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The Brothers Karamazov | Symbols

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The Left Eye

The word "sinister" comes from Latin for a word that originally meant "left." The left side of anything has traditionally been associated with evil and the devil. Smerdyakov's left eye is mentioned repeatedly in descriptions of him. His sinister left eye seems to smirk, and in passages in which he is speaking to Ivan, "His slightly squinting left eye winked and smirked as if to say: What's the hurry? You will not pass me by." The devil is Smerdyakov's double, and Smerdyakov is Ivan's double. Smerdyakov is the manifestation of Ivan's unconscious mind, which is full of hatred for his father and wants him dead. Thus, Smerdyakov's left eye is a visible manifestation of his and Ivan's bad intentions. Like Ivan's unconscious mind, it seems to have a life of its own.

The Devil

The devil appears in people's conversations (for example, Ivan repeats the exclamation "the devil take it!" and Dmitri says God and the devil are fighting in man's soul), in people's hallucinations (Ferapont's and Ivan's), in Ivan's poem of the Grand Inquisitor, in Smerdyakov's left eye, and in the narrator's descriptions of characters (for example, one chapter on Lise is called "A Little Demon"). The devil that appears to Ivan at the end of the novel, a mere shadow of his archetypal self, is only a manifestation of Ivan's mind. And the devil in the novel is an image for people's habit of carrying out bad or immoral acts or for denying the existence of God.

Bowing

Bowing in the novel has multiple meanings. A bow is a symbol of humility before another as a show of respect. Sometimes a bow is an acknowledgment of another's suffering—as when Zosima bows to Dmitri to acknowledge the trials that are ahead of him. Dmitri bows to Katerina as the message he sends with Alyosha, which means he is bowing out of their engagement, with his apologies. Earlier, when he first met her and thought to dishonor her but then changed his mind, he bows to ask for forgiveness. Katerina bows to Dmitri in return when he gives her the money, an acknowledgment of gratitude for saving her father. Zosima and Alyosha bow to the ground, which is a prayer to God expressing gratitude for life.

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