The Brothers Karamazov

By fyodor dostoyevski is an interesting book. Yesterday I decided to reread some two chapters, rebellion and the grand inquisitor. In both chapters, it is Ivan doing most of the talking and Alyosha doing the listening.

In the rebellion, Ivan takes on the case of suffering but dwells mainly on the issue of children whom he says are innocent. The adults have eaten the fruit and know of good and evil but not the children. He argues, therefore, that suffering of children is acute and must be explained.

He tells Alyosha the promise of a pleasant heaven where there is happiness does not cut it for him. He will take his chances on this side of the grave. He tells Alyosha he cannoy the person who has metted suffering on the children even the children forgave and sang praises to the good lord.

In the grand inquisitor, Ivan goes for broke. He says the three questions or temptations put to Jesus at the of his forty fast and his response to them is the reason for the unending strife on earth. By refusing to do as per the tempter, he denied men the miraculous, the mystery and authority.

By refusing to turn stone into bread, he denied men the miraculous. Only the elect few can follow him. The rest of mankind must look for bread.

By refusing to jump from the spire of the temple, even if he wasn’t certain he would be rescued, he denied men mystery instead ingima requiring that they worship him without the burden of miracles.

Lastly, by refusing dominion over all mankind, all empire builders have been struggling to unify the world. The Gengis Khans and all. Their tower of babel all come to naught. He would have achieved much more had he obeyed the tempter.

I say going for broke because there are many miracles Jesus does as reported by his biographers. Whether any of the supposed miracles achieved their ends, the jury has returned their verdict.

Have you read the two chapters and what do you think of the positions adopted by Ivan?

The Brothers Karamazov

This review may not do justice to this treatise on ethics, morality and god. I will not talk about all the books, there plot is arranged in books, except I will mention just a few parts in the novel that caught my attention, a brief description of the important characters and those conversations that grabbed my attention. I however encourage everyone to read it.

I had mentioned about this book in one of my recent reviews but I think it deserves a post on its own. The author of this book, Fyodor Dostoevsky died less than four months after it’s publication. He had meant this book to be the first part in an epic titled The Life of a Great Sinner.

The novel is a passionate philosophical treatise on ethics, god, morality and family. The author is a great story-teller. The novel is a first person narrative set in a small town in Russia. The major characters are the Karamazovs, who consist of the father Fyodor Pavlovich and sons Dmitri the ex- Lieutenant , Ivan the atheist and Alexey the young monk. Their father is an irresponsible daddy. He does not take care of his sons, who are taken care of by well wishers and their valet Grigory.

The major conflict in the book that ends in tragedy has two antagonisers; on one side the Karamazov family and on the other two ladies Katerina and Grusha who are presented as two very opposite ladies in way of character. Grusha we are made to believe is a lady of lose morals who is the source of conflict between father and Dmitri. Both of them are in love with her and here lies the greatest rivalry in the book. Katya though betrothed to Dmitri is also falling in love with Ivan or should i say Ivan has fallen in love with her. This however is not a source of conflict between the brothers. There is however a conflict between the two ladies that finally as we will come to see is the reason Mitya is destroyed.

We are introduced to all the major players in the story by book 3. There is a discussion between Ivan and Alexey, though it is Ivan who talks the most. The Grand Inquisitor, where Ivan shows Aloysha why rejects god’s world. He talks about the problem of suffering and the Spanish inquisition and goes ahead to give a hypothetical situation that even Jesus were to show up at that moment, the old bishop would have him killed.

The tragedy that I refer to is the murder of Pavlovich Karamazov and all the evidence when considered together point to Dmitri as the offender. The reader is however shown the real culprit, Smerdyakov, rumoured to be the illegitimate son of Fyodor and Lizaveta. There is an investigation and then the trial. It is the trial that interests so much, there is a blatant travesty of justice. The witnesses for the prosecution keep to their stories though the lawyer for the defense manages to show the witnesses are not reliable and that the evidence is all circumstantial. In his closing remarks, the prosecutor gives his greatest performance to all Russia. He grows through the whole case for the jury in his closing remarks painting Mitya as guilty of the murder of his father. Mitya, from the moment of his arrest has maintained he is a scoundrel but not a thief and that he is not guilty of the murder of his father. The prosecution is determined to have Mitya pay for the murder of the old man and doesn’t even try to look for a different suspect as we would expect from an impartial officer. The lawyer for the defense in his star performance shows in detail that the prosecutor’s case is based on circumstantial evidence and that in his closing remarks, the prosecutor has romanticized the whole case and he feels, rightly so, that his client is not guilty. He then raises an important question of who is father, laying ground that even if Mitya had killed Pavlovich, the man doesn’t deserve to be called a father. He is done nothing, other than begetting the sons, to be worthy of the title father. He is addressing all fathers in Russia and generally all parents and invokes scripture to make his case. Am saddened by the verdict of the jury, there is no way of explaining their attitude towards Mitya! It is a railroad all through, all circumstantial evidence and conjecture and the evidence from Katya, who gives two contradictory testimonies in the same court in the same day. I think the president of the court ought to have struck her evidence from the transcript.

In the final book, Epilogue, we are told of a plan to help Mitya escape. This plan arranged by Ivan who has been taken ill and Katya, we are told involved bribing some guards at one of the interchanges. In her visit to Mitya in the prison before the transfer, Katya and Grusha meet, and she [Grusha] gives a condition for forgiving Katya, that is freedom of Mitya. We don’t know every detail of this plan however and we don’t know whether it succeeded. The curtain closes with the Illusha’s funeral and Alexey imploring the boys to love one another and to always remember each other.