The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In The Brothers Karamazov, why does the "author" tell readers in his introduction that Alyosha Karamazov is the hero?

In the "From the Author," the narrator, who calls himself the author of this "biography," says that Alyosha Karamazov is "by no means a great man," and the narrator foresees objections to his designation as a hero, especially because Alyosha doesn't seem to do much in the novel. The Brothers Karamazov is largely about spiritual experience, and depicting the interior life of the characters must be done indirectly. Therefore, Alyosha's deeds are few, which is why the narrator overtly tells the reader that he is the hero. He acts as a catalyst for the actions of others and plays an important role—although that might not be immediately obvious to the casual reader. For example, he ignites Grushenka's character transformation; he fails to intervene with his brother Dmitri and prevent him from going back to his father's house, although the elder has warned him more than once to see to both of his brothers; he convinces Ilyusha's father to take financial help from Katerina; and he inspires Ilyusha's classmates to reconcile with him and is thus a catalyst for their transformation (especially Kolya's). Alyosha has his own transformation in the novel, after he has a vision while praying and dozing beside the coffin of the elder. The narrator says that Alyosha "bears within himself the heart of the whole" and is thus giving the reader an important piece of information about how he expects his "novel" to be viewed. The narrator also makes reference to a second volume, which will be about "the activities of my hero in our time." The author Dostoevsky actually did plan to write a second volume and considered his great novel a mere precursor to Alyosha's story. He planned to have Alyosha morph into a radical and attempt to assassinate the tsar. Thus, Alyosha's exploits in the world will unfold in the sequel. Dostoevsky the writer prepares his readers for the second volume from the first page of the story.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Books 1 and 2 how does Fyodor Karamazov's financial intelligence contrast with his character?

Readers discover in Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 1, and Book 2, Chapters 2 and 6 that Fyodor Karamazov becomes rich, first by taking advantage of other people's generosity, which is why he is called a sponger. This means that he mostly entertained himself by having other people pay the way, or he dined at their houses. Second, he married a woman with a significant dowry—his first wife, Adelaida Ivanovna—and immediately appropriated it. Although he ran through that money, he inherited the village he and Dmitri Karamazov are arguing over. Third, old Karamazov engages in business dealings that are questionable but still inside the law. He runs a string of taverns, and he buys up people's old debt at a reduced rate and then collects on the debt at a profit, a business in which Grushenka is also involved. Thus, although Fyodor is a disorganized drunk and a depraved sensualist, he has cleverly amassed close to 100,000 rubles at the time of his death.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Book 1 why does Dmitri Karamazov's mother Adelaida Ivanovna marry Fyodor Pavlovich?

In Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 1, the narrator says that Adelaida Ivanovna came from a "rather wealthy aristocratic family, the Miusovs," and that it is anyone's guess why a beautiful girl with a dowry would marry such a "worthless runt." He also describes her as "pert," "intelligent," and "hot-tempered," speculating that she may have married Fyodor Karamazov as an act of rebellion. Perhaps she wanted to assert her feminine independence by violating social conventions. Karamazov is clearly below her in class, but he is also "bold" and "sarcastic," which likely appealed to Adelaida's contrariness. The fact that the couple eloped provided additional spice to her rebellion. Moreover, the natural charisma of the Karamazov men likely played a role, because none of the Karamazovs have trouble attracting women.

What are Miusov's political and religious views as related in The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Book 1?

As shown in Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 2, Miusov is an example of one of the socialists/atheists in the novel, although he does not exhibit the extreme of nihilism found in Smerdyakov. Miusov is a dabbler in the socialist movement and has been to France and observed the political upheaval of 1848, which was the beginning of France's "Second Republic." The narrator describes him as a "liberal of the forties and fifties" and a "lifelong European," which means that he embraced egalitarian values. He also knew Proudhon and Bakunin—the first a French socialist and the second a Russian radical. When he returns to his hometown and comes into his property, he sues the monastery over property rights, which he considers his civic duty, because he feels hostile toward "clericals." No doubt he thinks they have too much power and influence. Miusov is Adelaida's cousin, and he rescues the child Dmitri, but then passes him off to relatives in Moscow. By the time Miusov decides to participate in the meeting with Zosima and the Karamazovs, he is ready to drop his dispute with the monastery, which shows he has softened his stance against the religious establishment.

As shown in The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Books 1 and 3, in what ways does Fyodor Karamazov continue a cycle of violence for his second wife, Sofia Ivanovna?

In Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 3, and Book 3, Chapter 8, Fyodor Karamazov psychologically abuses his second wife. He rescues this meek and humble 16-year-old girl from a situation in which her guardian had driven her to such an extreme that she attempted suicide. Therefore, she already has the profile of a victim, and so Sofia Ivanovna simply exchanges one tormentor for another. Because he received no dowry and Sofia was disowned by her guardian, she was completely at her husband's mercy. He "trampled ... on the ordinary decencies of marriage," the narrator says, hosting orgies with other women in front of his wife. He also was sexually perverse with her, which brought on her hysteria. Finally, he was deliberately sacrilegious with her icon (a sacred object).

In The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Book 1 how is Fyodor Karamazov's discussion of hell and the devil's hooks a mockery of religion?

In Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 4, Fyodor Pavlovich makes fun of religion while he is talking with Alyosha Karamazov , perhaps to discourage him from joining the monastery, because he has grown fond of him, or perhaps out of spite, because he doesn't believe in God or the afterlife. He taunts Alyosha by saying that when he thinks about the hooks the devil uses to take people down to hell, he wonders where they come from—for example, he asks if there is a factory in hell. He goes on to imagine a hell without a ceiling, which seems more refined, and then points out that the whole picture of the hooks falls apart if hell has no ceiling; what could the hooks be attached to? By considering the imagery of hell as literal, he demonstrates the whole idea as slightly ridiculous. When Alyosha points out that the hooks are not literal, he says to his son that once he's with the monks for a while, he will become brainwashed by their beliefs and take hell to be a literal place.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Book 2 how does Fyodor Karamazov mock the elder Zosima regarding Fyodor's shame?

In Part 1, Book 2, Chapter 2, Fyodor Karamazov makes this statement after the elder Zosima tells him not to be ashamed of himself, because that is the cause of his bad behavior. Old Karamazov then claims he plays the buffoon because he fears that people do not think he is pleasant or intelligent, and that makes him feel shame. He falls to his knees in a mockery of repentance, asking Zosima what he should do to "inherit eternal life." The elder answers him that he knows what to do, and above all, he should stop lying, especially to himself. Likely, the elder is giving Fyodor too much credit for feeling shame—rather, the old buffoon revels in his transgressive behavior and acts out for spite because people disapprove of him. He is extremely clever, so he picks up on the elder's cue that he might act out because he feels shame, but in fact, he has no conscience whatsoever and is incapable of feeling shame.

What are the differences between Father Ferapont's and the elder Father Zosima's Christianity as shown in The Brothers Karamazov, Part 2, Books 5, 6, and 7?

The differences in Father Ferapont's and Father Zosima's Christianity are most evident in Part 2, Book 5, Chapter 1; Book 6, Chapters 2 and 3; and Book 7, Chapter 1. Father Ferapont's Christianity is one of fear and judgment. He sees devils wherever he goes, and he takes asceticism to the extreme—fasting excessively, wearing chains, and keeping his own company to the point where he has become mad. Although he is well respected as a "holy fool" by many, he is spiteful and jealous. He has stirred up rumors against the elder Zosima and says the odor of his corrupted body is an indication of his sin, because he was arrogant and a glutton. When he is chased away, he complains that they will sing a great song over Zosima, but when he dies, only "a little song," which shows his childishness. Father Zosima's Christianity focuses on love—love of God, love of creation, and love of one's brothers and sisters in Christ. He exhorts his disciples to forgive others and to "[l]ove every leaf, every ray of God's light."

Given the relationship between Grigory Kutuzov and Marfa Kutuzova, as depicted in The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Book 3, how does Grigory in particular reflect some of the novel's themes?

Grigory and Marfa Kutuzov are described as simple peasant people. After the emancipation of the serfs, they remained in the service of the Karamazov family, despite Marfa's objections, out of Grigory's sense of duty. Grigory Kutuzov himself realizes that he helps modulate some of Fyodor Pavlovich's worst traits through his honesty, his very presence providing an ameliorative effect. In this, he is explicitly compared to Alyosha Karamazov , a man whose love and compassion helps to heal many. Grigory loves his wife dearly, and she is a practical woman. Thus, they serve as positive role models for the brothers Karamazov in the midst of the tumultuous world of Fyodor Pavlovich's love affairs. Readers should not take too seriously the fact that he beat his wife once; this is part of the novel's humor, set as it is in a very different age and culture from now. Marfa danced at a wedding, making a spectacle of herself in a way that might invite lascivious gestures from local farmers, perhaps even from her boss. Grigory's act derives more from protection and love than from ill-temper. Grigory's superstition about his own child's deformity and evil origins prefigures the entrance of Smerdyakov into his own. He has a peasant's superstition of evil, one that is proven prescient in the figure of Karamazov's bastard child. Grigory is not cruel, as his treatment of Dmitri evidences, but Smerdyakov is inhuman.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Part 2, Book 4 why does Katerina say she will be Dmitri Karamazov's "god, to whom he will pray"?

In Part 2, Book 4, Chapter 5, Katerina wants to express she will endure anything for Dmitri Karamazov's sake and stay loyal to him, even if he marries Grushenka. He need not be ashamed in front of her for spending her money on Grushenka—she will remain faithful, "despite the fact that he was faithless and betrayed [her]." She intends to be his instrument of happiness, she says. Thus, she is literally appropriating the role of God, by saying she can tolerate any behavior in her fiancé and will provide him with unconditional support. In truth, her self-abnegation is a form of spite. She is furious that he has betrayed her, and she cannot forgive or forget that she lowered herself to ask him for the money for her father in return for her sexual favors. Therefore, her entire relationship with Dmitri is one in which she humiliates herself further to prove herself his moral superior.

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