Literature Study GuidesThe Brothers KaramazovPart 1 Book 1 Chapters 1 3 Summary

The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | Part 1, Book 1, Chapters 1–3 : A Nice Little Family | Summary

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Summary

The first three chapters provide background on the patriarch of the Karamazov family, who suffered a "dark and tragic death" in the era of the story. Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov began life as a small landowner in the narrator's country town and became wealthy through cunning, sponging, and marriage (Chapter 1). The name of the town is not revealed until Book 11 as Skotoprigonyevsk, which approximately means "Cattle-roundup-ville." Karamazov first eloped with an aristocratic woman of a higher social status—Adelaida Miusov, running through his wife's money and descending into drunkenness and sexual debauchery after she left him and her young son. The narrator calls Karamazov worthless, depraved, muddleheaded, bold, and sarcastic, and he questions how a beautiful heiress could have run off with such a "worthless runt," speculating that she perhaps wanted to defy social conventions. Adelaida died shortly after leaving her husband, and the servant, Grigory, took charge of three-year-old Dmitri, who was also abandoned by his father (Chapter 2). Dmitri was taken to Moscow a year later by Adelaida's cousin, Pyotr Miusov. Passed from relative to relative, the child grew into a wild youth. He spent time in the military and then returned to the narrator's town to settle a long-standing dispute with his father over inheritance money.

Karamazov eloped a second time and had two more children with Sofia Ivanovna, a young girl escaping the psychological abuse of her guardian (Chapter 3). Karamazov tormented his young bride by conducting sexual relations with other women in his own house, and she eventually suffered from a form of hysteria and also died, leaving behind Ivan and his younger brother, Alyosha, about four years his junior. These two children were also cared for by Grigory until they were taken away by relations. Ivan and Alyosha ended up with a kindly guardian who educated the brothers at his own expense. Ivan, a brilliant university graduate, began to make a name for himself as a journalist and critic. He came to town at the request of his brother Dmitri, who had begun a correspondence with him. Once he arrived, Ivan lived amicably at his father's house for two months. The youngest brother, Alyosha, had already been in town for a year.

Analysis

Fyodor Karamazov is the comical villain of this story, although many of his stunts are thoroughly bad. He is a man with no shame, described by the narrator as a "muddleheaded madcap" and an unapologetic sensualist. Despite his bad character and antics, he is able to convince two worthy women to marry him, a testament to the Karamazov charisma, which all the men in the family have. The Karamazovs are meant to represent the breadth of the Russian soul—from its depth to its height—and all those with Karamazov blood are earthy and have a strong thirst for life. Karamazov represents the bad father, and when the father is rotten, the family and society are bound to descend into chaos. The father's abandonment of his sons is an evil that comes back to haunt him, leading to his untimely death. Grigory, the faithful servant of Karamazov, is a substitute father for the boys, but no substitute can replace the true thing. And in subsequent chapters, his shortcomings as a stepfather to the fourth son, the illegitimate Smerdyakov, will also come home to roost.

The town in which they live is not named until much later, and when it is, the translation is roughly equivalent to what an English speaker in the United States might refer to as "Podunk." The Karamazovs are nothing little people from a nothing little town, but this epic novel devolves from the very serious consequences of their lives.

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