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Ivan Alyosha and Dmitri

Ivan, Alyosha and Dmitri

In The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan and Alyosha are full brothers, sharing an upbringing as well as bloodline. A character sketch of the Brothers Karamazov illustrates how they were removed from their father's negligence by, first, the servant Grigory, then by a wealthy relative of their mother, and finally by a kind, generous, honest man, Yefim Petrovitch. Ivan left Petrovitch's care to study and live elsewhere, and developed into an atheist and intellectual, a writer and critic, who broods and introspects and expounds on his ideas through the articles he publishes. His bitterness against his father is not over an inheritance, but over a lack of provision from a man who has more than enough to indulge himself in a degraded lifestyle, and who preferred to neglect his sons rather than give them any meaningful assistance.

He begrudgingly supports himself by his wits and his writing, ultimately attracting attention from the monastery and secularists for his published opinions on the church courts. He lives amicably and continently with his increasingly debauched father. Alyosha is the shining hero of the novel. A relationship with a saintly monk, Father Zassima, and his devotion to serving humanity, has moved him to enter the local monastery, where he is a novice. Alyosha is the brother for everyone; the people in town love him for his acceptance and goodness. Every member of his family and the women they are involved with confide in him, trust him with their emotions and thoughts, and express their devotion to him. His relations with women are chaste, his regard for money nearly naive, and his lack of condemnation for anyone wins respect from all. His life is spiritual, clear-sighted, yet full of human interactions.

It can be said that The Brothers Karamazov maintains a simple story while balancing the weight of the world. Within the tale are mountains of contending forces: atheism and belief, the nature of man, socialism and individualism, freedom and justice, order and disorder, justice and injustice, harmony and chaos. These themes are explored in a variety of settings within the novel and it is important to understand that they do, indeed, represent some of the great allegories of our world.

The three brothers, of very different ilk represent the following:

  • Mind (Ivan)
  • Body (Dmitry)
  • Spirit (Alyosha)

The brothers are also a single organic whole and are a symbol of the division in modern man, and the violence that is done to that whole when fragmented. The very violence of the story occurs on all planes. It is, certainly, biblical, it is societal, personal, and spiritual. Also, certainly, it begins with the rape of the village idiot, Lizaveta Smerdyashchaya (nicknamed "Stinking Lizaveta" by the village (Part 1 - Book 3 - Chapter 1) at the hands of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. It is fitting, for the story, and for the ancient myth of which it is derived, that the father is the perpetrator of the most horrific crime. Fyodor's barbarism is possible because he is the head of a broken house. Though the rape occurs so early in the story that we have scarce information to base such an opinion on, he is the corrupt foundation, the broken form upon which the three brothers must attempt to form their own lives. In this Fyodor represents the fatally flawed structures of totalitarianism, of the social structures of Russia at that time.

Violence begets violence, such is life, and such was the nature of the bastard child of Stinking Lizaveta, Smerdyakov who, in quite classical tradition, killed his own father. The fact that Smerdyakov was not suspect is testimony to the justice of the act. Even Dmitry, confronted on the stand, cannot blame his bastard brother, "I don't know anyone it could be, whether it's the hand of Heaven or of Satan, but... not Smerdyakov," (Part 3 - Book 9 - Chapter 5). The children of the meek, the masses, the faceless proletariat, idiots all, would rise and kill their master, the one who had broken their backs.

As the betrayal of Judas was necessary for the ultimate violence to be carried out against Christ, it was necessary that Dmitry, the body symbol, be sacrificed so that Alyosha, the soul symbol, could be set free of the curse of the family, the curse of life. For, in the mind of Dostoyevsky, life was, indeed, a curse to be suffered through at the hands of others who exercised unlimited control. The book, then, is the ultimate parable, it is a warning, it is a fortune for those who could understand to read and take some form of solace in. Proust, then, indeed, was right in his description of the book as a modern version of the crime-vengeance-expiation myth.

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