“The Brothers Karamazov” is the last novel of author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, published in 1880. Amid a long list of other characters, the plot surrounds three very different brothers, and their views and experiences on science versus religion, church versus state, children versus adults, suffering and retribution, psychology of criminals, society and laws, God versus the devil, the impact of childhood memories, and above all the human conscience.
Alyosha, the youngest brother, is a monk who is “honest in nature” and “incapable of passive love.” Ivan, the middle brother, is an intellectual writer who has a “Euclidian earthly mind” and doesn’t accept the world created by God. He believes “…if you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up.” It is also Ivan who says “one reptile will devour the other,” in relation to the feud between Dmitri and the boys’ father. Dmitri, the oldest brother, is a hot-tempered, passionate and jealous man, who goes to trial at the end of the novel for the supposed murder of his father. Besides these qualities, Dmitri always admits his faults and does everything in his power to prevent himself from falling from grace.
Besides the development of the characters, the brilliance of this novel lies in the examination of one’s thought process in the midst of choice, and the underlying chaos which often ensues when one’s psyche is torn in half.
Dostoyevsky leaves many plotlines unanswered, however; for example, the importance of the relationship between Madame Hohlakov and Perhotin. But biggest of all, we never find out whether Dmitri escapes from prison and whether Ivan lives or dies.
Overall, this is a very philosophical novel that probably takes more than one read in order to decipher the author’s main point. Below are some quotes from the book.
“As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naïve and simple-hearted than we suppose.”
“Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith.”
“Lamentations spring only from the constant craving to re-open the wound.”
“The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”
“If anything does preserve society, even in our time, and does regenerate and transform the criminal, it is only the law of Christ speaking in his conscience.”
“And what’s strange, what would be marvelous is not that God should really exist; the marvel is that such an idea, the idea of the necessity of God, could enter the head of such a savage, vicious beast as man.”
“The mild serenity of age takes the place of the riotous blood of youth.”
“Much on earth is hidden from us, but to make up for that we have been given a precious mystic sense of our living bond with the other world, with the higher heavenly world, and the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not here but in other worlds. That is why the philosophers say that we cannot apprehend the reality of things on earth…God took seeds from different worlds and sowed them on this earth, and His garden grew up and everything came up that could come up, but what grows lives and is alive only through the feeling of its contact with other mysterious worlds.”
“Look how our young people commit suicide, without asking themselves Hamlet’s question what there is beyond, without a sign of such a question, as though all that relates to the soul and to what awaits us beyond the grave had long been erased in their minds and buried under the sand.”
“A thousand things may happen in reality which elude the subtlest imagination.”
“You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home.”