Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Early in the novel, Dmitri declares that God and the devil are at war, and their battlefield is the heart of man. In The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevski sought to depict the battle between God and the devil, good and evil, faith and doubt, in vivid and eminently human terms. In one corner stands Ivan Karamazov, who offers wrenching examples of the senseless cruelty inflicted upon innocent children and uses these examples to cast doubt on the concept that the Christian God is all-good if he is all-powerful. Ivan’s posture of corrosive doubt casts a pall on the other characters, and his denial of the notion of immortality and divine justice encourages Smerdyakov in his conviction that he can kill with impunity.
Significantly, Dostoevski does not try to rebut Ivan’s attack on the righteousness of God’s universe through direct argumentation. Instead, he deploys a series of indirect arguments to present a different view of God’s world and the potential for human goodness latent within it. To begin, he introduces the Russian Orthodox monk Zosima, a kind and compassionate man who preaches a doctrine of active love and personal responsibility for the well-being of others. Not only are Zosima’s teachings presented in an extended conversation recorded by Alyosha, but the monk is also shown at work among the people, putting into practice what he preaches. His active selflessness contrasts distinctly with Ivan’s passive and egocentric peroration.
What is more, Dostoevski uses figures of suffering children, such as Ilyusha Snegiryov, to suggest the ultimate good that can emerge from what at first glance seems to be tragic and painful. Finally, Dostoevski introduces a series of scenes in which the sadness of death is followed by the discovery of a joyful new beginning, and thus the entire novel becomes an affirmation of the basic message of Christ’s death and resurrection.