The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | From the Author | Summary



The introduction is penned by the fictional narrator, presenting only a preliminary volume of the biography of his hero, Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov (Alyosha), which he plans to write in two volumes. The narrator speaks in the first person, saying that he doubts that readers will agree his hero is noteworthy, because he is somewhat "indefinite" and "indeterminate." On the other hand, if readers are willing to entertain the possibility that a hero can "bear within himself the heart of the whole," then perhaps they may agree that he is worthy of so much attention. The novel takes place 13 years prior to the writing of the introduction, the narrator says. Finally, the narrator admits that the whole introduction is superfluous, although he will let it stand.


The introduction provides an overture to this polyphonic novel with various—and sometimes diametrically opposed—views and voices, presented by the real author with equal strength and passion. The contradictory stances of the fictional narrator foreshadow the competing views that will follow as the novel unfolds, not the least of them being the ongoing argument between faith and doubt.

Another important element of this overture is its humor. The narrator is clearly playing with the reader, anticipating a challenge to the status of the hero—paltry at first glance, but revealing his substance to the discerning critic. The playfulness and humor in the introduction permeates this novel and, unfortunately, is often missed in a superficial reading. This is a serious work about the Big Questions of Life. At the same time, it is quite funny, and the real author does not want his readers to miss the jokes.

Finally, two important facts emerge: First, the story takes place 13 years earlier in time. The current time in the novel is the author's time period while writing the novel (1878–80). Thus, the fictional story takes place somewhere around 1865. Dates become important when considering certain historical facts that arise in the novel. For example, the serfs were freed in 1861, and the Russian courts were reformed in 1864.

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