(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The plot of The Brothers Karamazov revolves around the murder of Fyodor Karamazov, a grasping Russian landowner with three legitimate children—Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha. Each son has a dominant personality trait: Dmitri possesses broad passions, Ivan is a cool intellectual, and Alyosha has a spiritual orientation. Another member of the Karamazov household, a servant named Pavel Smerdyakov, is rumored to be Fyodor’s illegitimate son, and he emanates corrosive malevolence.

As the novel opens, Fyodor and Dmitri are in competition for the affections of a young woman named Grushenka. Although Dmitri is betrothed to Katerina Ivanovna, a proud woman of the gentry, he has fallen madly in love with Grushenka, but Grushenka keeps both Dmitri and Fyodor at a distance because she has hopes of a reunion with her first lover, a Pole who abandoned her years earlier. Discovering that Grushenka has unexpectedly left home one evening, Dmitri suspects that she has gone to Fyodor’s house. Frenzied, he snatches up a pestle and rushes off to his father’s house. Catching sight of him in an open window, Dmitri feels such revulsion that he is on the verge of striking him, but, at the last moment, he restrains himself. Running away from the house, Dmitri is seized by his father’s servant Grigory. Dmitri hits Grigory with the pestle and, believing him to be dead, leaves him behind.

Dmitri learns that Grushenka has gone to an inn in a nearby town to meet her former lover. Dmitri follows her there, planning to see her one more time before he kills himself. Once there, however, he realizes that Grushenka has become disenchanted with the Pole, and she and Dmitri declare their love for each other. Dmitri is torn between joy over his newfound love with Grushenka and grief over the thought that he has killed Grigory. The police arrive and charge Dmitri with murder, not of Grigory but of Fyodor. Grigory’s wound was not fatal, but Fyodor was found brutally murdered. Dmitri is interrogated at length and then is allowed to sleep briefly. He has a vivid dream featuring a mother with a suffering child, and he feels a deep determination to help. He awakens with a new sense of resolve. He declares that he is ready to accept...

(The entire section is 910 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Like Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov revolves around a murder. Fyodor Karamazov, a corrupt provincial landowner and businessman, has fathered four sons: Dmitri, an army officer, by his first wife; Ivan, a teacher and scholar, by his second wife; Alyosha, a monk in training, also by his second wife; and Smerdyakov, an epileptic servant in his household and his illegitimate child by a retarded local girl. Fyodor is murdered by Smerdyakov, but Dmitri’s freewheeling anger and violence make him the suspect. After his arrest, a spectacular trial is held. The prosecution builds a solid case, and Dmitri is found guilty and sent to Siberia. Ivan learns that Smerdyakov is the real murderer, but, since nothing can be proved, Dmitri must suffer the consequences of the deed to the end. Ivan has a nervous breakdown, Smerdyakov commits suicide, and Alyosha goes to Siberia to offer what comfort he can to his brother.

The four brothers are symbolic of the basic causes of human spiritual isolation. Dmitri is a deeply sensual person, constantly involved in physical pleasures such as drink, sexual seduction, and material comfort; yet he is aware that his physical excesses are a grave weakness. Ivan is a self-aware intellectual whose arrogance isolates him from meaningful contact with common people. Alyosha has a narrow catechistic faith that imprisons him within the walls of religious naïveté. Smerdyakov represents the distorted drives of the classic passive manipulator. Gross sensuality, proud intellectualism, narrow religiosity, and scapegoating irresponsibility infect the entire series of relationships, not only between the brothers but also between them and the other characters, as well. The weaknesses of the brothers are projected as the fourfold nature of fallen humankind, the representation of spiritual failure and the legacy of Original Sin.

It is in the episode called “The Grand Inquisitor” that Dostoevski’s philosophy of sin and...

(The entire section is 814 words.)