General Plot Summary


Part I sets the scene by introducing the main characters of the novel. Fyodor Karamazov is introduced as many things, a buffoon, a philanderer, an in the lightest sense a father to three (legitimate) sons: Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha. From the first paragraph of the book the reader knows that Fyodor will be murdered and subsequent paragraphs of chapter one serve only to make a reader glad that this vile creature's existence will soon come to an end. The endless cruelty which this man shows not only to his wives (both dead) but to their offspring is astonishing. While none of the boys have a mother left, Fyodor has managed to pass them all off to outside rearing, except for Smerdyakov who he employs as a servant. All three brothers have come back home for various reasons after being reared by different people all over Russia. Ivan has become an intellectual who questions faith and religion. Dmitri has become a soldier and a sensualist much like his father. Alyosha has adopted the world of god and lives at the monastery following the teachings of Father Zossima. A meeting is set up between Father Zossima and the Karamazov family during which Fyodor manages to make a constant fool of himself. Father Zossima tells Alyosha that he should go out into the world in order to do good. The story of Smerdyakov introduced as we find out that Fyodor is rumored to be his father after having slept with the town idiot, "stinking Lizaveta".

As Father Zossima nears death he gather a last congregation around him in his cell. It is here that the reader gets the closest interpretation of what it is that the Elder proscribes for humanity. He talks about the holy community and the responsibility of its members. Having done this, father Zossima dispatches Alyosha once again in order to fulfill his duties to his father and brothers, namely to mend their feuding. Alyosha visits his first his father who is talking about conserving his money in order to attract young women. On his way out, Alyosha meets the a boy who is having rocks thrown at him by his school fellows. The boy will come up again later as the son of the colonel. Alyosha stops by the Madam Hohlakov's house where he immediately set up by Lise. He speaks with Katerina who says that she will never leave Dmitri. Ivan decides to leave for Moscow. Alyosha then goes off under Madam Hohlakov's orders to give 200 roubles to the Colonel that Dmitri roughed up a few days earlier. It is upon doing (actually failing) to do this that Dmitri sees the schoolboy again who turns out to be the Colonel's son. When all of this is over, Alyosha gets a final sitting with father Zossima before he dies.

Part three attacks two greater themes. First, the death of Father Zossima in part II attains post-mortem significance as the body begins to putrefy almost immediately after death. This of course creates a great stir and the monastery and religious society find themselves divided among those who were for and against the father in life. For Alyosha, the death and rapid putrefaction have, of course, a very deep significance -- the effect of all this being a crisis of faith for Alyosha. The boy goes on to accept sausage and vodka from Grushenka in a contradiction to lent. Grushenka and Alyosha spend some time together and slowly develop a close relationship. Meanwhile, the second grand theme of part three is the announcement of Fyodor's murder and the subsequent arrest of Dmitri (who we know killed Grigory but know nothing as to his involvement with the murder of his father). Dmitri is hauled off to prison where instead of maintaining his innocence he decides that he is somewhat guilty of his fathers murder. Although they do not bear direct responsibility, the interesting idea is that Dmitri, Grushenka and later Ivan will all feel a portion of guilt and suffering over the death of Fyodor. The interesting part about book III is its illustration of Father Zossima's mark on humanity even in passing. Everyone around seems not only to understand but to embrace the late elders philosophies. Dmitri who is stuck in jail feels responsible for the actions of other humans. Grushenka feels guilty for having tampered with the relationship between Old Karamazov and Dmitri. Alyosha understands that his faith should not have to rest on the miracle that Zossima should be preserved for longer than he was -- in short, that faith should not necessitate miracles. Finally, even Lise feels that she must suffer and repent as she slams her fingers in the door. All come to believe that suffering is the only road to purity.

Book four carries the reader through the long awaited trial of Dmitri Karamazov and the end of the story. The opening book of part four, as a short anecdote unto itself, serves as an interlude and affords some respite from the otherwise heavy and dramatic story line of the book. The story of a dying boy, Illusha, brings out a sentimentality which has been previously lacking in the book. The story repeats the theme of Alyosha's involvement in teaching and influencing of the youth. Heading back towards the central plot of the story, Dmitri has been in jail for two months and it seems that most of the main characters are caught up in heavy emotional grief. Dmitri is convinced that his salvation will come through suffering. Ivan is tortured by the pangs of his conscience as he realizes that he himself played a large part in the murder of old Karamazov. Ivan understands his guilt in the matter and ultimately ends up incriminating himself to a certain extent (although nothing really comes of his admitted involvement). Smerdyakov kills himself, no one cares, and Ivan, Grushenka, Alyosha and Katerina all testify to the upstanding character of Dmitri. In the end, Katerina produces the note which will eventually condemn Dmitri in her efforts to shield her own beloved, Ivan, from implication in the murder. She thinks that Ivan only came to the rescue of his brother in a nervous fit and that he did not intend to free his bother at his own expense. As in any conclusion, it is to be expected that part four hopes not only to provide closure to the story but also to proclaim Dostoevsky's words of wisdom and guidance. Other works by the author have indicated, however, that this may not be his strongest suit. Bringing issues to light and proving a position is often much easier than proscribing a cure. In the Brothers Karamazov the potential evil of humanity is boldly illustrated. The cure may indeed lie within a love for humanity and the teachings of societal responsibility. It is only when the group feels societal consciousness that evil can be eradicated. In effect, we must help one another out just as Alyosha attempts to help his family, the children, and all the other personalities he come in contact with. If this concept of societal rather than individual guilt is the key to salvation then it becomes necessary to uphold a global human superconscience.

In the epilogue serves as a denoument for the trial and wraps up in a sense the message of the book. Katerina ends up asking Dmitri's forgiveness just after Dmiti decides that he will indeed escape to America for a while and bear the burden of an exile. Alyosha, who has consistently been the voice of moral probity is last seen walking off with children who he will undoubtedly mold in father Zossima's image.