The Narrator and the Case

Submitted by Muddasir M. Ayaz on Saturday, 12/5/2009, at 3:19 PM

The narrator in The Brothers Karamazov has a certain sense of belonging to the context of the plot, as we are to take him as a resident of the town. If the readers consider the narrator to be a completely honest narrator, and if he is considered to be belonging to the context of the Karamazovs, then it becomes difficult to understand why the narrator does not mention the fact that, as a narrator, he is fully aware of the guilt and innocence of Smerdyakov and Dmitri, to the extent that he knows what Smerdyakov was thinking when he gave Ivan the three thousand roubles. While the plot is self-contained, this structural element of the novel seems to falter under scrutiny. If the Dostoevsky suggests that the alternative hypothesis to the Karamazovian  creed "Everything is permitted" is "Everyone is responsible", then is the narrator not just as culpable for the consequences of Fyodor Pavlovich's death as, say, Ivan? While I understand that global responsibility in the plot allows Dostoevsky to reveal information about the character's philosophies (which is important since the characters are representative of ideas) and that it allows him to make a social critique on the consequences of self-proclaimed responsibility, it seems that he fails to implicate the narrator as being guilty in any real way. To consider everyone responsible, as Zosima suggests in his argument that the monks are equally responsible for the sins of man, seems like a Dostoevskian idea, and his biography seems to suggest that he lived by this creed (e.g., Dostoevsky took responsibility for his brother's family after his brother's death), the critique nontheless stands that while no man acts as an independent agent, ultimately it is the individual who must bear the consequences of his burden. How is it, then, that the narrator somehow escapes bearing any responsibility over Dmitri's fate, when even someone like Madame Khoklakov blames herself for his demise? I think that understanding the narrator's relationship to the case would more fully reveal the intent and reason behind Dostoevsky's use of this particular narrative form.

Suffering and Free Choice

Submitted by Hannah M. Gais on Friday, 12/4/2009, at 6:57 PM

Looking back on it, I was particularly struck by the notion of suffering in Ivan's discussion with Alyosha.  This, indeed, a topic that is brought up frequently in a number of ways throughout the book -- as is the terrifying concept of suffering children.  On page 244, for instance, Ivan asks: "[I]f everyone must suffer, in order to buy eternal harmony with their suffering, pray tell me what the children got to do with it," and "what solidarity in sin do little children have?" (244).  With regards to the problem of evil, this is -- I believe -- a rather tragic issues; that is, how can children -- who we associate to be almost the epitome of "purity" and "innocence" -- be subject to such horrors?  Ivan's question is a rather interesting one, as it seems as if adults -- who have the capacity to reason and utilize their free will -- would not create such an issue, as it is said within the Christian Tradition that there is no one who lives and does not sin.  Despite some of his bizarre ideas, Ivan certainly has a point here.

Devil's desire to be reincarnated into a human being

Submitted by Corina Leu on Thursday, 12/3/2009, at 6:28 PM

I found it so perverse that the Devil wanted to be reincarnated into a human being. "My dream is to become incarnate, but so that it's final, irrevocable, in some fat, two-hundred-and-fifty-pound merchant's wife, and to believe everything she believes." (639) He desires that, as if it isn't enough that he's already thrust his tail in between all the human emotions and actions that occur everyday. As Alyosha says, "the devil has [already] incarnated himself in this vanity and crept into a whole generation." (557) The Devil knows he is a part of this material world, and that he is omnipresent, like a God. "And so I serve grudgingly, for the sake of events, and I do the unreasonable on orders." (642) Whose orders does the Devil obey, if not the people's orders? We want him here. And essentially it's not his desire to be reincarneted into a human being, instead, it is our constant desire to make the Devil part of our existence. We do that by inviting suffering into our lives. The Devil says wisely of humans that they "take this whole comedy for something serious, despite all their undeniable intelligence." (642) 

What are we to make of this? Is the Devil as much a product of human imagination as is God? Or is he an external force that merely wants to appear as a human product so as to validate his existence and his role?

The devil and the anguish of doubt

Submitted by Jeffrey A. Tucker on Thursday, 12/3/2009, at 3:38 AM

What I found most striking about the devil's extended visit to Ivan was his utter banality. He apologizes for not appearing in thunder and fire with scorched wings--instead he is a shoddily dressed, ordinary man. He hardly seems certain of anything, and he presents Ivan with no semblance of truth or insight. Instead he is comprised, essentially, of a collage of Ivan's previous doubts, arguments, and thought experiments. He cycles between arguing for and against his own (and God's) existence, just as Ivan fluctuates between denouncing God and longing to believe in him. In fact, when Ivan presses the devil as to whether he believes in God, he says "I just don't know--there's a great mystery for you!" He mocks Ivan's decision to confess his complicity/guilt for the murder, much as Ivan doubts the sincerity of his own motives, when he (the devil) calls the decision "noble", "charmant", and "chevaleresque".

The devil, or skepticism as a way of life, cannot offer anything solid to stand on. Ivan demands some measure of truth and certainty, but all he gets is circular rumination. As the devil says, "moderate your demands, don't demand 'all that is great and beautiful' of me, and we shall live in peace and harmony," but that is precisely Ivan's problem. He cannot stop demanding beautiful truths, but he cannot silence his perpetually undermining, skeptical intellect.

What are we to make of Ivan? Does he have the right drive--to seek truth--but looks in the wrong place (reason, rather than faith)? I cannot help but find his continual questioning appealing. To expect such a man to simply shut up his reason would be cruel of God, and to expect him to find a faith firm enough to stand forever against his doubts seems like it's asking too much.

We have some evidence that Dostoevsky saw a path to faith for Ivan through Alyosha: Ivan promises to remember Alyosha and talk to him when he feels most despondent. But Dostoevsky does not return to Ivan at the end of the novel to reassure us--Dostoevsky's sad conclusion may be that for a mind like Ivan's, the peace found in Christ will remain forever out of reach.

Grand Inquisitor left unanswered

Submitted by Genelle L. Diaz-Silveira on Thursday, 12/3/2009, at 1:44 AM

 

For me, the novel never successfully refuted Ivan's argument. Father Zosima's argument that suffering is a necessary part of life and that plot (as we discussed last class) is more important than details  is not compelling enough.  In the story of Job,  God is a prideful and arrogant; Job's suffering was not necessary and was motivated by what is itself considered a sin. The best defense I can see against Ivan-  in terms of rationalizing God and his ways-  is the court's conviction of Mitya despite his innocence. Here, we follow the court as it is presented with all the details of the story, with the "facts," as they are repeatedly called. These fact suggest that Mitya committed the murder. The Euclidean mind of the court can only comprehend the facts it is presented with,  and despite the eagerness of onlooking ladies and those who perhaps are moved by pathos to excuse him, still Mitya is convicted of murder.

Completely Reckless Men

Submitted by Danielle M. Morrissette on Wednesday, 12/2/2009, at 10:23 PM

One thing that keeps coming up in Dostoevsky's major novels is this theme of completely reckless young men.  These young men in his novels keep giving into their give into their hedonistic desires with often very tragic and pointless results. The character of Dmitri completely mystifies me. If you are going to steal the money to try and lure the girl, why do you still want to kill yourself? He throws a party (drunken orgy) with his new found finances, after being seen walking down the street with blood all over himself, in order to confront Grushenka with her Polish boyfriend, all in the intention to kill himself at dawn. What's with that?

Then there's Smerdyakov. He seems to be the one who has benefited the most from Fyodor Pavlovich's finances, and yet he's the one who kills him and takes the money. After he commits the murder, he shows the money to Ivan, telling him that he and he alone is responsible for his (their) father's murder because of the ideas that Ivan put in Smerdyakov’s head. Then Smerdyakov kills himself while Ivan is with the Devil.

Not to be too simplistic, but these men, these spawn of Fyodor Pavolovich, to me seem to be completely reckless and pointless, with the mild exception of Alyosha. Why kill yourself after you have committed murder? Why don't you just kill yourself before you commit the murder and spare the victim? Same thing with Mitya. He knocks Gregori on the head, kills him and is found later wondering about all dazed and suicidal. And Gregori is the man who was the only person that took care of both Mitya and Ivan when they were little children. What is going on?!  I do not understand in the least these young male characters, with the exception of Alyosha, in the Brothers Karamazov.

 

The Free Will Defense

Submitted by Elyse J. Yarmosky on Wednesday, 12/2/2009, at 1:05 PM

Ivan's argument in the Grand Inquisitor reminds me of The Free Will Defense, a paper written by Alvin Plantinga. In both arguments, the conclusion is that a free world where evil might come about by free will is better than a world that is caused to be happy. The Grand Inquisitor is a proponent for the latter world, while Jesus/God*/Plantinga are all proponents for the former

The idea of free will is also addressed in J.L Mackie's "The Problem of Evil," which many people believe Ivan tries to summarize in his stories about the suffering of children. The main problem at the heart of this debate is that if evil exists, then an all-knowing, all-powerful, and wholly good God does not exist. Ivan seems to be thinking of this when he relates the stories of suffering to Alyosha, saying, "I think that if the devil does not exist, and man has therefore created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness"--in other words, how can there be a God if man has entreated other men with so much suffering? There can only be a devil if this is so.

 

 

 

*In "The Grand Inquisitor," at least.

A Little Bit on the Philosophies of Ivan and Zosima

Submitted by Richard S. Hevier on Tuesday, 12/1/2009, at 9:04 AM

Ivan's "Grand Inquisitor" poem and Zosima's biographical information truly get at the heart of the relationship between God and his creation.  Zosima, differently, is concerned with the other animate and inanimate members of creation as well.  Both philosophies are rooted in suffering.  Indeed, Zosima’s entire manner of living changed with the suffering of his servant upon his beating him and his own suffering and feeling of remorse afterwards (he remarks that “It was as if a sharp needle went through my soul”) (298).  Ivan’s Inquisitor holds convictions that are borne out of the suffering of the whole of mankind; they both, in turn, take this reality of suffering and try to make sense of it.  I think Ivan’s argument moves by means of laying blame—that humans are suffering and because their suffering so thoroughly overshadows any semblance of collective happiness, there is no hope of salvation and this leaves but a single culprit—God.  If Zosima’s wisdom is an argument, it is definitely an enigmatic one.  It makes sense of the mystery of suffering with feeling and spirituality rather than hard logic.  He claims: “A loving humility is a terrible power, the most powerful of all, nothing compares with it (319).”  I think Ivan would counter Zosima’s claim here by posing the question: “You claim that ‘humble love’ is able to overcome the whole world, but why has it not done so even centuries after Christ if it is such a ‘terrible power.’  One of the central themes of Zosima’s philosophy covers this, and does not so much defeat Ivan’s argument, but rather renders the whole train of thought unimportant.  He does this by returning to the enigma, or at least the delightful statement that cannot be contradicted because it creates his own reality.  He says on page 320: “And there is much in the strongest feelings and impulses of our nature that we cannot comprehend while on earth; do not be tempted by that either…for the eternal judge will demand of you that which you could comprehend, not that which you could not.”  How are we capable of believing and abiding by this?  By a “mysterious sense of our living bond with the other world,” Zosima says on the next page.  So Zosima takes all of the suffering and troubles of mankind and is satisfied with an enigmatic answer to them.  He always has his mind in heaven, makes sense of things be emotion and feeling.  Although he praises and the tranquility of animals such as the horse, he understands that “humble love” is possible only in human action because they are aware of what they do.  He is romantic in many ways.   Ivan’s philosophy in the mouth of Grand Inquistor is based in the earthly sense and searches for answers to human suffering in the worldly dimension.  He seeks answers to questions that cannot be solved and ends up rejecting God in the process.  He believes that suffering can only be countered by blind suffering, the surrender of one’s conscience (257).  The suffering and sin of man, for him, cannot be avoided and therefore must be distorted in blindness.  Zosima wields love and proclaims that it is only by sharing in suffering and the responsibility for collective sin that the happiness can be realized.     

Suffering and Love

Submitted by Eva M. Becker on Tuesday, 12/1/2009, at 1:30 AM

I find it to be quite compelling that the theme of suffering as offering spiritual discovery recurs in Part 4 of The Brothers Karmazov. Father Zossima’s earlier account of his non-religious brother Markel, upon finding himself dying of consumption, quite suddenly comes to find love in his heart in which he cherishes all living creatures, the beauty of God and his creation, and life itself. The notion that suffering, be it moral, ethical, or physical in its scope, can be a catalyst to deep faith, in humanity and in God, first reoccurs in Book Ten in the case of Ilusha. Ilusha, whose circumstances are certainly different than those of Markel, also falls ill and is dying of consumption, has a similar spiritual transformation as he becomes increasingly more haunted by, and remorseful of his believing that he has cruelly killed an innocent dog as a prank. “It’s because I killed Zhutchka, father, that I am ill now. God is punishing me for it,” the boy says. While Ilusha’s prank is of course not the reason for his illness specifically, it is nevertheless a powerful depiction of how strongly remorse and the desire for repentance function here. It is reminiscent of Markel’s urging all to “love the birds” and to beg their forgiveness, that is, an epiphanic wonderment in all things.

The conversation between Mitya and Alyosha in Book Eleven in the chapter “Hymn and Secret” even further emphasizes Markel’s conviction that all human beings are responsible for all others. Mitya’s suffering is moral, rather than physical, in nature, yet his suffering serves as a catalyst all the same for him to declare to Alyosha: “One may thaw and revive a frozen heart in that convict, one may wait upon him for years, and at last bring him up from the dark depths a lofty soul, a feeling, suffering creature; one may bring forth an angel, create a hero! There are so many of them, hundreds of them, and we are all to blame for them.” Immediately thereafter, his correlation between his earlier question, “Why is the babe so poor?” and coming to understand that one is responsible for all is synonymous with Markel’s realization, as well. “It’s for the babe I’m going. Because we are all responsible for all. For all the ‘babes,’ for there are big children as well as little children. All are ‘babes.’”

Indeed, the parallel, and the reemphasis and recurrence of this theme finds a strong presence in Part 4, as the notion is strengthened in the way that is applied to different characters in different circumstances. This notion, in particular, also seems to strengthen the unwavering presence of such ideas as the desire of a large majority of the characters for forgiveness and repentance. A final parallel that could be drawn between these characters who, in the vein of Zossima, come to love and cherish a strikingly earthly and realist Christianity, one that is grounded in a love for humankind, for existence (like Mita's joy in his exclamation, "I exist!"), and for all the manifestations of  the physical world.

Experiential Learning

Submitted by Victoria E. Gauthier on Monday, 11/30/2009, at 11:05 AM

Throughout Brothers K, I keep noticing Dostoevsky's emphasis on experiential learning.  The characters of Kolya and Madame Khokhlakov are the most obvious examples.  Kolya (one of my favorites in the novel) gets all of his sassy "know-how" from the old books on his father's shelf.  He reads snippets here and there, trying to use knowledge and "intellectual" conversation to speed up his independence and maturity.  At one point, he even refers to himself as "an incorrigible socialist."  He's actually sort of like the worst stereotypes of liberal arts students - those who read ONE piece of literature and adopt a political position without having really lived in the real world yet (except its more excusable because he's 13 - people say "how precocious" instead of "what an ass").  But we like Kolya; he's charming in his precocious naivety, even though Dostoevsky does a good job of satirizing Russia's armchair intellectuals by using a transparent 13 year old as a vessel for their ideas.  Still, Kolya probably has more life experience on the streets Russian than Madame Khokhlakov.  Reading her manic conversations have been one of the most painful parts of this novel for me.  I feel just as uncomfortable, irritated, and eager to escape the situation as any other character she speaks to in Bros. K.  Her diatribe on realism and support of "the women's question" is especially ridiculous.  What does Madame Khokhlakov know about "the development of women" or being a "contemporary mother" ? Her character is ridiculous, and serves well, again, to parody those who sit around their house forming "political" ideas (in Khokhlakov's case, its often from reading trashy books/newspapers) without an accurate picture of society.  Even Alyosha, the hero, is encouraged to leave the safety of monastery life and go out into the world.  Going out into the world seems to be the key.  Dostoevsky's life speaks to this as well.  He abandoned his former "subversive intellectual" role after going to Siberia and realizing that to help the peasants/serfs one needed to know them, not just theorize about politic sequestered away like the Underground Man.  The best knowledge seems to be gained through experience.   

Feasts of joy

Submitted by Zainab M. Khalid on Sunday, 11/29/2009, at 11:57 PM

In a flurry of despair, Mitya makes his way to Mokroye, to the “queen of his [my] soul,” after the gruesome episode at his father’s house. Stained with blood and black anguish, Mitya descends once more into the kind of “disorderly and absurd” drunken revelry that has so readily been identified as his Karamazovian “natural element.” (pg 432) This feast is essentially Mitya’s farewell feast, as he prepares to commit suicide in the face of his shame of earlier that evening.  It is, moreover, his last attempt to lay his eyes on Grushenka, the object of his unbridled passion. At this point in time, it is difficult to separate truth from suspicion, or reason from absurdity, because in the mind of a murderer horrified by his crime, it is all one single frenzied stream of consciousness merged into “a terrible, awful light.” (pg 436)   

Mitya is caught in a terrible struggle between his honour and his renewed thirst for life, injected by Grushenka’s admission of love, “isn’t one hour, one minute of her love worth the rest of my life, even in the torments of disgrace?” (pg 437).

Yet, this rapturous delirium, despite its undertones of some pagan moonlit carousal, is striking in that it calls to mind Alyosha’s dream of Canaa of Galilee. Both feasts seem like the fleeting reveries of a troubled mind, both are hinged on the “artless merrymaking of some uncouth, uncouth but guileless beings” (pg 360) and both feasts remain the setting to a great struggle of the soul for both brothers.

Alyosha’s loss in his faith in mankind is tantamount to a loss in his faith in God, leading him dangerously close to Ivan’s path of rejecting God and the cruel world that He has created. The cure to this rejection proves to be a simple miracle; not a miracle of the grandiose scale, pertaining to the fantastical and impossible that a “faith based on rewards” thrives on, but a miracle of the human heart; that is to say a good deed, even one as infinitesimal as that Grushenka offers to Alyosha, done out of pure human compassion. That single gesture of compassion, “a single onion,” is enough to engrave in one’s heart a renewed love for humanity.  Alyosha’s dream, spurred on by Faither Paissy’s reading of the Gospel, is a reaffirmation of this on a non-earthly plane, as Christ’s first miracle; to change water into wine for the celebration of a poor wedding remains not an act to prove the existence of God or as a part to any divine design, but simply for the joy of the people, “indeed, was it to increase the wine at poor weddings that he came down to earth?” (pg 360). It is love of life, the love of its simplicity, which remains at the core of Zosima’s message of brotherly love, to “love every leaf” (pg 319) and every minute deed powered by fleeting love, for it is with “a little onion” (pg 361) that one is welcomed to the heavenly banquet.

Such is Alyosha’s epiphany, and it is one that to my mind is reflected most in the “earthy force” of the Karamazovian thirst for life, for this love for life that comes so involuntarily in Ivan is the very love that reveres each detail of life, each “sticky green leaf” and every grain of good that exists in the world. Alyosha, in his half-delirious slumber, remembers Mitya saying that “one cannot live without joy” (pg 360), and it is ironically this same stinging joy that Mitya, during his depraved farewell feast, is tormented by when faced with Grushenka’s love, a love that reignites his desire to live, a desire that, though perhaps in a way base, is also the path to a higher existence as seen in the Canaa of Galilee.

Rule of Three

Submitted by Brigitte C. Morency on Sunday, 11/29/2009, at 11:22 PM

In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevky relies on the number 3 as a motif to link characters and plot lines. There are three brothers (not counting Smerdyakov); three women impregnated by Fyodor Pavlovich; three blows needed to kill him with a three-pound weight; three thousand roubles on which Mitya's fate lies; three children in the Snegiryov family; and a couple sordid love triangles (Dmitri-Katya-Ivan, Fyodor-Grushenka-Dmitri).

There lingers over the Bros K a constant reminder of Christian spirituality. The belief in the Holy Trinityis certainly an important aspect in this novel about makind's damnation and redemption. Such a message could only be captured in a 3-dimensional examination of life.

Kolya

Submitted by Susannah E. Rudel on Saturday, 11/28/2009, at 10:21 AM

Given our discussion of the debate between atheism and faith in the novel, I found Kolya’s character very interesting, especially since he reminded me of Dostoevsky.  He claims that he is a socialist, and although Dostoevsky was against socialism, he began as a socialist.  The most prominent similarity I found between Kolya and Dostoevsky is their belief in the need to talk to the real Russian people; Kolya says, “I like talking with the people, and am always glad to do them justice…One has to know how to talk with the people” (528). I also saw a connection between Kolya and Alyosha, despite their differing views on God.  Like Ivan, Kolya is a realist who believes that God is a hypothesis, which is clearly the opposite of Alyosha’s faith in God.  Kolya believes that one can love mankind without believing in God.  Alyosha is also taught to believe in the Russian people, since Zosima believed that faith in God begins with having faith in God’s people.  While they share this belief in people, the two characters differ in that for Kolya, the concept of believing in the people stands on its own, while for Alyosha, this concept’s purpose is to create faith in God.  Although she is only one person, Alyosha’s experience with Grushenka, a fallen, Russian woman who is able to save his soul, is an example of this difference.  Grushenka’s ability to forgive and to understand Alyosha’s suffering restores his faith in God, and just in mankind. 

Single-Parent Families

Submitted by Muddasir M. Ayaz on Monday, 11/23/2009, at 7:19 AM

I think one could argue that if The Brothers Karamazov is a story about family, it is more particularly the story of the single-parent family. Nearly every family to which we are introduced is a single-parent family (most notably, obviously, being the Karamazov family). Nearly all of the families with multiple generations are displayed as single-parent households, which seems like a minor observation that is easy to overlook, but considering that it is a story about family, I believe it's important to consider given that it is  deliberate.

The only two-parent household is Ilyushenka's, which might as well be characterized as a single-parent household given the mother's condition. The advantage of single-parent families seems, to me, to be in the characterization of the offspring. The focus of The Brothers Karamazov is clearly a genetic one if we consider any of the brothers' (Smerdykov included) stories. For the Karamazovs, it is evident that the reduction of the family unit to Fyodor Pavlovich allows Dostoevsky to emphasize the "Karamazovian" attitude of each son; one parent makes the genetic legacies much easier to trace in the story. Furthermore, the genetic legacy of falling into the abyss is most certainly a Karamazovian one, and if the brothers share anything at all, it is this tendency. In one sense, however, single-parent families in the novel allow Dostoevsky to avoid any type of determinism. Inheritance, both characterstic and material, while at the forefront of the novel, do not dominate the plot; Dostoevsky does not restrict his characters to their genetic predispositions, but rather allows them to be completely immersed in their legacies, and seemingly allows them to do as they please given their circumstances. Perhaps he would have felt that a two-parent household would not give his characters the freedom to do things in contradiction to their genetic legacies. For example, Father Zosima's life seems driven by his mother to the extent that she suffers for his sake (the Christian mantra that is upheld in the novel), but beyond that, he is the determiner of his destiny, not restricted by genetic obligations of any sort. It would be interesting to do a detailed character analysis of his sons before Fyodor Pavlovich's death and after his death to see if the genetic paradigm plays as large a role after his death as it did before, or if it frees the brothers from their "genetic shackles", allowing them to potentially be free of their Karamazovian natures.

The seal of blood and the thirst for life

Submitted by Zainab M. Khalid on Sunday, 11/22/2009, at 6:37 PM

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.