The beginning of this novel is an introduction to the main characters and to their background. The narrator told the reader in the very beginning that it was the story of the death of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. It is patricide, but we are shown that Fyodor Karamazov can barely be called a father. He has taken no part in raising his three sons. He sees them only as very small children, whom he thoroughly ignores and neglects, and as adults whom he does not know. They are handed around from place to place as children as Fyodor simply forgets they exist. Only the eldest son has any conception that he is owed some form of inheritance from his father. This is the cause for the intense dislike and antagonism between Dmitry and Fyodor. This extreme antagonism and dislike between Fyodor Karamazov and his eldest son Dmitry is clear from the beginning. It seems as though Mitya is the most like his father of the three legitimate sons. He has acquired the sensuality of his father more than his siblings have. This is the same sensuality which makes Fyodor a despicable character. It is the only thing he lives for. The other two brothers have not inherited this same sensuality. Ivan, the next eldest son, who is twenty-four upon his return home, is far more intellectual in nature. He is a man of the mind, whose name has become known for his articles. He was never counting on an inheritance but has always been conscious of having always lived at the expense of others, and he greatly resents his father for that. Finally we see Alyosha, who is a devoutly religious, well-loved man, devoted to God and to people. He loves and is loved. Only he seems not to harbor some deep-seated resentment or anger for his father, or about his upbringing. He is close to Dmitry, who has no real stance on faith in the beginning of the novel, but not to Ivan who claims to be an avowed Atheist, with no belief in God or life after death. The other central character introduced in book one is the elder Zosima to whom Alexey has pledged his devotion. Here we see a man most like the youngest Karamazov. He is a holy man, admired and revered by many. He is the man to whom the Karamazovs turn, in a half-serious gesture, for mediation and arbitration in the dispute between father and son. With this preliminary glance at the four Karamazov men, and the introduction of father Zosima, it is clear that the differences and strife between them are deep and significant. None of the three sons claim to love, or even to like, their father. Ivan who is neither particularly like or unlike his father, appears at this point in the novel to be the only one who actually gets along with, and influences, his father. They live together, while Dmitry lives alone and Alexey lives in the monastery.
without use of her legs. During this visit we learn that Dmitry's fianc
e Katerina is sending for Alexey, she wishes to speak to him. We also become
aware that Alexey knows Mrs. Khokhlakov and Lise and that Lise feels a great
affection for Alexey, telling her mother that she is only happy when she
is with him. The bulk of the conversation is between the elder Zosima and
Mrs. Khokhlakov concerns her claim that she suffers from lack of faith.
Elder Zosima informs her that it is only through active love and selflessness
that she can become sure in her faith in God and in the immortality of her
soul. Only through active and selfless love can she rid herself of her doubt.
The elder Zosima also tells her to avoid lies, self-deception, aversion
towards others, and fear. He warns her that it is not easy to love actively,
but that she must do so. At the end of the meeting, it is agreed that the
elder should send his novice, Alyosha to see Mrs. Khokhlakov and Lise. 5.
After visiting with those who came to see him, Zosima returns to his cell
for his meeting with the Karamazovs. Dmitry has still not arrived, and Ivan
is discussing his articles with two monks when Zosima enters. The elder
enters into the conversation, in which Ivan is expressing his views on criminal
punishment in church and state. He argues that if the state would allow
the church to punish criminals, it would be more effective than the state
doing so. This he sees as a way to transform society and man. Zosima agrees
but clarifies that only conscience can constitute a real punishment or deterrent
to crime, it is the only effective one which might bring about change. 6.
At this point Dmitry arrives, and claims that the servant Smerdyakov informed
him of the wrong time for the meeting. He bows to the elder and the conversation
about the ideas of love, conscience and immortality continues. Miusov tells
the group of Ivan's belief that love exists between men solely because of
their belief in the immortality of the soul, and furthermore that if there
was no such belief than everything would be permitted, and self-interest
would be the only legitimate motive for action. Dmitry especially is shocked
by, and strongly against these ideas. It is here that the meeting reaches
its climax, and intended purpose. That is, the issues concerning Fyodor
and his son are made known, and insults and accusations are hurled. Questions
of money stolen and hidden, and questions of various women arise. Fyodor
accuses Dmitry of compromising the young Katerina, the orphan of honorable
parents, by making her his fianc e and then chasing after Grushenka, a woman
of ill-repute. Dmitry responds to this by accusing Fyodor of being jealous,
of also wanting Grushenka for himself. Fyodor responds by comparing his
sons to two characters in Robert Schiller's Robbers, and says that he would
challenge Dmitry to a duel if he were not his son. Dmitry wonders aloud
why does such a man live? and why is he allowed to continue defile the earth
by his existence? Here the fight ends as the elder Zosima gets up unexpectedly
and prostrated himself at Dmitry's feet with full, conscious deliberation
and even touched the ground with his forehead. 7. Alyosha accompanies the
elder to his cell where Zosima tells him that he is to leave the monastery,
he is needed to bring peace to his house. He tells Alexey that he is to
leave the monastery upon the death of the elder. His advice to Alexey is
to seek happiness in sorrow. When Alexey leaves the elder he meets with
Ratkin, another seminarist. Ratkin says that the bow Zosima made before
Dmitry shows that he foresees some crime in the Karamazov house, and that
people will remember his bow as a foretelling, a prophecy. Ratkin talks
about the Karamazovs and how, for them, sensuality has reached a point where
it becomes a devouring fever, and that this is the source of strife. 8.
The luncheon with the Father Superior is a disaster as Fyodor Karamazov
makes terrible accusations about the practices of the monastery. He is only
encouraged when the Father Superior actually thanks him. He calls the vile
and evil accusations the medicine of our Lord Jesus who sent it to heal
[his] vain soul (101). Fyodor responds to this quote by continuing, and
blames the monastery personally for setting people, particularly his second
wife, against him. He claims that the monks have cursed him. Ivan leads
his father away, to take him home. Upon leaving Fyodor shouts that he demands
that Alexey leave the monastery.
Book two lays out a picture of the strife between Fyodor and his eldest
son Dmitry. It is to mend their relationship that the Karamazovs seek the
counsel of elder Zosima. During the course of book two we hear about the
issues of money and jealousy between father and son. Katerina and Grushenka
are introduced as the primary women involved in the Karamazov fight. Grushenka
is the woman of ill-repute whom the two men battle for, and about whom we
learn little in book two. The struggle between Fyodor and Dmitry is one
which is not easily to be resolved. The monastery and especially Zosima
are the central focus of book two. Here we see a real glimpse of the life,
influences, and surroundings of Alexey. Zosima is essentially Alexey's father
figure, though he holds even greater significance than that for Alexey is
far more zealously devoted to him than many men are to their own fathers.
He is the absolute guide for Alexey's life and character. He is a man of
great patience, strength, wisdom, modesty, humility, perception and understanding.
He is held in high regard by the community at large, and is a religious
and spiritual guide for many. Zosima values nothing more than love and honesty.
He exhorts his listeners to actively love, to love selflessly and give oneself
to others and that will bring them closer to God and to salvation. Honesty
is the other part of Zosima's formula for living, one must run from all
lies, especially those they tell themselves. This is the only way to maintain
dignity and to remove doubts. Love and honesty will bring forth peace, dignity
and salvation. Zosima, through his words and actions, teaches his devoted
disciple how to live, the way Christ taught his twelve disciples. His influence
on the nature and behavior of Alexey can not be underestimated. It becomes
clear how significant Zosima is when we see the reaction of everybody to
his bowing at the feet of Dmitry. Ratkin attributes the bow to Zosima's
expectation of a crime in the Karamazov household. It can also be understood
as Zosima's confirmation of Dmitry's faith, or spirit. In Dmitry perhaps
he sees a man who will suffer, a soul who might thus be redeemed. Dmitry
is the only one to whom we see Zosima make this gesture. Ivan is also a
major focus in book two. Throughout the course of the Karamazovs' visit
to the monastery, he discusses his ideas about God, the immortality of the
soul, and the nature of humanity and society. Specifically he discusses
his ideas on the place of church and state in the punishment of criminals.
Ivan thinks the church should be allowed to punish members for crimes they
commit. This way, they would be threatened with losing their place in the
church community, and among the faithful were they to commit a crime. Excommunication,
and the threat of eternal damnation, would be a much greater deterrent to
criminals, argues Ivan, than any form of punishment given by the state.
He also discusses his belief that men only practice love for their fellow
man out of a belief in God and the immortality of their soul. If they did
not believe, Ivan says, than there would exist no incentive or reason for
them to practice love and kindness. If they do not believe, then the only
motive for action would logically be self-interest. Father Zosima agrees
with some things Ivan says, but fundamentally believes that the power of
the conscience is far greater, and indeed is matched by no other power,
in affecting the lives and actions of every man. This is an essential difference
in the philosophy of the two men.
Book three gives a much closer look at some of the main characters outside of the Karamazov men. We see Grigory and his wife, and learn of Karamazov's illegitimate son whom they have raised, Smerdyakov. The common agreement is that Fyodor fathered this child who was born to Stinking Lizaveta, the town idiot who slept in barns and alleys, and who can not even speak. This act helps to vilify Fyodor, and illustrate what kind of man he is. Smerdyakov was born to Lizaveta in the bath-shed, and died soon after. His parentage is a great source of pain and discomfort to Smerdyakov, and he seems to resent the world, and especially the couple who raised him. He fights with his foster father and as a child would hang cats. He seems a man without love. Smerdyakov suffers from epilepsy, and clearly is eager to be an intellectual like Ivan. Ivan is perhaps the only person he has an affection for, which is more like admiration. He is a servant of the Karamazovs and spends a great deal of time with or around the family. Dmitry is also expanded upon in book two, and is seen as a man with deep feelings and confusion. He talks about his despair and his self-loathing a great deal. He says that in his darkest moments he turns to Schiller's Hymn to Joy. Thus we see that his faith exists somewhere within him, but is only expressed in his darkest times. In this hymn he prays that no matter how base he becomes, he will always be a son of God. He also reveals this dichotomy of self by talking about the Madonna and Sodom. Beauty for many lies in Sodom (sensuality) yet the idea of the Madonna (purity) yet remains. The heart of man fights between these two ideas of beauty; the pure and the base. Dmitry confesses all things to Alexey whom he claims is the only one he loves. Alexey is in this position for almost everyone in his family, his father tells him that he is the only one whom he does not fear. His role is very important, as a guide, a support for all of his family. He is clearly needed and trusted by all involved, and it is for this reason, his ability to help bring peace and understanding, that Zosima has ordered him to leave the monastery. Dmitry confesses to Alexey many of the secrets of his heart, of the shame and disgrace which he feels is his. He more than once pounds his chest with his fist, and Dostoevsky specifies that perhaps there was something tangible which Dmitry was referring to. Dmitry's confession to Alexey also relates his feelings and actions with both his fianc e Katerina and his love Grushenka. We see his confession and emotions in his actions also. He has a brutal fight with his father where he knocks him to the ground and kicks his head in a fury over Grushenka. He vows that he would kill his father if he seduces Grushenka with the promise of three thousand rubles. All of this fury and interaction paint the picture of Dmitry as a man with deep feelings, with a battle raging within him. He is capable of great passion and great destruction. An act of murder seems imminent, and everyone is aware of it. Book three also features the women of the novel, most notably, Katerina and Grushenka. Katerina's intense love for and devotion to, Dmitry is quite clear. She wants to love and save him. Grushenka is harder to read, for she plays games with people and words. She is capable of arousing great emotional responses to her words and deeds. These two women have also chosen Alexey as a confidante, and there exists at the end of book three, a whirlwind of emotion and controversy which has Alexey as spiritual guide, standing in the middle.