The characters are the vehicles by which the author communicates and articulates his or her message accordingly. ‘The Brothers Karamazov‘ has an assortment of interesting characters with different personalities, all adding flavor and variety to the book’s plot. The characters are complicated in nature yet simple in their behavior. Some of them are likable, most are relatable, and others are just downright unflattering. Yet, it is this odd hodgepodge that makes this book such an interesting read.
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov
Fyodor Pavlovich is a hedonist and sensualist who prefers to overindulge in pleasures such as drinking, partying, and womanizing. He has very little interest in raising his sons from his two marriages — Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexei (also known as Aloysha). This lack of proper parenting leads his three sons to different lives. He is also rumored to have fathered an illegitimate son called Pavel Smerdyakov. His raising of his sons represents a central theme in this book.
Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov
Dmitri is the first son of Fyodor Pavlovich. He is the only child from his first marriage with Adelaida Ivanovna Miusov. He, much like his father, is a hedonist. He is laid-back, entitled, sensualist and champagne-drinking. He has the most unstable relationship with his father. He wrestles with his father for his share of the family inheritance. He wishes to be with Grushenka — a lady who is also romantically involved with his father. All the while, Dmitri is engaged to Katerina Ivanovna. His character was inspired by Dostoevsky when he was in Siberia. He met a prisoner who was accused of patricide in a bid to take his share of the family inheritance. He was later acquitted when the real murderer confessed to the crime. This real-life scenario inspires a significant portion of the plot.
Ivan Fyodorovich Karamazov
He is the second son of Fyodor Pavlovich. He is introverted and keeps to himself. He is an intellectual, and his storyline forms a sizeable portion of the book’s central theme. Ivan is an atheist. He believes in the absence of a God, everything is lawful and permissible. His rationale is that a God would not allow such suffering and pain in the world. Ivan resents his father the most, and Fyodor Pavlovich even says he fears Ivan more than Dmitri. Ivan’s subplot also represents a popular sideline story — The Grand Inquisitor. Ivan narrates how a hypothetical leader of the Spanish Inquisition would react to Jesus if he came back. Ivan and Aloysha debate this at great length. Ivan also develops a relationship with Dmitri’s fiancee, Katerina Ivanovna, although she only reciprocates these feelings toward the end of the book.
Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov
Alexei is the second son of Fyodor Pavlovich from his second wife, Sofya Ivanovna, and thus a full brother to Ivan. He is presented as the protagonist of the story. He is portrayed as somewhat naive and childlike. He is a believer in the Russian Orthodox church. He is also a protege to a monk, Elder Zosima. His religious beliefs are in stark contrast to his brother, Ivan. He is seen by everyone as a peacemaker and listener and is admired by most. His character represents the aspirations of Dostoevsky for the Russian middle-class. Dostoevsky sought to use the character of Aloysha to champion the values of traditions, Orthodox Christianity, and communal living as better alternatives to the western ideology of atheism.
Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov
He is rumored to be Fyodor Pavlovich’s illegitimate son. He was born to ‘reeking Lizaveta’ in Fyodor’s bathhouse. His mother died, and Pavel was raised by Fyodor’s long-time steward, Grigory Vasilievich, and his wife, Marfa. Grigory tries to tutor Pavel, but he is met with contempt and derision. Pavel was a troubled child and was fond of torturing cats and hanging animals. Grigory Vasilievich noted this latent psychopathic streak. Grigory said of Pavel: “You’re not human. You’re the spawn of the mildew on the bathhouse wall, that’s who you are”. The statement never sat well with Pavel, and he held a grudge. Pavel gravitated towards the teachings of Ivan. Everyone sees Pavel as a dummy, but they consistently underestimate his intelligence, breeds a deep-seated resentment in Pavel.
Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlova
Referred to as ‘Grushenka,’ she is a beautiful, fiery 22-year-old who inspires the affection of both Dmitri and Fyodor. She indulges both men’s infatuation for her amusement as they both battle to win her over. She eventually realizes she truly loves Dmitri, and she tries to make amends for her wickedness. She also develops a deep bond with Aloysha, which leads her down the path of spiritual redemption and awakening.
Katerina Ivanovna Verkhovtseva
This is Dmitri’s fiancee. Their union is more a matter of obligation rather than love. Dmitri paid off her father’s depth, and Katerina felt indebted to Dmitri. Dmitri, meanwhile, is infatuated with Grushenka — much to the chagrin of Katerina. She also develops a deep bond with Aloysha, who seems to have a romantic interest in her, but she keeps him at arm’s length by creating moral codes that prohibit their union.
Father Zosima is a monk who is the mentor of Aloysha. The people of the town revere him for being a morally upstanding man. He is also renowned for his faith-healing abilities. He teaches Aloysha the way of Christianity and how to live life properly. This instruction comes in handy to Aloysha when dealing with Ilyusha. Elder Zosima also provides a refutation of his atheist arguments against Ivan. Dostoevsky uses the character of Father Zosima to idealize the role of orthodox Christianity as a positive ideal in society.
Ilyusha was a school boy who was bullied by his peers. His father was humiliated by Dmitri in a bar. Illyusha’s father, Captain Snegiryov, thus resents Aloysha and rejects his help.
Who is the protagonist of this novel?
Aloysha. It’s simple to adore Alyosha. Like mountain spring water, he is clean and untouched, full of trust that colors and illuminates his environment. He genuinely cares about the individuals he meets, has patience for them, and understands how to build mutual trust. More people like Alyosha would make the world a better place. He isn’t, though, an annoyingly perfect saint. He has his issues, no matter how unselfish they are.
What is Ivan’s character like?
Ivan is presented as an intellectual, a cynic, a realist, and someone who has no illusions about humanity’s plight. Surprisingly, he is just as loving as Alyosha because of this. He truly sees the wickedness in the world, and it has a profound effect on him, so profound that it has shattered his entire worldview. He’s completely changed, and he can’t reconcile his love for the weak and vulnerable with his belief in mankind.
What makes Grushenka a likeable character?
Her loyalty is one of her most valuable qualities. She swears to be ever constant and devoted to Dmitri when she finally understands her love for him, just as she was to her first boyfriend. She also admits her role in the assassination of Fyodor Pavlovich and is eager to share the blame with Dmitri. Despite her erratic history, all of these circumstances contribute to her redemption.
What was the purpose of Ilyusha’s character?
Ilyusha is a local schoolboy who is also the protagonist of a pivotal subplot in the novel. Captain Snegiryov, his father, is a poor officer who Dmitri ridicules after Fyodor pays him to scare him over his debts, and as a result, the Snegiryov family is humiliated. Dostoevsky uses this character to illustrate that seemingly minor occurrences can have serious consequences, as we saw Ilyusha fall ill and eventually die, partly as a result of the shame of being bullied by his peers.