In none of Dostoevsky’s work is the legacy of the “genealogical family picture” (pg 204) more greatly explored than in The Brothers Karamazov. This is a far cry from the isolation of the Underground Man, lurking in the cellar, a solitary figure frozen in time; a specimen of the modern, individualistic man. This new generation of protagonists is deeply entrenched in the world surrounding them, and each character is part of an intricate web that connects him or her to those around them. In Dostoevsky’s earlier works, such as Notes on the Underground and The Double, both protagonists flinched from this contact with the world; they were incapable of being significant in this world, and this ultimately led to a complete break from any possibility of reconciliation with . The Idiot develops this phenomenon further, deepening the bond between man and the material world in the form of the Prince, the idiot who returns to Russia and society, engulfed in the throes of love and social intrigue, only to meet the same fate as Golyadkin.
The Brothers Karamazov, as even the title of the novel intrinsically implies, elaborates most effectively man’s immutable bond not only with his material existence, but also his symbiotic bond with the people that populate such an existence. Here the Karamozovian aspect of man’s life comes into play, the sensual, head-long plunge into the abyss, “head down and heels up” (pg 107). The submission to base, “insect” (pg 108) instinct lies at the center of a most earthly spirituality as seen in Alyosha, the hermit commanded by his elder to go into the world where he truly belongs. This is structurally a complete reversal of the trajectory of the Underground Man, who was marked by his adamant, fearful retreat to his dark cellar of isolation.
The impossibility of hermit-hood as Alyosha’s avenue of spiritual ascension is evident in his legacy as a Karamazov. He is his father’s son, just as he is “the shrieker’s” son, so that he may have his mother’s fervent faith and her tenderness, but as Fyodor Pavlovich’s son he cannot escape from the corporeal shell of his soul. There is an element of abandon that both the highly religious, such as the holy fools, and the highly amoral, such as the hedonistic buffoon Fyodor Pavlovich, possess that paradoxically equates them as two ends of the same spectrum.
“And all of us Karamazovs are like that, and in you, an angel, the same insect lives and stirs up storms in your blood.” (pg 108) These are the words Dmitri speaks to his brother Alyosha, perfectly describing the Karamazov seal of blood. Alyosha cannot exist without this Karamazov seal, he is indelibly bound to his blood, so much so that the elder Zosima recognizes this inalienable bond, Alyosha’s bond with his depraved father and his brothers, to be his earthly path to something higher. This Karamazovian sensualism is not, therefore, necessarily an evil force. It may certainly facilitate vice and evil actions, as it does in Fyodor Pavlovich, it may even allow for what can almost be called the innocent, uncalculating depravity of Dmitri.
Nonetheless, it is essentially a physical love of life; a love that can be turned to great good or the intention of great good, if reined in by a strong sense of morality. If unchecked, it can lead to ruin and even murder, because the intensity, the fervor with which one can love the contours of earthly existence can lead to unbridled frenzy. “Beauty is a fearful and terrible thing! Fearful because it’s undefinable, and it cannot be defined, because here God gave us only riddles,” (pg 108) and it is this mystery of a beautiful world (in a sense more lofty than Fyodor Pavlovich might perhaps consider it)that intoxicates and draws out the vice in the Karazamov spirit, which is capable in its vastness to “burn an entire village to the ground.” This immersion in the material aspect of life, therefore, can take either the form of avarice or the form of love, a “wild and perhaps indecent thirst of life” (pg 230) that can pervade even the most cold and rational, such as Ivan. In Alyosha, this thirst is devoid of any obscenity. For him, “to want to love with your insides, your guts” (pg 231) is perhaps the celebration of divine power by rejoicing earthly life, “I think everyone should love life before everything else in the world.” (pg 231)
The conversation between Ivan and Alyosha at the tavern before Ivan’s performance of his poem, smacks of a worldly, but somehow holy, spirituality that is anchored deeply in sensualism, “I will be drunk with my own tenderness,” Ivan says on page 230, “sticky spring leaves, the blue sky- I love them, that’s all! Such things you love not with your mind, not with logic, but with your insides, your guts, you love your first young strength.” This kind of spirituality thrives on a primeval thirst for life that originates from an earthly plane and rises to meet a loftier plane. Heaven, therefore, does not descend to the domain of man in all the glory of its miracles, but it is the very act of earthly existence, the beauty of this life, that at some point transcends the mundane and uplifts the soul, no matter how base its genealogical legacy, to a higher existence.