The Brothers Karamazov

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

Each brother is a vivid, individual personality. Yet, as a group, they represent the classically recognized spectrum of human traits. Ivan Karamazov, one of the famous characters in modern literature, is the tortured intellectual who questions the justice of both man and God, the forerunner of modern philosophical nihilists who see no evidence of moral purpose in the world.

Dmitri, the man of passion, actually threatened to kill his father, for they both vie for the favors of the young courtesan Grushenka. If intent of the heart establishes guilt, then Dmitri must be guilty and is, in fact, arrested for the crime.

Young Alexey, called Alyosha, represents spirituality and purity, a contrast to the violence and sensuality of Dmitri and the rationality of Ivan. Yet he secretly recognizes his own tendency toward sensuality and his resentment of their irresponsible father. His mentor is Father Zossima, whose teaching on behalf of spiritual brotherhood provides a counterweight to the ambivalent, passionate nature of the Karamazovs.

The fourth son, Smerdyakov, is a servant in the household and does not bear the family name. He was born to an idiot woman raped by Fyodor Pavlovitch. He is understandably vulnerable to Ivan’s skepticism about human and divine justice.

Although this complex family tragedy promotes the vision of Christian redemption, its exploration of intellectual doubt and metaphysical rebellion seems, to some readers, more convincing. Ivan’s famous “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” often appears in anthologies dealing with existentialist literature.


Belknap, Robert L. The Genesis of “The Brothers Karamazov”: The Aesthetics, Ideology, and Psychology of Text Making. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1990. Considers the reading and experiences of Dostoevski that appear in the novel. A study of the mind behind the book.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Selection of critical interpretations of the text. Essays printed in chronological sequence from 1971 to 1977. Includes an extended chronology of Dostoevski.

Leatherbarrow, William J. Fyodor Dostoyevsky—The Brothers Karamazov. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Provides background for understanding, including historical, intellectual, and cultural influences. Discusses the major themes of the novel.

Terras, Victor. A Karamazov Companion: Commentary on the Genesis, Language, and Style of Dostoevsky’s Novel. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981. Discusses the moral and religious philosophy that underlies the text, the use of language and symbolism, subtexts, and relevant myths.

Thompson, Diane Oenning. “The Brothers Karamazov” and the Poetics of Memory. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991. A psychological interpretation of the text based on meaning and memory. Connects the text to aesthetics and poetics.

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