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The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In The Brothers Karamazov, Part 3, Book 7 why does Rakitin get angry about the outcome of Alyosha Karamazov's visit to Grushenka?

Rakitin is a spiteful and petty seminary student who has no religious calling and hates the Karamazovs. Alyosha Karamazov thinks Rakitin is his friend but, in fact, he is jealous of Alyosha and wishes him ill. Grushenka is Rakitin's first cousin, although he goes to a lot of trouble to conceal that fact. Grushenka had asked Rakitin to bring Alyosha to her so that she can seduce him and has agreed to pay him 25 rubles. He takes advantage of Alyosha's spiritual crisis after the elder's death to entice him to Grushenka's, hoping to watch Alyosha disgrace himself as a novice monk. In Part 3, Book 7, Chapter 3, when Alyosha and Grushenka make friends and recognize each other as kindred spirits, he becomes infuriated. He is forced to look at his cousin in a different light, and he is outed to Alyosha as a false friend. Moreover, the unfolding of events is like a mirror that he cannot help but look into, and he is not happy with the reflection he sees. Thus, he abandons Alyosha, even though Alyosha didn't take offense to his appalling behavior.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Part 3, Book 7 what is the meaning of Alyosha Karamazov's vision on the night he is praying and dozing beside Elder Zosima's coffin?

Alyosha Karamazov is angry with God for allowing his elder to be disgraced after death, and he has a minor rebellion. After his visit to Grushenka, in which she gave him an onion and he gave her an onion in return (both were the occasion of grace for the other), Alyosha returns to the monastery to pray in the elder Zosima's room. Father Paissy is reading the Gospel, which happens to be the story about the Wedding of Cana, when Jesus turned water into wine. In Part 3, Book 7, Chapter 3, Alyosha has a vision of Zosima in a twilight state—halfway between sleeping and waking. Zosima tells him he is at the Wedding of Cana; he got there because he gave "a little onion," referencing the story Grushenka told about the woman who could not be saved from hell because she refused to share her onion. Zosima again tells Alyosha that he must go out into the world. In the vision, Zosima also tells him to look at the sun—which is a representation of God, but Alyosha cannot look yet. However, he is filled with spiritual rapture and goes outside to embrace the earth, knowing he has new strength in his soul. The vision is a reassurance from Alyosha's spiritual guide that he is happy in heaven, and an exhortation for him to do his own spiritual work and pick up where Zosima left off. Thus, the dream is Alyosha's little miracle following the death of his elder.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Part 3, Books 7 and 8, and Part 4, Book 11 how does Dostoevsky use Madame Khokhlakov to create comedy in the novel?

Madame Khokhlakov provides comic relief in almost every scene she is in, such as Part 3, Book 7, Chapter 2; Part 3, Book 8, Chapter 3; and Part 4, Book 11, Chapter 2. She is portrayed as a garrulous scatterbrain who changes her opinion according to the way the wind blows. For example, first she talks Elder Zosima up, contriving miracles for him where none exist (for example, saying he cured Lise of her fevers). Then she sends Rakitin to spy at the monastery to find out what people are saying about Zosima's rotting corpse, and opines that she would not have expected "such conduct from such a venerable old man as Father Zosima." When Dmitri Karamazov comes to borrow money from her, she tries to send him to the gold mines, and later says he almost killed her. But when she thinks he might be acquitted at trial, she says afterward she will invite him to dinner with lots of guests, in case he happens to have another murderous impulse. These are just a few of the many examples in which Madame Khokhlakov creates laughter with her absurd thoughts or behavior.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Part 2, Book 4 why does Captain Snegiryov change his mind about taking money from Alyosha Karamazov when he first comes to call?

In Part 2, Book 4, Chapter 7, Alyosha Karamazov's first errand of mercy to the Snegiryov family is to take 200 rubles to the captain as some form of recompense for the way Dmitri Karamazov treated him. Captain Snegiryov is very poor, and most of his family members are ill. At first, he takes the money and thinks about all the ways in which he can improve his family's lives. But then Alyosha goes too far in promising additional funds from both Katerina and himself. Snegiryov begins to feel like a beggar receiving handouts—and from the relative of his enemy. The worst of his altercation with Dmitri is that his son feels the humiliation of his father beyond anything, and there is no way to restore the boy's pride. Snegiryov begins thinking about how he will face his proud son after taking money from these "aristocrats," which is why he initially refuses. Later, Alyosha is able to convince him to take the money after he feels that his pride has been restored.

What is the result of Elder Zosima's creed that all are guilty for all and responsible for all?

Elder Zosima's creed makes the world a kinder, gentler place and discourages the tendency to judge others—which doesn't mean they can't be held accountable for their bad deeds. Rather, Zosima's creed calls for forgiveness of bad deeds, which are the result of everyone's falling short and failing the sinner. Such an attitude of compassion is a means for transformation of people who have "sinned." For example, Dmitri Karamazov's sins are the result of being abandoned as a child and the subsequent treatment he gets from his father. Zosima takes responsibility for Dmitri's sins by bowing down to him in Part 1, Book 2, Chapter 6, and he tasks Alyosha Karamazov with looking after his brother, which Alyosha fails to do. For example, Zosima tells Alyosha to leave and look after his family in Part 2, Book 4, Chapter 1, and then asks him if he has seen Dmitri when he comes back from the monastery in Part 2, Book 6, Chapter 1, saying, "Perhaps you'll still be able to prevent something terrible." Alyosha fails to find Dmitri, and instead has a long conversation with Ivan Karamazov at the tavern. The narrator notes that, later in life, Alyosha will wonder how the elder's exhortation could have gone out of his head (Part 2, Book 5, Chapter 5). If Alyosha and Ivan had done more to intervene in the quarrel between father and son, Pavel Smerdyakov may not have gotten the idea to kill Old Karamazov, and he certainly would not have been in the garden at that fateful moment when Karamazov is killed. Alyosha's taking responsibility for Grushenka's sin in Part 3, Book 7, Chapter 3 is a catalyst for a great change in her, which begins when Alyosha doesn't condemn her and calls her sister. After that, she stops pretending she is hard-hearted and acknowledges her love for Dmitri. With the help of Alyosha, she is able to see Dmitri through his ordeal, after he is accused of murder.

How do readers of The Brothers Karamazov know that Ivan Karamazov hates his father?

Ivan Karamazov is infuriated by his father's behavior at the monastery in Part 1, Book 2, Chapter 8, and pushes Maximov out of the carriage in a fit of temper. After old Karamazov gets drunk in Part 1, Book 3, Chapter 8, he accuses Ivan of despising him and looking at him with maliciousness. He also says to him that "You came here with something in mind," which is a foreshadowing of Old Karamazov's fate. After Dmitri breaks in and beats Fyodor Karamazov, he tells Alyosha Karamazov that he is more afraid of Ivan than Dmitri. Ivan also tells Alyosha in Part 1, Book 3, Chapter 9 that he would not be sorry if Dmitri killed their father, and even admits that he wishes for the old man's death. When Pavel Smerdyakov tells Ivan he is worried Dmitri will murder him in Part 1, Book 5, Chapter 6, he feels no worry. Yet, he has a premonition that something will happen to his father, although he ignores it. He has pledged to Alyosha that he will protect their father, yet he leaves him unprotected. Finally, he feels guilty about the old man's death because he knows that he wished him dead.

In The Brothers Karamazov, in what ways is Rakitin an atheist?

Rakitin is both an atheist and an enemy of religion. It was common for sons of the lower middle class to attend seminary school to get an education, but Rakitin has no religious vocation nor allegiance to the Russian Orthodox faith, even if he is a seminary student. Early on, he scoffs at Elder Zosima's bowing to Dmitri Karamazov, implying that the old man was simply shrewd and wanted to hedge his bets in the event that Dmitri ended up being a parricide (Part 1, Book 2, Chapter 7). He makes fun of Alyosha Karamazov because he is upset that God has allowed the elder's corpse to rot, taunting his friend by saying, "they passed you over for promotion" (Part 3, Book 7, Chapter 2). In fact, he is no friend of Alyosha's but wants to bring him down and disgrace him, which is why he promises to bring the innocent monk to Grushenka for 25 rubles. When Alyosha and Grushenka mutually recognize the other's goodness, Rakitin becomes furious because his plan to prove Alyosha a hypocrite has been foiled (Part 3, Book 7, Chapter 3). At the end of the novel, Rakitin visits Dmitri in jail and tries to turn him into an atheist, telling him that it is possible to love man without loving God (Part 4, Book 11, Chapter 4).

In The Brothers Karamazov, Part 3, Book 9 why does Dmitri Karamazov hold on to the 1,500 rubles from Katerina instead of immediately giving it back?

In Part 3, Book 9, Chapter 7, Dmitri Karamazov understands that Katerina has given him the 3,000 rubles as a test and also so that he can feel like a scoundrel when he appropriates her money. He understands that the basis for their relationship is that she sacrifices herself for him so that she can continually prove her superiority. He falls in with her plan, partly out of spite, partly out of a lack of discipline, and partly because he thinks himself to be a scoundrel. However, he does not consider himself a thief. As long as he keeps back 1,500 rubles of the money Katerina gave him, there is a chance he will return it and simply owe her half of the money. Once he deliberately spends the money, however, especially after holding on to it for weeks, he proves that he is both a scoundrel and a thief. In his despair over Grushenka's defection to her old lover, he finally decides to spend the remaining money because, in his view, he has nothing left to lose.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Part 3, Book 8 after Grushenka confesses her love, why does she tell Dmitri Karamazov they should farm the land?

Grushenka realizes that both she and Dmitri Karamazov are undisciplined and likely to waste money and wind up as paupers. They also need the mental discipline of hard work to help reign in their emotions, and she feels that they both need to be morally rehabilitated. In her drunken state, she thinks of the noble peasants who work the land and make an honest living by the sweat of their brow, which is why she proposes to Dmitri that they "work on the land" in Part 3, Book 8, Chapter 8. She says, "I want to scrape the earth with my hands," which is also symbolic of getting down to the essentials and dropping the external veneer with which she has been hiding her real personality.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Part 3, Books 7 and 8 why does Grushenka go to her former lover Mussyalovich who suddenly wants to marry her?

Grushenka was madly in love with Mussyalovich, the Polish officer, and she has been nursing the remnants of that love as well as the wound she still carries from his terrible rejection. She hints to Alyosha Karamazov that maybe she will meet him for spite, to show him how strong she's grown and then to make fun of him. But she also says that she will "crawl to him like a little dog." Grushenka has been brooding on this loss for five years, and now she has a chance to resolve it—one way or the other. In Part 3, Book 7, Chapter 3, and Part 3, Book 8, Chapter 7, once she arrives at Mokroye, she realizes that she no longer loves this Pole but only her memory of a girlhood ideal. She also realizes that he only wants to take advantage of her again. This time, he will take her money if she only agrees to marry him.

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