiness and the issue of doubt versus faith, a major conflict that resonates throughout the work. Interestingly, Katerina herself offers entirely different conceptions about her relationships with Dmitri and Ivan- yet another instance where Dostoevsky presents the reader with several differing views on a conflict. Unlike Alyosha’s speculations, Katerina’s comments are less easy to interpret because she often contradicts herself and appears less secure and perceptive than Alyosha. Early in the text, Dmitri tells Alyosha how Katerina wrote him a love letter asking to be his fiancée, in which she says: “Don’t be afraid, I shan’t hinder you in any way, I’ll be your furniture, the rug you walk on… I want to love you eternally, I want to save you from yourself” (116). In this letter alone Katerina seems to contradict herself. She at first appears submissive, willing to give herself entirely to Dmitri, even to the point of being merely the “rug” he walks on. However, at the end she says that she wants to save Dmitri from himself, a proactive statement that necessarily puts Dmitri in the position of submission rather than Katerina. Later, Katerina speaks with Alyosha herself and tells him that she wants to remain loyal to Dmitri; she says: “And let him see throughout his whole life, that all my life I will be faithful to him and to the word I once gave, despite the fact that he was faithless and betrayed me” (189). In the same conversation, Katerina also exclaims, “as if in frenzy”: “I will insist that he finally know me and tell me everything without being ashamed…I will be his god, to whom he shall pray…I shall become simply…the instrument, the mechanism of his happiness” (189). Thus, although it may appear that Katerina wants to be loyal to Dmitri- which she associates also with submission to him- she intends to obtain control over Dmitri in order to direct how he obtains happiness and an escape from his troubles. In other words, she wants Dmitri to submit fully to her, placing her in a position of power somewhat like that of the elders. In fact, the precise word “instrument” is used in reference to both the elder’s method of achieving freedom and Katerina’s desire to control Dmitri (29, 189). Compared to the respected and trusted Alyosha’s outside point of view, Katerina’s contradictory and emotional commentary on her situation seems less sincere and believable. Dostoevsky is most likely using the incongruence between the views as a subtle way of helping develop the conflict between being faithful and loving, like Alyosha, or ridden with distrust and doubts, like Katerina. The development of Ivan’s character and a passage he recites called the Grand Inquisitor offers some of the richest commentary on fundamental conflicts discussed in the novel, including submission with relation to both freedom and happiness. Before the passage, Ivan discusses his inability to reconcile human suffering- particularly that of children- and how because of it he is unable to submit to the religious principles that others abide by and rely on. In this conversation, he mentions that “it’s still possible to love one’s neighbor abstractly, and even occasionally from a distance, but hardly ever up close” (237). This statement recalls the inverse proportion mentioned earlier by Zosima about the inability to love both individuals and humanity. Ivan even states that “if we’re to love a man, the man himself should stay hidden, because as soon as he shows his face- love vanishes” (237). Ivan believes that while one may have faith in humanity abstractly, it is rare to find an individual that one can truly love because there are so many bad qualities to be found in them- people sin and cause suffering. In the proceeding prose on the Grand Inquisitor, Ivan reveals many of his own intellectual conjectures about religion and the existence of God. The Grand Inquisitor is a cardinal who was prominent during the Inquisition, a period where thousands of people were declared heretics and burned to death. In Ivan’s passage, the Grand Inquisitor encounters Christ in a jail cell and monologues to him about the purpose and beliefs of those governing the church. His criticism of Christ is based on Christ’s rejection of the three temptations, which he views as symbolic of “all that man seeks on earth, that is: someone to bow down to, someone to take over his conscience, and a means for uniting everyone at last into a common, concordant, and incontestable anthill” (257). By rejecting the temptations- bread, the opportunity to perform a miracle, and power- Christ allowed people to retain their freedom, in the form of free will and the ability to decide for themselves who to follow and what is wrong or right. For instance, the Grand Inquisitor describes what he thought Christ meant by rejecting bread: “you did not want to deprive man of freedom and rejected the offer, for what sort of freedom is it, you reasoned, if obedience is bought with loaves of bread?” (252). The concept of obedience being “bought” is entirely juxtaposed to the obedience described earlier, where young men willingly submit fully to elders. Although the passage seems intended to criticize Christ, it actually often aligns Christ with the teachings of the monastery that have been presented so far, supporting its message and intentions. The theory behind the Grand Inquisitor’s rule is that people would rather have a defined source to obey and attain a sense of morality from, rather than be burdened by free will. He mockingly asks Christ: “Is that how human nature was created- to reject the miracle, and in those terrible moments of life, the moments of the most terrible, essential, and tormenting questions of the soul, to remain only with the free decision of the heart?” (255). The Grand Inquisitor instead feels that “freedom, free reason, and science will lead them into such a maze, and confront them with such miracles and insoluble mysteries, that some of them, unruly and ferocious, will exterminate themselves… exterminate each other…[or] cry out [to the church] – ‘save us from ourselves’” (258). The mention of saving one from oneself is similar to that encountered earlier in Katerina’s dilemma- by taking control over someone, you may help them attain a sense of freedom. However, this sense of freedom is false, and stems from having an authority figure dictate morality to them, which is not the freedom that Christ was seeking. Thus, the Grand Inquisitor feels that submission to the church brings people happiness from not having to make important decisions- a false sense of freedom. The Grand Inquisitor passage also comments on the inverse proportion between loving individuals and loving mankind. He presents himself as though he loves mankind, asking: “Have we not, indeed, loved mankind, in so humbly recognizing their impotence, in so lovingly alleviating their burden and allowing their feeble nature even to sin, with our permission?” (257) However, the method which the Grand Inquisitor uses to obtain the obedience of mankind involves slaughtering individuals- hardly a sign of love for mankind. It may be that it truly is impossible to love both individuals and mankind, or it may be that so far the only character who may have suggested that it is possible is Zosima, who advocated active love as a “tested” method for achieving love for all. Dostoevsky offers a multitude of viewpoints on the theme of submission and its relation to relationships, humanity, freedom, and happiness. Though a definite resolution is never provided, readers may speculate on the commentary provided and may decide on an answer for themselves.
Russia and The Brothers Karamazov
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, exaggerates the extremes of Russia, saying that “[Russians] need continually…two extremes at the same moment, or they are miserable and dissatisfied and their existence is incomplete. They are wide, wide as mother Russia.” In many of his works, Dostoyevsky’s characters represent thoughts and ideas greater then themselves. Set during a period of conflict for the Russian people, Dostoyevsky uses allegorical characters to show the conflicting ideals in his isolated society and in Russia as a whole. The characters’ flaws are magnified by this comparison and are used to show the influence of pride on men, as well as the effects of fate and faith.Dostoyevsky’s Russia, like the Karamazovs, was rife with extreme thoughts and ideas that were ready to collapse under the strain. Dmitri is strong and powerful, but he is also quick to act and does not consider the effects of his words and actions. Throughout the novel, Dmitri fights his love of two women, and ultimately undergoes a sudden emotional transformation. He quickly moves from extreme hubris to extreme humility; however, it is his hubris that leads to his conviction for his father’s murder. When Dmitri is arrested and put on trial, his lawyer tells the jury that it is better to “acquit ten guilty men then to condemn one innocent one.” Dostoyevsky uses Dmitri as a tool to reflect the conflict in Russia over the proper service of justice and the necessity of the death penalty.Standing in sharp contrast to Dmitri is Alyosha, who represents the purity and hope of Russia. Alyosha is fair, kind, and willing to make any sacrifice necessary to help those he loves. When Zossima dies and his corpse rots, Alyosha leaves the corruption of the monastery. Alyosha is torn between his absolute faith and his disgust for the elders at the monastery. The religious conflict that Alyosha experiences is a motif that is woven throughout the novel. Each character, in turn, experiences a conflict that makes him reconsider the effects of fate and free will and the necessity of faith. Dostoyevsky says that “so long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship…For the sake of common worship they’ve slain each other with the sword.” The characters look for someone to worship, and when they find no one, they are destroyed. Alyosha is the only character to regain his faith, and he only finds it because of a child.The influence of faith and doubt is shown not only in Alyosha, but also in Dmitri. Dmitri has no faith in God, only in fate. Dostoyevsky portrays Dmitri as a man driven to commit crimes and then place blame on fate. Although it is unlikely that Dmitri killed Fyodor since Smerdyakov confesses, he goes to his father’s home with the intention of killing him for money. Dmitri says he understands now that “such men as I need a blow, a blow of destiny to catch them as with a noose…I accept my punishment, not because I killed him, but because I meant to kill him.” Dmitri is a reflection of Russia because of his desperation for money and his willingness to commit any action to get the funds he needs. Grushenka and Katerina, the women who tear Dmitri apart, speak to the contrasting levels in the Russian caste system. Although both women are wealthy, Grushenka is considered part of the lower class, while Katerina is in the upper class. Together, they force Dmitri to make a decision about who he loves, but although he loves Grushenka, he is in debt to Katerina. Dostoyevsky uses Dmitri to reveal the futility of choosing between love and money.In “The Grand Inquisitor,” Ivan asks what will happen to those people “who will not have the strength to forego the earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly.” Suffering from the effects of a tyrannical reign and a caste system, Russia became a place of religious doubt, as people began to believe “there is no crime, and therefore no sin, there is only hunger.” Ivan questions God’s existence because he fears for the absolution of the Russian people. In this section, Dostoyevsky also questions the concepts of justice and forgiveness. A child who is murdered can forgive his murderer, but his mother has no right to forgive her child’s killer. “She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will. Let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother’s heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive him!” Dostoyevsky shows that the Russian people can forgive the crimes committed against them, but that they have no right to forgive the crimes committed against others.When Ivan begins to lose his grip on reality, he comes to believe that he is being visited by Satan. They discuss the effects of the belief in heaven and hell on humanity, and the contrast between heaven and hell. They acknowledge the fact that “nothing human is beyond the possibility of Satan” since “man has created him in his own image and likeness.” Ivan accuses his delusion of doing nothing but repeating his old thoughts and ideas, but Satan says that he does not simply repeat Ivan’s thoughts. “I am not answerable for it [sin]. Well, they’ve chosen their scapegoat…So against the grain I serve to produce events and do what’s irrational because I am commanded to…men take this farce as something serious, and that is their tragedy.” Satan is meant to show how every character is his own worst enemy. Accusing him of being the root of all evil is an evasion of the truth: man, like Russia, creates his own hell.Like Russia, the characters in The Brothers Karamazov are influenced by their desire to experience extremes. They want faith and doubt, hunger and opulence, guilt and innocence, God and Satan. Dostoyevsky creates a nameless town in Russia and tells a story from the perspective of a nameless narrator, thus symbolizing the corruption taking place all across Russia. Dostoyevsky portrays a Russia that is corrupted and confused, but that still holds an element of hope. The characters are held accountable for their crimes, but the conflicts are not entirely resolved and the ending is left open to interpretation and manipulation.
Laceration in The Brothers Karamazov
In his essay, “The Brothers Karamazov: Idea and Technique” Edward Wasiolek examines two aspects of Dostoevsky’s work. He begins with an exposition of the scene in Elder Zosima’s cell and Ivan’s internal struggles with religion, and then follows this with a detailed look at the relationship between Dmitri and Katerina. Both of these sections have much to say about the novel as a whole, especially when viewed together. However, before a discussion of their combined significance can begin, each one of these parts of the essay must be understood by itself.Wasiolek begins his essay by acclaiming Dostoevsky’s introduction to The Brothers Karamazov. The preliminary scene in Zosima’s cell is essential because it sets the stage for the entire novel, and it raises questions that will be addressed throughout. The conflicts of “child against father; humility against hate; monastery against the world; expiation against threat” (Wasiolek, 813) are all introduced. In addition to this, the reader is made aware of Ivan’s questions with regard to religion. Wasiolek emphasizes the importance of the doubts that Ivan has because, in his own words, “The external drama is Ivan’s internal drama” (814). All that occurs in the cell is a representation of Ivan’s conflict of ideas about the existence of God and His treatment or mistreatment of man. This premise is carried on throughout the novel, as the reader is continually forced to judge the characters’ actions based on whether or not God exists and whether His existence necessitates obedience and respect.The second part of Wasiolek’s essay examines Dmitri and Katerina’s relationship. The first point that he makes is that their relationship is full of irregularities, specifically on the part of Katerina. Her actions toward Dmitri continually contradict each other. “Her fitful character sweeps her from love to hate, generosity to spite, arrogance to submissiveness” (816). Her actions seem to encourage him to both love and hate her. After studying the nature of Katerina’s love for Dmitri, Wasiolek attempts to ascertain the reasons behind her actions, turning to the first encounter between Dmitri and Katerina for explanation. At this meeting, Dmitri gives Katerina the money without getting anything in return, after which they exchange low bows. Wasiolek suggests that these bows completely humiliate Katerina, for she has previously considered herself of a much higher quality than Dmitri. Now, however, he has done a respectable thing for her, and she must return it. Her pride is severely injured by his act of sacrifice, and it is this that causes her actions from that time forward to be what they are. “Is it any wonder, then, that she is obsessed, from this point on, with only one idea: to save Dmitri, to sacrifice herself wholly and fully, to repay the burning insult of sacrifice with the burning insult of sacrifice” (818). In order to fulfill her need to be noble, Katerina forgives all of Dmitri’s wrongs against her. In fact, at times she even encourages him to act in ways that will debase her so that she can forgive him in the name of love. However, Dmitri despises this love and feels persecuted by the forgiveness of Katerina, a concept that she cannot understand. Wasiolek continues to explicate Katerina’s love for Dmitri in terms of laceration. He asserts that what Dostoevsky meant by this term was “a purposeful and pleasurable self-hurt” (820). Katerina uses “love” for Dmitri to fulfill her own purposes, to build up her pride in her own goodness.Wasiolek’s analysis of these two aspects of The Brothers Karamazov is very accurate and complete. My initial reaction upon completion of the study of his thoughts was one of general agreement. However, the more I considered his words, the more one aspect of his essay intrigued me. Because this one aspect of the article drew me to greater reflection than any of the other parts combined, it shall be the focus of my discussion from this point forward. The point of disturbance to which I am referring is the question of Wasiolek’s motives in including examination of both Ivan’s religious views and the relationship between Dmitri and Katerina in his essay. In other words, what is the relationship between these two seemingly unrelated aspects of the novel that would induce Wasiolek to critique them both together? Wasiolek does not answer this question, but leaves his readers to approach its answer on their own. I believe that he provides sufficient clues throughout the text for the reader to infer an answer though.The greatest unifying concept between the two sections of Wasiolek’s essay is the idea of laceration. Wasiolek goes into great detail to explain Katerina’s laceration for Dmitri, and then mentions briefly in concluding that Ivan also practices laceration. I think that it would have been very interesting for Wasiolek to explore this idea more, for everything else in his essay builds into it. Katerina and Ivan’s lacerations are very similar, for they are both based on a willingness to accept humiliation and even condemnation for what they perceive to be a higher goal. Katerina lacerates herself to Dmitri in attempt to restore her pride and nobleness after he bows to her, while Dmitri lacerates himself to God because he believes that God is unjust. As is made clear in the Grand Inquisitor scene, he would rather suffer condemnation by denying Christ than follow a God who allows great suffering and injustice to occur. Ivan feels that God has made the earthly life too difficult for the multitudes to truly be virtuous and happy at the same time. “Feed men, and then ask of them virtue” (Dostoevsky, 233). Katerina and Ivan are both proud, and they are angry that an action was done for them that cannot be justified or explained logically (Dmitri’s freely loaning the money and God’s sacrifice for man’s sins). For them, acceptance of these things is akin to humiliation and an acquiescence to their weakness and dependency.Though the previous paragraph explains why Katerina and Ivan lacerate themselves, it does not explain why Dostoevsky includes these two examples of laceration in his novel, nor why Wasiolek includes them in his essay. I think that the answer, at least from a Christian perspective, is evident in the difference between Katerina and Ivan. Their difference is this: while Katerina is the making a sacrifice for the purpose of laceration, Ivan is rejecting the sacrifice of another for the sake of laceration. This difference is key. In order to explain its significance, it is helpful to turn one’s comparison from Katerina and Ivan to Dmitri and Ivan, for they are the ones who both reject the sacrifice. First of all, Ivan rejects Christ’s sacrifice because of his pride. As Wasiolek’s essay makes clear, Ivan believes that if God exists He should be manifested in all areas of society (expressed in Elder Zosima’s cell) and should be understandable to man. Because these things are not true to Ivan, he rejects the idea of God on principle2E He has been given the freedom by Christ to do this. Dmitri, on the other hand, cannot reject Katerina’s sacrifice. He is forced to suffer under her pride. The significance is that Christ’s sacrifice is perfect and can be rejected, while Katerina’s sacrifice is selfish and harmful and cannot be rejected. The difference in the actions of Dostoevsky’s characters makes a statement about the nature of love. True love is not laceration; rather it is quite the opposite, for love is not proud or self-seeking and does not aim to harm. Our human love can never fulfill this completely, for only in Christ is there the example of absolutely pure love.In conclusion, the original thought of the combined importance of these two sections of the novel must be revisited. The preceding discussion has shown that they are significantly related and that together they make a profound statement about the vast difference between human nature and the love of Christ, thus answering one of Dostoevsky’s main questions about the nature of God and religion.Works CitedDostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Ed. Ralph E. Matlaw. Trans. Constance Garnett. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976.Wasiolek, Edward. “The Brothers Karamazov: Idea and Technique.” 813-21.
Religiosity and Freedom in The Brothers Karamazov
The chapter entitled “The Grand Inquisitor” is unquestionably an integral part of The Brothers Karamazov. The poem allows Ivan to express many of the reasons that he cannot accept certain aspects of Christ’s behavior, the existence of God, and mankind’s intertwined freedom and suffering. Within the poem, the Grand Inquisitor represents one paradigm of belief, while Christ represents the antithesis. This is paralleled by Ivan’s beliefs contrasting with Alyosha’s in the frame of the novel itself. “The Grand Inquisitor” serves mainly to delineate the conflict between the two principal belief systems evident in The Brothers Karamazov – that of accepting mankind’s freedom, and therefore his suffering, and that of rejecting it.Those of unwavering faith are able to blindly accept the world and everything about it. They do not question mankind’s suffering, instead attributing it to a larger, infallible plan of God’s. They do not need to understand in order to accept. To them, earthly suffering is a small price to pay for the eternal rewards they will eventually reap. The suffering, whether supernal or otherwise, is viewed as ameliorative for both character and faith. They have accepted the burden of freedom placed on them by their God, and sought the strength and wisdom to control that freedom from their God. They do not view their freedom as a “burden,” however, instead seeing the process whereby they master their freedom as a beneficial experience. Only in this manner are they able to accept the otherwise intolerable suffering of the innocent. Alyosha strongly adheres to this belief system. He firmly believes that though it is indeed unpleasant, the suffering of the innocent is not in vain. God allows events to unfold according to a divine plan, which ultimately benefits all of mankind. The suffering of the innocent is akin to the sacrifice of the lamb, the crucifixion of Christ. The blood of the innocent has always been requisite to that which is most valuable – in this case, human freedom. Ivan challenges Alyosha as to whether or not he would found a world in which happiness would reign if that paradise were built upon the suffering of one innocent, and Alyosha responds that though he would not, that is indeed the action which Christ himself took. Alyosha responds to Ivan saying that he has forgotten the one who “…gave His innocent blood for everyone’s sins and everyone’s sakes” (296). Christ chose to give his life, in order that mankind would have the freedom to choose to come to him. Alyosha has, through the strength of his faith, accepted both the freedom and the suffering laid upon him. He has accepted God.The Grand Inquisitor represents those who lack faith. They accept nothing freely, and instead question and challenge that which they do not comprehend, and reject that which cannot be answered. Their view of the suffering of the innocent and the freedom man possesses differs from that of those endowed with great faith. In place of faith, they have questions: Why must innocents suffer? Why must good come only through suffering? Why would a merciful, benevolent God cause anyone to suffer, much less the innocent? Why would Christ place so unbearable a burden as freedom on the shoulders of man, when he clearly cannot wield it? Until these questions can be answered, they simply can accept neither the suffering of the innocent nor the freedom of man. Until they can accept the suffering and the freedom, they cannot accept God.Ivan, from the early stages of his life, questioned the circumstances around him and rejected that which he could not comprehend. He could not accept anything freely, including the charity on which he spent his childhood. The narrator says of Ivan, “I gather that by the time he was ten, he had become very aware that he… was living on other people’s charity” (17). Because of this awareness, he began writing for journals as soon as he could, to support himself. This same fervent need for independence applied even when Ivan was in need of money. The narrator says, “It must be pointed out that…[Ivan] made no attempt whatsoever to ask his father for assistance” (17). Ivan’s inability to accept munificence freely applied to all aspects of his life. This was the cause of Ivan’s rejection of God. Ivan simply could not accept the salvation and mercy bought with Christ’s innocent blood – the greatest act of charity. Likewise, he could not accept the freedom Christ bought for mankind when he refused Satan’s temptations. Ivan found the suffering of innocents utterly repugnant, and in accepting the sacrifice of Christ, he would have been accepting the greatest instance of the unexpiated suffering of an innocent. This chapter, “The Grand Inquisitor,” personifies the ideological struggle that is prevalent throughout this novel by assigning each philosophy a tangible character to represent it. Through this book, Dostoevsky seeks to illustrate the tragic error in one’s inability to accept Christ that will lead to one’s ultimate demise. This poem of Ivan’s, as well as Ivan’s experiences throughout the entire novel, serve to more lucidly make this point. Within “The Grand Inquisitor” itself, the Grand Inquisitor and those he leads are also pictured as being spiritually dead as a result of having rejected Christ and having been deprived of the freedom for which he gave his innocent blood. Dostoevsky wishes the reader to realize the folly in not accepting Christ’s sacrifice by contrasting Ivan’s physical and spiritual emaciation with Alyosha’s physical and spiritual salubrity. Acceptance of Christ is not only acceptance of mankind’s freedom and suffering though; it is also the belief that with Christ, one has the strength to bear that freedom, and that the suffering of the innocent will in the end, bear more fruit.
The Inquisition and the Quadrillion Miles
“You see, like you, I suffer from the fantastic and so I love the realism of earth. Here, with you, everything is circumscribed, here all is formulated and geometrical, while we have nothing but indeterminate questions!”(said to Ivan by “The Devil”, 776)Through Ivan, Dostoevsky sets up an impossible question that aims at the mystery of faith, the mystery of being able, paradoxically, to accept something that defies logic. Ivan desperately wants to believe; he has a strong mystical element to his character, but is tormented simultaneously by a bitterly imperative sense of rationality. This duality is his torment, his own personal paradoxical hell; his rational mind renders him unable to accept the God he so wants to believe in. The complex nature of his character is such that this emptiness is, for him, a torture. In his simplest sentiments, Ivan wants to believe in God with the same full-hearted faith as Alyosha. But in his fatal proclivity to measure his mysticism against his rationality, he stamps out the space for anything so enigmatic and incomprehensible, so “indeterminate” as faith. Ivan’s difficulty is not that he doesn’t believe in God, (on the contrary, it is his belief in God that rends his soul), but that he can’t bring himself to accept “God’s world”. What keeps Ivan from the perceived comfort of faith cannot accept the illogic of a world that, among other transgressions of reason, would allow children to suffer. Nor can he accept the idea of ultimate harmony in the Kingdom of God, if it is at a cost so detrimental as the suffering of even one innocent child. That God could allow such horror defies Ivan’s stubborn, stringent sense of logic. Ivan struggles, stuck “half-way” between faith and despair. He loves life, but he cannot reconcile the fact that he loves it “… regardless of logic…”(274). He cannot affirm, or even justify his love for the “… sticky little leaves as they open in spring…”(273) as it is without reason or rational “meaning”. Ivan reveals himself most often not through direct dialogue, (in conversation he is slippery and hidden), but through strange parables and visions. In his tale of The Grand Inquisitor’, Ivan reveals the true, torturous nature of his relationship with God.In his fantastical “poem,” Ivan recounts a meeting between the Grand Inquisitor and Christ at the height of the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. Christ has come to earth again and is mysteriously recognized by all who see Him, including the Grand Inquisitor himself, who orders Him seized and imprisoned; there follows a “dialogue” between the two men. The tale is a representation of the elements that are at war within Ivan. The Inquisitor is Ivan’s relentless logical mind, and Christ represents Ivan’s faith — silent, and unable to answer any questions, but always undeniably, infuriatingly present. Ivan’s logic is bitterly furious with God, because it is God’s existence that is the center of the paradox tormenting him. The Inquisitor berates God for having condemned man with the freedom that makes him so unhappy. The Inquisitor even sneers at God, mocking Him, boasting that he has made Him obsolete: “… and we shall have an answer for all. And they will be glad to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves…”(308). Ivan is fatally caught between belief and reason, and he blames God. “The heart has its reasons that reason cannot know.”(Pascal) Ivan’s dilemma is that he does not allow for his heart’ — his reason’ must know’ everything. Ivan’s iron sense of reason has rendered him a man unable to justify even the most instinctive of his convictions; for Ivan as an intellectual, to exist without even faith in existence, is torture. Father Zossima discerns this torture in Ivan in the “unfortunate gathering” between the elder and the family Karamazov. In this revelatory scene, Zossima illuminates the paradox that wrenches Ivan’s soul, the eternal paradox of the question of God’s existence: “… the question is still fretting your heart… in your despair, you, too, divert yourself with magazine articles, and discussions in society, though you don’t believe your own arguments, and with an aching heart mock them inwardly… That question you have not answered, and it is your great grief, for it clamors for an answer… If it can’t be decided in the affirmative, it will never be decided in the negative.”(79). By the same brutally rigid sense of logic that prevents Ivan from committing to the certainty of God’s existence, he can never commit to the certainty of His non-existence. It is not, however, Ivan’s inability to commit to the existence of God that leads to his spiritual and mental collapse, rather it is his inability to commit to humanity. According to Dostoevsky, faith in God and faith in man are consecutive and inter-reliant, and for Ivan, lack of one has led to the lack of the other. Of the two, it is his lack of faith in humanity that proves to be the more fatal for Ivan.When Smerdyakov confesses to the murder of Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov, Ivan is forced to a recognition of his criminal irresponsibility. Ivan’s soul is shaken at the realization that all those nights around the dinner table when he was spouting empty philosophy and meaningless conclusions, as if life were nothing but a game of logic, there was someone taking every word for truth, as if it had come from “God Almighty”(737). “For every individual… who does not believe in God or immortality… crime must become, not only lawful but even recognized as the inevitable, the most rational, even honorable outcome of his position. There is no virtue if there is no immortality.”(79) It is this absolutism that rends Ivan’s soul. For Ivan there exist only two possibilities: either there is no God and everything is permissible, or God exists along with Absolute Virtue. There is no middle ground, because to relinquish the absolute is to throw oneself into the impossible paradox — God exists, but there is no virtue, and everything is permissible. But Ivan cannot renounce his absolutist’s logic, and it is out of this profound faith-lessness that Ivan speaks, and, unconsciously, “… puts [Smerdyakov] up to murder…”(751). In visiting Smerdyakov therefore, Ivan is confronting the incarnation of the malicious fruits of his own reasoning mind. In his logical scheme of the world, Ivan has neglected to give validity to life and humanity, although he remains a part of life and humanity despite his self-imposed exile in the cold realm of intellect and reason. In hearing Smerdyakov’s confession, Ivan must come to terms with the fact that he has not been isolated from man. He finally understands that “… we are all responsible to all for all…”(362), and that he has disgracefully shirked his responsibility. Ivan’s wretched guilt goes beyond the murder of his father; he understands that he is guilty of invalidating humanity, and his only redemption is to confess his part in his father’s murder, and so begin to accept his recognized responsibility. Symbolizing that he has resolved to accept his duty to humanity, on his way from his last interview with Smerdyakov, Ivan spends an hour helping the peasant whom he had previously knocked down in the snow find warmth and shelter.At this point, Ivan has leaped from the rational extreme to the mystical, human extreme of his fatal absolutism. In a last strange parable, Ivan comes face to face with his devil, Logic. In this surreal scene, it becomes clear that Ivan’s fatal weakness is not merely his logic, but his absolutism. The reader understands that if only Ivan could exist between the paradox rather than deny it, if only he could affirm and embrace the contradiction and irrationality of life, he would be redeemed from insanity. “No, you must go and deny, without denial there’s no criticism and what would a journal be without a column of criticism? Without criticism it would be nothing but one hosannah’. But nothing but hosannah is not enough for life, the hosannah must be tried in the crucible of doubt and so on….”(780) Ivan is willing to live only one extreme or the other; the distance between the two is a “quadrillion miles”, and he is not willing to accept the arduous journey — in his desperation, he still believes in the simple absolute of the “one hosannah”. But even this belief is shattered when Ivan learns of Smerdyakov’s suicide. Ivan now recognizes that the impossible simplicity toward which he was desperately striving is truly impossible. He can no longer redeem himself from his damning logic by confessing and receiving punishment for his part in his father’s murder. The paradox has multiplied and compounded itself until Ivan’s spirit, in its weakness (for it has been weak all along), collapses of “brain fever”: “… hesitation, suspense, conflict between belief and disbelief — is sometimes such torture to a conscientious man…”(784).Afflicted with a chronic faithless-ness, Ivan is truly a tragic figure. Condemned to allow himself to live only through the lens of his common sense, the “indeterminate questions” infuriate and exasperate Ivan’s “three-dimensional mind”. Through Ivan, Dostoesvky sounds the question of the value of intelligence and reason, if it is at the cost of compassion, humanity, and faith. Ivan undergoes a breakdown because his soul lacks the strength to travel the quadrillion miles. The paradox of Ivan’s weakness is tragic — because he cannot believe in the “two seconds of joy”, he will never find even one moment of respite from the torture of his self-defeating logic.
The Brothers Karamazov: A Psychoanalytic Approach
When reading a book as brilliant as The Brother’s Karamazov, one wonders where Dostoevsky’s inspiration came from. According to Sigmund Freud, the novel must not be studied as a fiction but as a science, that being psychology. It seems that the innermost thoughts of Dostoevsky were manifested in his characters. Dostoevsky, just like every other boy, experienced the Oedipal complex during his childhood. Freud says that at this stage in a boy’s life, he has the desire to kill his father in order to obtain his mother, but at the same time he admires and loves his father. Due to his father’s harsh disposition and his eventual murder, Dostoevsky was never able to get over his conflicting feelings of guilt. The protagonists in The Brothers Karamazov represent warring aspects of Dostoevsky’s psyche. It is an allegory in which Dostoevsky’s harshly sadistic superego, which inflicts all the feelings of guilt he felt about his father’s murder, is represented by Fyodor Pavlovich, his pleasure-driven id, which is his impulsive desire to kill his father, is represented by Smerdyakov, and his guilt-ridden ego is represented by the other three brothers, Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha.
Sigmund Freud identifies three major parts that make up the human psyche: the id, the ego, and the superego. In a healthy individual these three parts work in tandem with each other, creating a well functioning human being. The id, the most primal part of the psyche, strives only to satisfy immediate urges based on impulse. As an individual grows up and his brain develops, the ego forms. In his essay “The Ego and the Id,: Freud states that the ego is “the part of the id that has been modified by the direct influence of the external world” (630). It performs the vital function of controlling the id’s actions. If you imagine the id to be a free-flowing river, the ego acts as a dam that can open and close, allowing the river to flow or not to flow, depending on the greater needs of the individual in the circumstances that he finds himself in. A person for example may have the desire to kill someone, but because the ego identifies that a punishment may ensue as a result of this action, the ego stops the id from acting on its impulse. Last to develop, the superego operates as a psychological force examining, interpreting, and judging the thoughts and feelings of the ego. Like a parent towards his child, the superego praises or censures the ego’s actions. This represents Freud’s Perception System and its inner workings. When a person’s superego is perverted however, the other parts of the psyche become perverted as well. Freud explains the reason for these perversions in his essay “Dostoevsky and Parricide”: the Superego is the inheritor of the parental influence. If the father was hard, violent, or cruel, the superego takes over those attributes from him and forms abnormal relations between the ego and superego. The superego has become sadistic, and the ego becomes masochistic. A great need for punishment develops in the ego, and in part finds satisfaction in ill treatment by the superego. (104) Dostoevsky’s father was always very harsh on him, and since the superego inherits the characteristics of the parent, his superego became equally harsh on his ego. His father was “rather ill-tempered and distrustful, and brought up his children in the old orthodox fashion, in an atmosphere of fear and obedience” (Bondarenko). This severe, strict environment that Dostoevsky grew up being chastised in came to feel normal to him, and his psyche was not satiated unless he felt that his superego was castigating his ego. Dostoevsky’s masochistic desire was so great that he eventually came to the conclusion that the only path to inner peace is through suffering.
In The Brothers Karamazov, the brothers’ biological father, Fyodor Pavlovich, personifies Dostoevsky’s superego. In the court case it is brought up that Dmitri “as a child in his father’s house, might not such a man well have remembered for twenty-three years how he ran in his father’s back-yard, without boots on his feet and with his little trousers hanging by one button” (Dostoevsky 742). Fyodor Pavlovich is a brutally cruel character that distorts and perverts his children, representing the perversion of the ego. Just as the superego does to the ego, Fyodor becomes both the source of condemnation toward his children’s innate desires, including any of their lust-filled, murderous and Oedipal impulses, as well as the inspiration for their guilt. Growing up next to an orphanage for abandoned infants, Dostoevsky must have been exposed early on to harsh truths about his life, perverting his superego’s moral even further. While Dostoevsky’s superego was morphed based on this orphanage and the rest of his unfortunate surrounding world, Fyodor abandoned his children, bestowing upon them only his own warped morals. Fyodor and Dostoevsky share many qualities in their lifestyle. Dostoevsky had serious gambling problems, and was married twice, while Fyodor acts as a spendthrift, practically shoving his money at Grushenka and having two unsuccessful marriages. Both of them exhibit a corrupted moral code shown in their similar life choices. Dostoevsky parallels Smerdyakov’s life with his own. In terms of Dostoevsky’s psyche, Smerdyakov takes the role of our author’s id. The id is the part of the psyche that works to satisfy basic urges, and demands the immediate gratification of desires. Dostoevsky wanted to kill his father, but aspects about reality such as fear and guilt held him back from doing this. Smerdyakov murders his father, satisfying the impulses of Dostoevsky’s id. In Dostoevsky’s life, the murder of his father by an unknown man drove him to become epileptic. “It is a dangerous thing when one’s wishes actually come true” (Freud 105), and when Dostoevsky got what he wished for, he immediately blamed himself.
Many people have accused Dostoevsky of not being a real epileptic; among them was Sigmund Freud, who stated in his essay “Dostoevsky and Parricide”: “Dostoevsky referred to himself as an epileptic, but it is highly probable that this so-called epilepsy was only a symptom of his neurosis and must accordingly be classified as hystero-epilepsy- that is, a severe hysteria” (101). Freud believed that Dostoevsky’s epilepsy was actually a psychological problem, working hand in hand with his neurosis, due to the repression of his id’s desires. Similarly, Smerdyakov faked an epilepsy to be able to get away with the murder he committed. Smerdyakov has now become a clear way of Dostoevsky finally fulfilling his id’s wishes, even if it is in story form. It is almost as if Dostoevsky had an elaborate plan in mind for murdering his father, and reenacted it in Smerdyakov. He must have given Smerdyakov his own trait of epilepsy in order to further associate himself with the character, more fully realizing his own id through the character’s actions. When Dostoevsky’s father was murdered, it was rumored to be by one of his own serfs, just as Smerdyakov acts almost as a serf to his own father. Making their relationship even more strained, Smerdyakov is the illegitimate son of Fyodor, and must service his other three sons. Ultimately, Smerdyakov’s death represents Dostoevsky’s own ongoing fear of death, for according to Freud he went through a process where: “One has wished another person dead and now one is this other person and is dead oneself” (102). Even though Smerdyakov isn’t shown as the hero in the book, Dostoevsky greatly sympathizes with the villain. The reason for this can be seen as Smerdyakov represents Dostoevsky’s impulse to murder, or id, and he is justifying his own thoughts of committing parricide through illustrating the substantial amount that Fyodor Pavlovich, or in reality Dostoevsky’s Father, mistreats his children. Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov culminates his lifelong obsession with parricide, which created a strong impact on the author’s psyche. In “Dostoevsky and Parricide,” Sigmund Freud explains parricide as “the principal and primal crime of humanity as well as of the individual. It is in any case the main source of guilt” (103). He believes that every human being will inevitably share continuous guilt for society’s primal crime, even if they are not directly responsible. As a group, society will then try to disavow it’s guilt. Dostoevsky is taking society’s guilt for murdering his father all on himself. Just like the primal brothers found redemption in obeying their dead father by avoiding the women in their tribe, Dostoevsky tried to find redemption in suffering with epilepsy. Since his father punished him so often, punishing himself seemed like the best way to obey his father’s wishes.
In 1849, Dostoevsky wrote a letter to his brother stating “to be a human being among human beings, and remain one forever, no matter what misfortunes befall, not to become depressed and not to falter – this is what life is, herein lies its task” (Toutonghi). This letter illustrates how Dostoevsky battled with the ability to be happy through all his guilt. The Brothers Karamazov oozes with evidence of Dostoevsky’s personal struggle, particularly seen in the court trial. The prestigious Fetyukovich, defending Dmitri’s innocence in the trial, defined the lines of what it really means to be a father: Gentleman of the jury, what is a father, a real father, what does this great word mean, what terribly great idea is contained in this appellation? We have just indicated something of what a true father ought to be. In the present case the father, the late Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, in no way fitted the idea of a father that has just spoken to our hearts. That is calamity. Yes indeed, some fathers are calamity. (Dostoevsky 742) Fetyukovich is claiming that in no way can this case be investigating a parricide, for Fyodor does not fit the social standards of what a father should be. Based on Fetyukovich’s speech, Dostoevsky must agree that an unfit father should not be deemed a father at all, however, based on Dmitri’s guilty sentence at the end of the novel, he also recognizes that society thinks in a more simplistic manner; if a man is biologically you’re father, you do not have the right to have contempt for him.
In the tract Civilization and its Discontents, Freud claims that “society is the source of all guilt and suffering” (735). Society creates values and moral upon which to “civilize” its people, and along with these comes shame, disgust, and “unpleasure”. This is certainly true in Dmitri’s case, and Dostoevsky’s. It’s a very nauseating feeling to hate your own parent, but when they haven’t treated you as their child, why should you fulfill the responsibility of being a loving one? After the murder of Dostoevsky’s father, these issues left him hopelessly sick. His own father was never kind or caring towards him, so when his death occurred, Dostoevsky lashed out at himself for never being a loving son. But the most twisted part of all of this is that Dostoevsky sincerely enjoyed it, he found pleasure in making his ego feel guilt. His life became an enigma in which he had to make himself suffer to be happy, while this took away his rights at being a morally righteous human being. This is when the writers own deep-seated masochism really kicked in.
Completing Freud’s psychological triumvirate is the ego, represented by the other three brothers, Ivan, Dmitri, and Alyosha. The guilty part of the conscience is always found in the ego, so Dostoevsky’s ego is represented in the guilty characters. These brothers all have in common that their father was inhumane to them all their lives, causing them to desire suffering. They had virtually no respect left for Fyodor Pavlovich, and at times even wanted him dead. Although none of them actually acted upon it, Ivan and Dmitri both held themselves morally responsible for what happened. Dmitri, having feelings of abhorrence for his father fueled by the rivalry over a women, Grushenka, screamed to the heavens just days before the murder: “If I haven’t killed him I’ll come again and kill him. You can’t protect him” (Dostoevsky 139). Dmitri’s lust to kill his father over his love for a woman shows a classic case of Freud’s Oedipal Complex. Ivan feels equally at fault because he knowingly ran away from his responsibilities of stopping the parricide, or even looking after his family when he could sense something was wrong. After his father’s death, Ivan soon falls very sick from an overly guilty conscience, just as what happened to Dostoevsky. These two brothers represent Dostoevsky’s terribly guilty ego in both of those aspects, wanting the parricide due to the Oedipal Complex, and not doing anything to stop it. The masochistic part of Dostoevsky’s ego is shown specifically in the character of Dmitri. He is the only one of the brothers who actually ends up being condemned, in court, for the murder. His punishment is to be sent off to Siberia. This can be compared back to Dostoevsky because he was sent to Siberia on the basis of something he did not do. Dostoevsky firmly accepted his punishment, “as a substitute for the punishment he deserved for his sin against his real father” (Freud 106). Dmitri was prepared to suffer in Siberia as well for similar reasons, claiming, “It’s for that babe I am going to Siberia now. I am not a murderer, but I must go to Siberia” (Dostoevsky 612). The “babe” that Dmitri is referring to is the whole of the innocent children in Russia who have suffered for the sins of mankind. Dmitri is therefore going to Siberia as a means of taking up the burden of society’s guilt, just as Dostoevsky did. Dostoevsky’s ego stopped him from acting out the murder of his father, as it made him realize, according to Freud’s Oedipal complex, that he cannot commit parricide because his father is stronger than him, and he would be castrated for trying. Similarly, Dmitri’s ego stopped him from murdering his father as he stood below his window with a weapon. Dmitri described that he wanted to kill his father, but some transient force held him back. This was obviously not the heaven’s saving him, but the ego doing its job.
Even the hero in this novel, Alyosha, feels guilt for not allowing himself to be more aware of his family’s fatal situation. He deals with his guilt in a more spiritual and religious way, as he has all his life. Alyosha suffers from an unresolved Oedipal complex just like Dostoevsky. The power of the Oedipal complex, and the importance of the relationship between mother and son come into play when Fyodor tells Alyosha about the demeaning things that he did to his mother. As Fyodor was in the midst of telling Alyosha about how she was a severe ‘shrieker’, Alyosha fell on the floor in a seizure like form, crying in hysterics. Since Alyosha never got to properly go through the whole process of the Oedipal Complex, he is stuck in a stage of anxiety. Hearing these things about his mother, who he never got the chance to love, made him feel unbearably sad and guilty, and caused him to react with shrieks similar to hers. There is an apparent significance in the way Dostoevsky portrays Alyosha as a character angelic beyond what is plausible for a human being; he had a son named Alyosha, who died at the age of three from what seemed to be epilepsy. Alyosha is now even more so Dostoevsky’s ego because his character is a representation of Dostoevsky’s guilt over his son dying from an illness that he allegedly inherited from him, as well as his grief over the death. Making Alyosha this heavenly character is a statement that his son is living on in the heavens, as well as letting a bit of his grief spill out onto the pages of The Brothers Karamazov, using his novel as “writing therapy”. It is a convoluted situation to develop moral masochism. When you’re displeasure induces pleasure, as it did for Dostoevsky and the brothers in the novel, a perversion has very obviously surfaced. A quote from Dostoevsky’s novel draws straight back to masochism: “See, I’ve grown terribly fond of my own misery these past five years” (349). Dostoevsky’s sadness had led him to almost feel safe, just being sad. It gives him a sense that he’s back home again. The real truth in the Brother’s Karamazov does not lie in its plot line, but in the underlying psychology and it’s connection to Dostoevsky’s life. The situations that Fyodor, Smerdyakov, and the other three brothers are put into fit snuggly into our author’s life, and each of their personalities corresponds with a different aspect of our author’s psyche.
Dostoevsky was a man who unfortunately never recovered from the original struggles of the Oedipal Complex, due to the early perversions of his mind caused by his father’s death, and harshness during the time in which he was alive. His father perverted his superego making it sadistic, which then also perverted his ego, making it masochistic. His superego is conclusively represented by the fatherly figure Fyodor, the id by the murderer Smerdyakov, and his ego by the guilt-ridden sons Ivan, Alyosha, and Dmitri. It is only reasonable to assume that Dostoevsky chose to put his characters so close in relation to himself because he needed to confess all the warring feelings that he internalized in himself for years, and that he wanted to create a fantasy in which his darkest wishes were fulfilled. The internalized feelings consist of an obsession over parricide, which has stayed with Dostoevsky since the murder of his father. This obsession stands out clearly in the pages of the book, as a large part of it is filled with the characters struggling with their strained relationship with their father and their guilt over his murder. Dostoevsky mirrors these strains to his personal struggles with his own guilt and responsibility for his father’s murder, and identifying what a father even is. Dostoevsky feels that a father has to be loving in order to be considered a father, but his moral codes obviously contradict those of society’s laws. The taboo of hating ones parents in addition to society having guilt over its primal crime all the more fuel Dostoevsky’s pangs of conscience. Perhaps the honesty of this book, in which Dostoevsky represents himself as he is instead of idealizing himself, is why it draws so many people in and changes the way they think after reading it.
Bondarenko, Aleksandr. “Fyodor Dostoevsky – Russiapedia Literature Prominent Russians.” Get Russianalized – Russiapedia. TV-Novosti, 2005. Web. 12 Jan. 2012. . Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov: A Novel in Four Parts with Epilogue. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. San Francisco: North Point, 1990. Print. Freud, Sigmund. “Civilization and Its Discontents Part III.” Civilization and Its Discontents. New York: W.W. Norton, 1962. 735-42. Print. —. “Dostoevsky and Parricide.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. James Strachey. London: Hogarth, 1962. 98-111. Print. —. “The Ego and the Id.” The Freud Reader. Ed. Peter Gay. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989. 629-58. Print. Toutonghi, Pauls. “Fyodor Dostoevsky (Dostoyevsky) | Biography |.” Fyodor Dostoevsky (Dostoyevsky) | The Brothers Karamazov. N.p., 2010. Web. 13 Jan. 2012. .
The Mystery of Family: Human Truths and Personal Bonds in ‘The Brothers Karamazov’
Reading a Dostoevsky book doesn’t give us any insight into the mind of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky almost never makes a blanket statement in his books, and, in general, very few opinions voiced by characters in his novels can be traced back to the author himself. As such, we still don’t know what Dostoevsky thinks about family life, the father/son relationship and all its nuances, or even about the merits of Ivan’s worldview versus Alyosha’s worldview when we read The Brothers Karamazov. He doesn’t ever tell us what to believe, but this massive work by Dostoevsky does put us in a very uncomfortable place as it pushes us to consider the messiness, the sheer earthiness of a son’s relationship to his father, and of all the unspoken griefs and problems that, in this case at least, culminated in murder.
The relationship has Biblical connotations and connections. For example, to what extent is a son obligated to love a father? Must a father, in some way, “earn” his title to win the love of his children? Though the drunkenness and womanizing of Fyodor Pavlovich makes it easy to see in this book, what makes the father/son relationship naturally strained in all cases (i.e., what are the factors inherent in all father/son relationships)? These are all questions that we must face when we read this book, though we shouldn’t expect a definitive, clear-cut answer to all our questions from Dostoevsky himself. Instead, on Dostoevsky rests the obligation to artistically present the narrative in the most provocative way possible, pulling on our instinctive feelings of sympathy, justice, and intrigue, and strategically raising these questions that cut the deepest and cause the maximum discomfort to the reader. The father/son relationship is perhaps the most mysterious of all familial bonds. The son knows he is born of the father and must share at least some of his father’s traits, but it often happens that those traits aren’t ever fully known by the son (even if they are, they often reveal themselves in either our ugliest or finest moments). This fact is recognized in Scripture; Adam was created by God bearing His image and likeness, and Jesus Christ himself fully identified with God and man, whom he called his Father and his brothers. When your father is virtuous and generally good-natured, this isn’t much of a problem, but if your father is Fyodor Pavlovich, who has virtually no good traits and has done almost nothing to raise children better than himself, you don’t necessarily want to inherent many of your father’s traits.
Dostoevsky recognizes this fact, and masterfully uses it to add depth and mystery to his novel. “Karamazovism” is a term that is never even fully defined (which was frustrating for the reader), but, as it’s one quality, it’s a term that’s recognized as being possessed by Fyodor and all the brothers Karamazov. From the beginning of the book, the “Karamazovism” of Alyosha is established in the reader’s mind by Rakitin: “I’ve been observing you for a long time. You are a Karamazov yourself, a full fledged Karamazov—so race and selection do mean something. You’re a sensualist after your father, and after your mother—a holy fool.” Alyosha doesn’t deny it, although we are given very little evidence of his sensualism in the entire book; he is chaste, and though he often notices the beauty of Grushenka and Katerina Ivanovna, it can’t be seen as more than the ordinary man would feel at the sight of a beautiful woman. Not only is the inherent “karamazovism” of Alyosha never questioned, but it’s further confirmed by Kolya and his friends in the last words of the book: “Karamazov, we love you….Hurrah for Karamazov!” (776) By beginning the novel with the family descriptions and closing the entire novel with these words from Kolya, Dostoevsky is telling the reader to see Alyosha as a Karamazov first and last, prompting us to recognize the inherent “karamazovism” in him despite the spectacle that that’s already been made of full fledged karamazovism. In the mind of the reader, this has the effect of clouding the novel. It clouds our judgment because it makes any action possible for Alyosha, Ivan, Smerdyakov, and Mitya, essentially because all these characters have the same Karamazov tendencies passed down from their father. It makes it impossible to remove suspicion from any of these characters, instead leaving a certain level of guilt and suspicion on all the characters.
Ivan may not have murdered Fyodor, but he is not altogether innocent, neither is Mitya, Smerdyakov, nor Alyosha. One of them has to be the murderer, of course, but this shared Karamazov sensuality gives a degree of guilt to them all, confusing the judgement of the reader and complicating the novel. This ties into another key idea of the book, the one that Zosima first voices, that “everyone is guilty for everyone”, an idea that’s hard to ignore throughout the novel. In this family setting, Ivan believes himself to be guilty of influencing Smerdyakov to murder his father, and Mitya is able to accept his fate only because he believes himself guilty (to a certain degree) of committing murder by wishing for his father’s death. This is consistent with what we believe about families; they exist as units, not shifting the blame from one member to another but rather accepting responsibility as a whole. There should be no faction in the ideal family nor harboring of resentment, but all grievances should be aired openly. The family is a microcosm of what we see in the history of human existence; that everyone is guilty for everyone, and that only by accepting this fact can we, as Father Zosima puts it, “gain the whole world by love and wash away the world’s sins with [our] tears” (164). The passing along of certain traits from father to son is mysterious and impossible to quantify, but Dostoevsky still doesn’t shy away from the more uncomfortable questions concerning fathers and sons, the ones that we can see play out in front of us with our eyes. Yet these are the problems that are blamed for murder, not the intangible genetics discussed above. In particular, Mitya’s defense attorney Mr. Fetyukovich openly voices several issues in his speech, including these in Book 12, chapter 13: “But, gentlemen of the jury, one must treat words honestly, and I shall allow myself to name a thing by the proper word, the proper appellation: such a father as the murdered old Karamazov cannot and does not deserve to be called a father. Love for a father that is not justified by the father is an absurdity, and impossibility. Love cannot be created out of nothing; only God creates out of nothing.” (744). I consider this to be the most shocking statement in the entire book. In this statement, the instinctive repulsion we feel at the thought of a son murdering his father is being naturalized. The very brotherhood after which the book is named is called into question. After all, if Fyodor Pavlovich wasn’t a father to his three sons, is the entire family delegitimized?
In a book centered on the the relationship between a father and his three sons and the communication between them, the idea that the murder of this father is no more damnable than the murder of some ordinary peasant is startling. As the reader reads this statement, he feels as though the entire world of The Brothers Karamazov has been deconstructed, that one of the central pieces of information that we believed in—namely, that this book is as much about familial affairs as it is about murder—is being called into question. If Fyodor Pavlovich wasn’t ever a father to his sons and needn’t be treated otherwise, what makes this book different from any other murder mystery? Here again, Dostoevsky strategically uses this question—saving it to the last part of the book when the fatherhood of Fyodor hadn’t been called into question the previous 700 pages—to captivate our attention, pointing us to the significance of the question. It is significant exactly because, if we strip Fyodor Pavlovich of his fatherhood, it changes the entire lens through which we see all fathers; namely, that fathers are no longer on an intrinsically higher standing than their children, but rather must earn their respect and love. Based on this first hypothesis, the chain reaction sure to follow is catastrophic; children will no longer view themselves as subservient to their fathers but as judges over their them, capable of determining their fate and, if Fetykovich is to be believed, somewhat justified in punishing them if the evaluation should be negative. Fetyokovich himself claims: “‘Fathers, provoke not your children!’ Let us first fulfill Christ’s commandment ourselves, and only then let us expect the same of our children. Otherwise we are not fathers but enemies of our children, and they are not our children but our enemies, and we ourselves have made them our enemies!” (744). The relationship between father and son will be defined by hostility, not merely ambivalence. As Ivan said, “If there is no God, anything is permissible”. Once the first hypothesis is proven, an entire belief system collapses. Here is a very real instance of the same logic used by Ivan; that if there is no father, anything is permissible. It is worth noting, also, that this hostility between father and son is in fact a Biblical concept—but only in the context of the heavenly kingdom and eternal punishment. Speaking of the judgement to come, Jesus says: “For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:52-53). Biblically, it is only in a world with God that there will be real division between father and son, not the other way around.
There is another question raised by the defense attorney that we must address. This problem is best illustrated by the life of Smerdyakov; as we know, Smerdyakov was long rumored and believed to be the illegitimate son of Fyodor Pavlovich and “Stinking Lizaveta”, a town beggar woman. The very details of Smerdyakov’s birth disgust the reader: Fyodor Pavlovich was one night seen around Lizaveta, Lizaveta is soon thereafter impregnated, and a child is born in the garden outside of the Karamazov’s house. In such a situation, when the father is nowhere to be seen at the birth of the child, what do we define to be the moment of fatherhood? Where is the love for the child at the moment of conception? The defense attorney Fetyokovich puts it the most poignantly: “The young man involuntarily begins thinking: ‘But did he love me when he was begetting me,’ he asks, wondering more and more. ‘Did he beget me for my own sake? He did not know me, not even my sex at that moment, the moment of passion, probably heated up with wine, and probably all he did for me was pass on to me an inclination to drink’” (745). Here is another moment when we are forced “involuntarily” to stare look stone-faced at the reality of fatherhood; that it is born out of passion. We’re forced to face the possibility that we, “innocent” children, may have been born out of impurity, sensuality, merely an unexpected causality of such sensuality, all from two people who we can’t even choose. This begs the question: how can a child be born innocent if he’s born out of such passion, even drunkenness? The incarnate Christ, born of the virgin, is the only man who is exempt from this natural bent towards debauchery in us all. Knowing the innate guilt in all men, even newborn children, it was essential to Christ’s mission that he be born free of passion and sensuality, requiring that he instead be born of the Holy Spirit and the virgin. By the Biblical narrative, then, it would seem probable that children aren’t quite as innocent as Ivan is making them out to be.
Dostoevsky has now thoroughly bewildered the reader at this point; he has presented convincing evidence for the inherent innocence of children through the words of Ivan and Illyusha’s story, yet he is now giving a seemingly irrefutable argument against the innocence of children. This is, once again, consistent with an overarching pattern of this novel; that the dichotomy between the father and the son has profound implications for any belief system, and that we cannot be allowed to plod through this novel without recognizing and examining these implications. Finally, to conclude his speech, Fetyukovich generalizes the entire defense, developing a simple method by which we can determine the legitimacy of a father. He says this: “How decide it, then? Here is how: let the son stand before his father and ask him reasonably: ‘Father, tell me, why should I love you? Father, prove to me that I should love you’—and if the father can, if he is able to answer and him him proof, then we have a real, normal, family, established not just on mystical prejudice, but on reasonable, self-accountable, and strictly human foundations. In the opposite case, if the father can give no proof—the family is finished then and there: he is not a father to his son, and the son is free and has right henceforth to look upon his father as a stranger and even as his enemy.” (745). As has been mentioned before, this novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky is chiefly concerned with the communication of the characters; the communication between brothers, between father and son, between man and woman, and between man and God. Communication, as we see in the novel, is inherently messy and broken, leading to excessive anger, strife, and in this case eventually murder. Nevertheless, Dostoevsky is still not in the business of giving his readers lessons to live by. We do not gain any insight into how to relate to our fathers by reading this novel. Fetyukovich’s conclusions are an oversimplification, and to believe in them as the central message of the book is to reject the familial bond that undergirds the entire book and (literally) binds it front and book.
Still, the book does have practical value; but through a kind of screen; we can see that there is objective right and wrong in the behavior of the family, a good and a bad, but it is never openly stated and is primarily seen through the messiness of the family affairs. The ideals are set from the beginning of the book and all play out consistently; Alyosha’s belief system is not separated from his communication, and Ivan and Mitya are also consistent with theirs. Some of the essential questions that pop up in the novel—on everyone being guilty for everyone, on everything being permissible without God, and on the inherent innocence of children—are all littered throughout the novel, making it impossible for the reader not to continually stumble over them as they read. These are the questions that we face every day in our own communication but are unwilling to acknowledge. Here, Dostoevsky has so cleverly juxtaposed and contrasted the belief systems, presenting some first and withholding others until the opportune moment, that the reader can’t simply pass over them absent-mindedly. If, on the other hand, we think we’re given an idea we can hold onto and believe in (such as Ivan’s belief on the inherent innocence of children), Dostoevsky is sure to eventually slap it out of our hands. Dostoevsky would not, and did not, provide the reader with the clean conclusion to the dilemma that Fetykovich provides. Still, when we are done with Dostoevsky and if we don’t believe in Fetykovich’s conclusion, the next most logical question is this: what do we actually believe about the novel? The reader believes in the power of family. The family is more than just our “tribe”, or the environment in which we are raised; it’s our uncensored versions, the space where we’re faced with more questions that cut to the core of our humanity than any ordinary friendship provides.
As this novel shows, the questions of man’s innate sin (vs. sin from example), of our responsibility for sin, and of our obligation to love each other are all seen most clearly in the family setting, whatever the overall consensus might be. Our worldview comes to a head in the that context; we can be anything we want away from family, but it all gets called out and amplified inside the family. The family is its own sphere with its own language and dynamic, and the members of the family are independent human beings with completely separate identities being, at the same time, invariably similar in a mysterious way. Family is the most important tie in this novel, and the apparent incoherence yet depth of the novel inescapably parallels the incoherence and depth of family. This novel is not a murder mystery, but it is still a mystery. The mystery of the family, the great drama of human interaction, bubbles to the top of the book, captivating the imagination of the reader and drowning out all other mysteries in our minds.
Fyodor, Dostoevsky. The Brothers Karamazov. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1990. Print.