The Brothers Karamazov
Scrutinized and Criticized Ending in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov
“Not with a bang but a whimper”
Generally, and sentimentally, endings are some of the most difficult notions a human must contend with. Try as one might, endings are inescapable and are inevitable. Since our existence, we humans have been attempting to grapple and come to terms with our endings, and as Geoffrey Chaucer closely said in 1374, all good things must come to an end. In this instance, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, comes to an end; an end which some are unsatisfied with, as humans sometimes are. In contrast to his Crime and Punishment, wherein Raskolnikov’s fate is eternally sealed with the ice of Siberia, the fates of the characters in The Brother Karamazov are unrevealed to the reader and remain more fluid. Alyosha’s final message, the thematic closing of the novel, has also come under literary scrutiny and dissatisfaction. Although this novel does indeed end, one must remember that Dostoevsky exhaustingly discusses life and how it should be lived. Each brother represents an aspect of humanity: Dmitri is the body, Ivan is the mind, and Alyosha is the soul. Dostoevsky examines the intricate weaving of these aspects that makes up humanity, and counsels us readers with a suggestion as to how to properly live. Thus, Dostoevsky’s ending to The Brothers Karamazov is absolute and complete ending in that mimics how life truly is, after instructing readers how to make the most of their own lives.
Both Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov have had their endings scrutinized and criticized. David Matual claims that “[s]ome critics have condemned [the ending of Crime and Punishment] as all undesirable addition, accusing Dostoevsky of concocting a deus ex machina in order to save his hero from a permanent state of alienation and moral corruption.” In Dostoevsky’s defense, what is wrong with saving his main character from eternal doom and a stagnant character? Through his writing, readers must realize that Dostoevsky strongly believes that a man can change, as long as he sincerely wants to change and works for it. Therefore, it is fitting, and is essential, that the ending of the novel reflects this belief. He closes with “But here begins a new account, the account of a man’s gradual renewal, the account of his gradual regeneration, his gradual transition from one world to another, his acquaintance with a new, hitherto completely unknown reality” (Crime and Punishment 551). Dostoevsky finishes with movement towards grace, towards healing, and towards hope, movement that he sincerely believes, and thus must sincerely include. Matual agreeably supports this ending, claiming that “the possibility of [Raskolnikov’s] conversion should be obvious to those who read carefully and without prejudice, allowing themselves to be persuaded by the tendency of Dostoevsky’s thought and by the numerous clues that point to the inevitability of happy conclusion…it is also true that much of this material does not admit of ambiguity at all and contributes mightily to the plausibility of the ending.”
Although some were dissatisfied with the neatly wrapped ending of Crime and Punishment, some were dissatisfied with the ambiguous loose ends of The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky never elaborates or specifies if Dmitri is able to successfully escape to America, if Ivan will survive his fever, if Katerina Ivanovna eventually marries either Ivan or Dmitri, or if Alyosha marries Lise. Although Daniel Burt claims that Fyodor Dostoevsky actually had planned to elaborate on the three brothers’ fates, but passed away before he was able to accomplish his goal, some are pleased with a vague and unclear ending. In fact, after Dostoevsky has spent the entire novel analyzing the relationship between the body, the mind, and the soul, and attempting to outline a successful way to live life, the ending of his novel mirrors how life actually is. The unrecognized fate of the characters highlights the unrecognized and undocumented lives and fates of many humans who have lived and died. The ambiguous ending of the brothers’ fates is how the fates of many typically end: “This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper” as T.S. Eliots writes in his “The Hollow Men.” Just as events happen quietly and without recognition, and days, months, and year slip and whisper without mankind’s notice, so too the end of a novel dedicated to the lives of these three brothers must slip away. Similarly, because Dostoevsky has so successfully created the brothers’ characters, the characters have grown and have taken lives of their own, a symbolic ending that man must take charge of his own future, and must try to create his own ending, to control and make the most of his life. Also, as The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoevsky’s magnus opus, he has grown as a writer and is entitled to try a different conclusion from Crime and Punishment’s neatly wrapped ending. Although the ending is vague, there are still hints to a resolution, as Daniel Burt argues that “[a]s the novel closes, reconstituted family groupings take shape, along the principles of love, suffering, and Christian faith, as Aloysha and Grushenka plan to accompany Dmitri in his exile, and Katerina ministers to Ivan. By the end of the novel each of the brothers’ characteristic initial responses to life has been exposed as inadequate. Dmitri’s emotional sensuality has led to enmity and despair; Ivan’s cold rationalism is incapable of contending with mixed human nature”. Dostoevsky artfully reestablishes a set up, but prompts readers to take a leap of faith and believe in the miracle of change in a man’s heart and character.
Alyosha represents the soul of mankind, the faith that Dostoevsky values so much. Just as his brothers have grown, he “must reassess his simple assumptions about faith to accommodate a wider conception of the world’s disorder as well as the existence of evil in the world and humanity’s susceptibility to it” (Burt). Alyosha has changed from the naïve young man who could not discuss religion and faith with his brother Ivan, to a more mature understanding that “each [must] accept the notion that we are all guilt, all conjoined, all a mixture of animal and angel,” (Burt). Alyosha thus appropriately has the final thematic message in the novel, in which he implores the young boys to remember good things from childhood, saying “You must know that there is nothing higher, or stronger, or sounder, or more useful afterwards in life, than some good memory, especially a memory from childhood, from the parental home…some such beautiful, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man stores up so many such memories to take into life, then he is saved for his whole life. And even if only one good memory remains with us in our hearts, that alone may serve some day for our salvation” (The Brothers Karamazov 774). These penultimate words harken back to the story of the lady with the onion, whose only good deed gave her the chance to be pulled out of hell by an onion. Alyosha is saying that a single good memory can save a person. The meaning of this theme is infinitely deeper when taken into context of Dmitri’s falling out with his father: if Dmitri had had a memory of a happy childhood, how would his relationship with his father been different? The same question can also be applied to Ivan. Dostoevsky, through Alyosha, is saying that a good memory, any semblance of any good in a person, allows that person the opportunity to turn towards change and hope. Bloom believes that “[t]his, finally, is Alyosha’s and Zosima’s – and Dostoevsky’s – answer to Ivan’s rebellion: not the denial of our guilt, but its redemption in forgiveness and love.” Dostoevsky’s final message is that a person, with even a seed of goodness, has the opportunity to change.
According to Burt, “[f]ew other novels have dared to ask so many essential questions, including whether God exists, the origins of evil, and how faith is possible in a world full of suffering and injustice. Fewer still manage to combine metaphysical speculation with the visceral power of human tragedy.” Dostoevsky manages to address many of these questions, from both points of view. Ivan discusses the existence of God and God’s purpose through “The Grand Inquisitor” story. Alyosha represents faith, and grows into a better understanding of faith and God. Dmitri’s dream discusses his own view of suffering, while “Alyosha (not intellectually, but emotionally) finds a way out of suffering in the joyful acceptance of ‘God’s world,’ and in union with everything and everyone. This loving union with people, the intimate inclusion of them all (including the most sinful) in his soul eliminates the contradiction between lobe of God and love of people” (Vetlovskaya). Therefore, Dostoevsky does answer his quintessential questions, through his Russian Orthodox Christian point of view, in an attempt to provide the option of a path to redemption for himself and others.
Although the conclusions of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Dostoevsky are structurally different, they both deal with mankind’s life – how it should be lived, how it is, and how it can be saved. Ultimately, Dostoevsky comes “to terms with the knottiest problems of the human heart, mind, and soul” in arguably, most influential novels of his time (Burt).
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Elements of Christian Faith in the Novel
The Faith Remains Strong
Even Christians have found the critiques of faith and the church in the parable presented by the Grand Inquisitor in the book The Brothers Karamazov as devastating to their faith. Many non-theists appeal to this parable and similar argumentation. However, this essay will show that this critique is not as effective as it sounds. The Grand Inquisitor builds an argument that shows the legitimate problem of power and ineffective ministry within the church, but it misses the point of the Gospel. Nonetheless, in the dialogue and circumstances in which the story is told, there remains remnants of the hope of the Gospel.
Dostoevsky presents a case wherein Jesus returned during the time of the Inquisition, arriving in Seville, Spain. It is presented through a man named Ivan telling a doubting monk, Alyosha, what amounts to a parable. The return of Jesus was not meant to be his final coming; it was where “He visited His children only for a moment,” which happened to be right in the midst of “the flames…crackling round the heretics” (Dostoevsky 425). While on Earth, Jesus proceeded to complete many miracles among the people and He was beloved of them. These miracles were very reminiscent of what Jesus did during the time of the Gospels. For example, He healed a blind man, children came to him crying “hosannah,” and a young girl was raised from the dead. However, such a ministry was short-lived and soon led to a similar fate to His first coming, for it was judged that there was “no need for [Him] to come now at all” by the Grand Inquisitor (Dostoevsky 427). Indeed, Jesus was arrested by the leaders of the Inquisition to be burnt at the stake.
The Grand Inquisitor made a criticism of Jesus. Much of his criticism centered around Jesus’ behavior in his temptation in the wilderness. He said, “if there has ever been on earth a real stupendous miracle, it took place on that day, on the day of the three temptations” (Dostoevsky 429). The Grand Inquisitor saw Jesus’ answers to Satan as unhelpful giving a “promise of freedom which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand” (Dostoevsky 429). Instead of simply giving man such freedom, He should have behaved differently: perhaps He should have turned the rocks into bread and given food instead of freedom. He suggested the people would say, “Make us your slaves, but feed us!” instead (Dostoevsky 430). In addition to the bread, the Grand Inquisitor also looked at the temptation to cast Himself down to be saved by the angels. The Grand Inquisitor said that men were not the same as Him, and thus He should have followed through with the miracle, in the same manner that He should have cast Himself down from the cross. This would have won more men. Lastly, he looked at the temptation to rule over all the kingdoms of the world. He claimed that the Church had done this while He had not.
After all of this takes place, Jesus, who had been silent, kissed the Grand Inquisitor on “his bloodless, aged lips” (Dostoevsky 440). Afterward, Jesus was told to not come back and the Grand Inquisitor led Him to the “dark alleys of the town” (Ibid). At the end of the story that Ivan told, Alyosha got up and did the same to him. As Dostoevsky put it, he “softly kissed him on the lips,” which Ivan called “plagiarism” (Dostoevsky 442). The kiss itself is never interpreted in detail in the text.
Throughout the critique of Jesus, the Grand Inquisitor revealed the nature of the Roman Catholic Church. He revealed that the leader of the Church had become Satan himself. The Grand Inquisitor even admitted that he “does not believe in God” (Dostoevsky 439). This seemed to be a secondary argument that was more subtle as the Grand Inquisitor directed much of his critique at how the Church acted, even in light of the Inquisition itself. Thus, there seemed to be a specific leveling of the attacks of the argument through the perspective of the Catholic Church, the western branch, which is unique because Dostoevsky and his audience were from the Eastern tradition. However, the complaint does not seem to wholly build on the problems just inside the Roman Catholic Church. For example, Alyosha himself claimed that the story showed the problems of Rome, and “not even the whole of Rome, it’s false–those are the worst of the Catholics” ( Dostoevsky 438). This seems to point to this story picking out “the worst of the Catholics,” because it was indeed the worst period of the Church at large.
As those both inside and out of the church are forced to acknowledge, there is a struggle for power. The church is not free from this struggle. In the Bible itself there are examples of powerful leaders, who God approved, who still were corrupted and failed as leaders when they were given wealth, fame, and power. For example, Solomon was labeled the wisest man to live, yet at the end of his life he had fallen very far from the man of faith he once was. Such a pattern continues to this day within the church and its various branches. It is helpful to remember that what Jesus and Scripture at large demand is humility. As Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11 ESV). Paul likewise says, “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 ESV). A glimmer of this shows through in the person of Jesus in the story. Although the Grand Inquisitor paints a picture of a religion that is hungry for power, Jesus shows humility. Jesus kissed the Grand Inquisitor at the end, instead of trying to answer all of his numerous complaints. So while the Grand Inquisitor may point to something that truly is a problem, there is hope seen in Jesus’ own actions, which more clearly point to what Jesus said. The true church seeks to follow the teaching and example of Christ. The Grand Inquisitor truly represents someone who is outside of the real church, as he does not even have use for Jesus.
The Christian should also consider the story that was primarily used to build the Grand Inquisitor’s argument. It is a story that has significance in and of itself within Scripture. The Christian should consider the temptation of Jesus in its context within the Bible: to see how the Christian should interpret it, it helps to see how it is viewed elsewhere in Scripture. In Hebrews, the writer says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NKJV). The Grand Inquisitor presented a case where Jesus should not have resisted these three points of temptation. That he was able to resist them is to be a comfort to Christians in their own own fight against sin. As the author of Hebrews continues, in light of what he said in the verse before, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 NKJV). Overcoming the temptations had a specific purpose for Christians and allows us to come before God with confidence. Furthermore, Jesus’ sinlessness, in that He could overcome temptations from the deceiver himself is the basis of the truth of the Gospel: for Jesus to atone for the sins of the church, he needed to be “a lamb without blemish or spot” (I Peter 1:19 ESV). Even while this is not the direct argument of the Grand Inquisitor, the Christian needs to look at all of Scripture and see the significance of the events of which he spoke! Thankfully, the Gospel again shines through the commentary outside of what the Grand Inquisitor was positing, showing a greater understanding on the part of Aloysha. He acknowledged that what his spiritual leader said was “not the same, not a bit the same” as the story that Ivan was telling (Dostoevsky 438). Instead, there was a better understanding of the freedom of the Gospel, which suggests that the Grand Inquisitor’s interpretation of the passage was not all right.
Because the Grand Inquisitor made much of this argument around freedom, it is helpful to see how Jesus approaches freedom. The Grand Inquisitor fails to address both what Jesus meant and how the Christian community at large interprets it. As Paul says, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1 ESV). Jesus made references to a sort of freedom himself. He says in Matthew 11:30 that “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (ESV). However, even in that passage, Jesus shows that He does not offer total freedom, for “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27 ESV). Elsewhere Jesus says that “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65 ESV). Jesus even denies to the disciples explicitly that they had total freedom in choosing Him when He said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16 ESV). While His followers are given freedom, Jesus never makes such an increase in man’s freedom that he might “with a free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil” (Dostoevsky 432). Thus, it is important to understand the false theological premises that the Inquisitor gives and realize that they do not square with the teachings of Jesus himself. However, it is not precisely clear if this is ultimately the argument that Dostoevsky himself is making, because the character of Aloysha helps to give some hope to a proper interpretation.
Likewise it must be acknowledged many of the false premises that were used to address Jesus, showing the Grand Inquisitor’s faulty doctrine. For example, much of the fault he gave Jesus for responding as He did to the three temptations was around this notion of freedom. He explained what Jesus offered by saying, “Instead of taking possession of man’s freedom, Thou didst increase it…man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what it is evil” (Dostoevsky 432). The Grand Inquisitor noted that this would lead to the downfall of the church. This is a similar argument that has been made by many Christians: total freedom leads to all rejecting Christ.
When the true Biblical view is considered, the arguments of the Grand Inquisitor appear as much less serious blows to the Christian faith and church at large. Christians and non-Christians alike should examine the arguments in light of larger Christian teaching and practice to see how the argument is a less serious blow than is often firstly perceived. Furthermore, they should be aware of the hope that Dostoevsky leaves placed in the elements surrounding the parable itself.
The Brothers Karamazov: Baruch Spinoza’s Philosophical Assessment Review
This quotation mainly emphasizes the characteristics of one’s life regarding how fast life passes by, how unpredictable life is, and sometimes how unfortunate life is. The feeling of the quickness of life was created by the phrase “transient as autumn clouds” which gives the reader a vision of clouds quickly passing by, as the time in one’s life does, without no turning back, without any say on their part. The unpredictability within the poem was created from the phrases “to watch the birth and death of beings, a lifetime is like a flash of lightening in the sky,” almost as if implicating that some events take place as sudden as a flash of lightening in the sky takes place. Last, but not least, the sense of terror and unfortunate events can be seen in the use of words like “torrent down a steep mountain,” and “death of beings” which fosters a sense of darkness and irreversible.
One can say that this poem embraces the idea of determinism, the idea that all actions and events are determined or happen necessarily and that human actions are no different. All the actions implied within the poem give the suggestion that life goes by very quickly, usually not in the control of human hands, and a lifetime is like a flash of lightening in the sky, sometimes that finishes and comes to an end as suddenly as it begins. The events in life are given the same implication; they take place as transient as autumn clouds, meaning they lack free will, and are simply following the order of the universe. If one follows the train of thought of Baruch Spinoza, who believed that all actions unfold according to the necessary laws that govern the universe, than one would state that the ultimate reason that humans are alive in the first place is due to the cause-and-effect relationship between God and universe, where God is the initial and primary cause of everything. And according to Spinoza, if there was no antecedent cause, there could be no effect, and therefore, if there was no God, there could be no lightning in the sky or autumn clouds, or comparatively, order in the universe.
Continuing on Spinoza’s ideology, if God has pre-determined all reality for humanity already, than it is not up to humans to truly decide if life is rational or absurd since at the end of the day God can be considered a perfect being, and human beings, who are anything far from perfect, cannot come to comprehend the proceedings of something or someone that is perfect. Thus. although everything is determined, as is implicated in this poem, everything also has a reason, unlike Camus’ belief in the concept of absurdity which states that life is absurd because we keep asing the world for reasons, and the world remains and always will remain silent; we are alone and yet we have a choice. Just because we can’t come to understand these reasons, doesn’t mean that these reasons are absurd, as Camus claims. On the contrary, just as the problem of evil brings up, there are things within this universe and reality that can be beyond human comprehension, such as the unfortunate event of Alyosha’s father’s death. Although this event allowed Alyosha to believe the illusion that he has a freedom of choice just because he can choose between believing or not believing, it also showed that Alyosha nevertheless never understood why his father was not the way he had expected him to be.
The Brothers Karamazov’s Wound
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.
Dostoevsky, 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.
Religious Slavery and Freedom of Personality 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.
“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.