Darwin & Dostoevsky Passages

G nazi eugenics o although morally shocking darwins

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from his new explanation of the undesirables and disabled e.g. Nazi eugenics. o Although morally shocking, Darwin’s idea that we should tolerate the poor, but not allow them to breed possibly stemmed form his Victorian-era ideals; Victorian men were supposed to be able to do the “right” thing, regardless of how challenging. This ideal followed from the Victorian-era idea of masculinity: the ability to have a stiff upper lip and carry out hardships if it meant long-run gain. The influence of Malthus is evident in Darwin’s writings through his desire to restrict the population of these undesirable individuals. Darwin gives the example of the surgeon who “may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient” (248). However, he concedes that “if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil” (248). Even allowing the weak to survive seems like a cost-benefit analysis to Darwin. The Brothers Karamazov “The flashing of his eyes startled the old man. But here something very strange happened, if only for a moment. The notion that Alyosha’s mother was also Ivan’s mother really seemed to have gone clean out of the old man’s mind… ‘What do you mean, your mother?” he muttered, not understanding. ‘What are you talking about…? Whose mother…was she…? Ah, damn! Of course she was yours, too! Damn! You know, my friend, my mind went blank as never before. Forgive me, Ivan, I was thinking…heh, heh,heh!’ He stopped” (138 Dostoevsky). Ivan forms such a strong reaction formation against his mother that Fyodor Karamazov forgot that Ivan was the son of “the shrieker.” This nickname for a mentally disturbed woman reveals a 19 th century lack of respect and understanding of her condition. Smerdyakov’s mother, “stinking Lizaveta” experiences similar treatment. The mentally ill are distanced through nicknames, which may reveal the typical 19 th century individual’s view of illness as a punishment for sin. Physiognomy is still a rampant idea in The Brothers Karamazov, which is also obvious in the narrator’s description of Fyodor Pavlovich: “his physiognomy by that time presented something that testified acutely to the characteristics and essence of his whole life” (23). While Alyosha actively remembers his mother through memories that are like “specks of light, as it were, in the darkness” (18). Ivan’s reaction formation against his mother and father prevents him from fully maturing and connecting with the rest of his family, other than Alyosha; Ivan is unable to commit matricide because he refuses to acknowledge his mother. Smerdyakov suffers from a similar inability to connect and tries to move away from his mother through dressing like a nancy.
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