One of Dostoevsky’s most perplexing works. As in most of his works, spiritual malaise and philosophical frameworks are prevalent here. As is customary, the author remains concealed between the lines as his characters demonstrate a variety of beliefs and ethics, leaving the reader to piece together the puzzle. The tale is stressful, but there are a few long buildups that are thankfully compensated by emotionally moving payoffs. The book features some of Dostoevsky’s most strong and persuasive rhetoric, which can make a lasting impression on the reader. The large and diverse ensemble of personalities serves as case studies for the writer’s attempts to reconcile societal issues. This novel resembles “Devils,” yet it is more emotive and perhaps personal.
The narration is clear, concise, and straightforward. The narrator seems to express the thoughts of the characters being described quite well, almost as if the narrator were a character itself. In some chapters, Dostoevsky uses malapropisms to describe some characters, especially during Dmitri’s trial.
Depending on the English translation used, the readability of this book is quite simple. As some experts have noted, most of the complexities of Dostoevsky’s writing in the Russian language were toned down in its English translation, without a drop in the quality of the work.
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Life
On November 11th, 1821, Fyodor Dostoevsky was born. He was exposed to literature from a young age. It was heroic sagas, fairy stories, and legends when he was three. His mother taught him to read and write using the Bible when he was four years old. His exposure to literature was broad and varied. His parents’ nighttime readings sparked his imagination, he later recounted. Tragic events occurred on September 27, 1837. Dostoevsky’s mother died of TB when he was a child. Dostoevsky and his brother had dropped out of university to pursue military careers at the Nikolayev Military Engineering Institute. Dostoevsky despised the academy and preferred to pursue his hobbies in sketching and building. His father’s death may have prompted Dostoevsky’s epilepsy on June 16, 1839. On the other hand, he finished his studies, passed his tests, and received his diploma.
Importance of ‘The Brothers Karamazov‘
Dostoevsky had lived for some time in Western Europe. He had seen how movements such as rationalism and atheism were sweeping the West, their effects and how fast it was gaining ground in Russia. The socialist movement in Russia was also gaining momentum, and all these events shaped Dostoevsky’s worldview. ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ warned about the effects of such Western movements and how they would affect the traditional way of life in Russia.
Dostoevsky’s writings were not unnoticed, however. His previous works, such as Notes From the Underground (1864), Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1868), and Demons (1872), had already put him on the radar. He was a big-time writer, and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ (1880) simply put him over the top in the pantheon of great Russian writers.
The Role of Religion
Religion is a central theme in this book. With the wave of atheism spreading in the West, Dostoevsky sought to use this story to alert his fellow Russians of the potential dangers that lie in that ideology. He uses the murder of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov to buttress his point. Fyodor was suspected of having been killed by his first son, Dmitri. Dmitri is tried and sentenced to jail. However, it was discovered that Pavel Smerdyakov, his illegitimate son, murdered Fyodor Pavlovich. Pavel’s reasons for the murder were unclear. Pavel confesses to his half-brother, Ivan, that his rationale for killing his father was based on his teachings of Ivan. Ivan had previously told Pavel that in the absence of God or immortality, there is no virtue, thus, everything is permissible. This allowed Pavel to rationalize the murder of Fyodor Pavlovich.
Dostoevsky used this story to warn Russia about atheism. He believed that in the absence of divine law, nothing was sacred. There is no virtue, neither is there value. Anything and everything can be justified.
The Psychology of Dostoevsky’s Characters
Experts and critics alike attest to the depth of Dostoevsky’s knowledge of the functioning of the human mind.
Some have described Dostoevsky as a master of human psychology. His writings are a testament to this skill, particularly regarding his characters. In some passages in this book, the narrator deeply understands the characters’ most personal thoughts. Dostoevsky describes the character’s rationale for taking an action and juxtaposes it with a contrary viewpoint from another character that nullifies the previous character’s thought process. Dostoevsky does this best in the conversations between Aloysha and his brother, Ivan.
The Role of the Subplots
Dostoevsky was nearing the end of his life, and he knew it. Because of this, he decided to weave many of his unpublished works into a single volume. One of the most interesting subplots in ‘The Brothers Karamazov‘ was the story of Ilyusha. Ilyusha was a local schoolboy who his peers bullied. Aloysha witnesses this and tries to help Ilyusha. Ilyusha bites him and runs off. Aloysha learns later that his brother, Dmitri, humiliated the boy’s father, Captain Snegiryov in a local bar. At the end of the book, Aloysha is at the funeral of Ilyusha, narrating his life to the crowd. The kids who bullied him, are in attendance, filled with remorse and regret over their treatment of Ilyusha. This story describes how life comes full circle, and why it is important to treat people well.
Another crucial subplot is The Grand Inquisitor story. This is a poem narrated by Ivan to Aloysha to contrast the difference between idealism and rationalism. Ivan, an atheist, narrates a hypothetical scenario in which Jesus would return to Earth and meet the leader of the Spanish Inquisition. Jesus would confront the leader and chastise him for using coercion to convert people to Christianity. In this narration, the leader of the Spanish Inquisition imprisons Jesus and bemoans the naivety of Jesus’s gospel. This poem encapsulated the essence of Ivan’s dichotomy between rationalism and idealism. Ivan was a rationalist, and Aloysha was an idealist.
What was the critical reception of ‘The Brothers Karamazov‘ like?
Critics loved the book. It demonstrated the paradigm of human ideals with the prevalent reality. It tackled socially relevant issues in a very poignant way.
What writing style was used in ‘The Brothers Karamazov?’
Dostoevsky employed literary devices ahead of his time. It is unclear the specific methods employed, but his ability to weave in personal anecdotes and subplots into the book’s general theme has inspired many 20th-century writers.
What is the general tone of Dostoevsky?
The narrator’s voice has a serious comedic tone to it. He takes his story seriously and understands the gravity of the issues it raises, but he writes with warm linguistic creativity that occasionally obscures his subject’s coldness.
Whose point of view is ‘The Brothers Karamazov‘ written from?
The point of view shifts between characters, including Alyosha, Ivan, Dmitri, and the narrator himself
The Brothers Karamazov Review
Lasting Effect on Reader
The Brothers Karamazov Review
‘The Brothers Karamazov‘ was the last book by the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. Published in 1880, this book is ahead of its time in terms of employing modern literary devices.
- The writing is clear and readable.
- The characters are relatable.
- The story is compelling.
- The book gives a little bit of history lesson about Russia in the 19th-century.
- The characters have different names and are used interchangeably, which can confuse the reader.
- The book is very big which may be too lengthy a read for some people.
- The English translation doesn’t fully capture the thoughts of the original in the Russian language.