Incorruptable Saints and Popular Images of Saintly Persons

Submitted by Hannah M. Gais on Saturday, 11/21/2009, at 3:34 PM

The notion of incorruptability in The Brothers Karamazov is particularly interesting with regards to Elder Zosima and the popular view of him by the characters after his death.  The majority of those who either knew or followed him assumed that he had reached such a transcendent state of holiness that it was certain he would be deemed an "incorruptable saint," thus explaining the practice of leaving the body out for a few days.  While incorruptable saints are certainly hard to come by -- even though the notion exists within both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic tradition -- this sort of "expectation" is not particularly surprising; that is to say, clearly those who sought his spiritual advice and viewed him as holy would desire for him to be of such a level of saintliness, but it is the reaction ot the fact that he is not (i.e., after Zosima's body begins to smell) is rather bizarre.  The primary assumption is that the elder died in some state of "mortal" (i.e., in Western theological terms) sin, as it would be unthinkable for him to be viewed as otherwise if even in death he did not display his saintly nature.

There are couple of interesting points we can draw from this occurance.  First, there is the almost obsessively rationalistic view that if there is indeed a God -- and therefore saints -- it would be only logical for such "holy" individuals to have "transcended" the physical sphere.  As the definition of the Judeo-Christian God is one who exists outside of time and all rational boundaries, becoming "deified" (i.e., theosis) would be a matter of transcending the physical bounds as well.  Without such transcendence -- or at least apparent transcendence -- it is not particularly clear how this individual's relationship with God was.  Second, the only character that does not care about the fact that Zosima was not one of the "incorruptables" is Alyosha, who also happens to be the most "Christ-like" and pietistic person in the group.   Alyosha, thus, exemplifies his "rational nature" quite well here: He does not "judge" the elder based on some natural fact, but he simply regards the elder as holy and righteous no matter what.  That is, his faith does not rely on the existence of miracles.   Thus, through this incident, we not only gain a greater understanding of the philosophical and theological beliefs of the general people, but we are also taken back to the earlier description of Alyosha as the most "rational" of the Karamazovs despite his strong faith in God.

A Rambling

Submitted by Daeyeong Kim on Friday, 11/20/2009, at 11:41 AM

I liked very much how we discussed the parallels between the roles of Elder Zosima and Dostoevsky in class. Elder Zosima certainly has that “mentor” role in The Brothers Karamazov. He is the spiritual mentor of Alyosha, and carefully guides him (to go out in the world, experience humanity and begin cultivating the long labor of active love). But he is also a generic mentor to his community as well; whether it is by kissing Mitya and apologizing, relating his conversion account and general “life experiences” in not necessarily Christian but human, practical wisdom, or by constantly ministering to the “women of little faith,” we see that Elder Zosima is the central figure for Dostoevsky in expounding his core Christian tenets. Dostoevsky does more or less the same thing, except for the entire nation of Russia. It is clear that Dostoevsky cared very much for his country, and especially the burgeoning younger generation (perhaps partly because he thinks his generation resulted in the young nihilists). Although his “Diary of a Writer” is the most salient example, I would argue that he peppers his vision of “Christian socialism,” the only to achieve true brotherhood in all of his novels—this rings especially true with The Brothers Karamazov. His passion is vividly evident in his writing; his real-world concerns are grappled with and tested in the novel form and results in novels people constantly attach themselves to. His novels, I would argue, go far beyond the customary literary appreciation of style, and language, and into the realm of personal relevance. I do think this phenomenon is rare (at least there aren’t that many books to which I feel personal attachment). Thus, Dostoevsky is not only being a mentor for the Russia of his age, but continues to be a mentor for his reading audience, even to this day. There is a different type of enjoyment in reading Dostoevsky, say, compared to reading Proust or Henry James. Dostoevsky doesn’t stay in just the literary realm.  

Ivan Karamazov

Submitted by Elyse J. Yarmosky on Thursday, 11/19/2009, at 10:55 PM

I love Ivan because I think we're very similar. First, he's cynical. I think I might be among the most cynical people I know. Even though I consider myself a positive person, it is very, very hard for me to embrace all of mankind and humanity with an upbeat attitude. I definitely understand what Ivan says about the impossibility of loving your neighbor. It might not be impossible, but it sure is damn hard sometimes to find any sympathy at all for some of our fellow humans.

A question I have long asked myself, that Ivan already seems to know the answer to, is, "Is mankind evil?" It's a tough question that I'm reflecting on more and more as I make my way through the novel. Ivan clearly thinks we are. I'm not so sure. Ivan is pretty convincing in "The Grand Inquisitor." In fact, as we discussed in class, his argument seems irrefutable. I don't want to believe that we're pure evil, but sometimes it seems we can be no other way.

I guess I'm rambling because I'm trying to decide what I believe in, and from there, what to write my final paper on. I've been throwing some ideas around in my head. I considered writing a treatise on atheism, which I might still do because it would be interesting to tie in my own experiences and beliefs with those themes found in The Brothers Karamazov. I'm so fascinated with the character of Ivan that I could probably spend 10-12 pages rambling on about the intricacies of his soul. But the main question I want to address is the question that I think is at the heart of the book, and a question which we still ask ourselves every single day: What do we do in the face of injustice?

It is no doubt a terrifyingly difficult question to ask, and I can't say that I will do a great job at answering it. I might try and try and not go anywhere. But what consoles me is that it's something that I'll at least be examining. It's something I'm going to try and wrap my mind around. It's one of those questions that makes me wish SO MUCH that Dostoevsky was still alive....

Zossima as the Verily, Verily Realist: The Dialectic of Inversion

Submitted by Eva M. Becker on Thursday, 11/19/2009, at 3:25 AM

The sixth book of Part II in The Brothers Karamazov is a fascinatingly compelling illustration of how the dialectical process involved in the inversion of thought functions in the account of Father Zossima’s argument for Christian faith. This dialectic is all the more clearly illustrated in its location within the novel, as well as the fundamental problem from which the dialectic occurs itself: Father Zossima’s argument immediately follows Ivan’s, and both grapple with the profound dilemma as to whether or not one can ever possibly “love one’s neighbor,” in the face of the abominable cruelties and atrocities that humankind commits. What is so fascinating about Zossima’s argument is not simply its inherent goodness so oppositional to Ivan’s, but rather the various instances in which Zossima uses precisely the same ideas and examples that Ivan does that he inverts in his (and perhaps Christianity’s) favor. One of the first instances of inversion may be found in section b, Chapter 1, Part II, in which Zossima, responding to Father Anfim’s statement that “all things are good,” agrees, saying, “all things are good and fair, because all is truth.” It is arguable that this is an inversion of Dmitri’s earlier assertion that “all things are just and lawful,” including parricide. While both statements that “all is good and fair” may be seen as identical, they are interpreted in two radically different ways: Dmitri rationalizes “all things good and fair” to literally include murder, if one considers parricide to be “good and fair,” given the circumstances; yet Zossima inverts the same statement to refer not to unlawful behavior, but to “the truth,” that is, the beauty of God’s design and the inherent goodness of human beings. “All things are good and fair, because all is truth,” he says.

     Father Zossima’s argument, like Ivan’s, also addresses the problem of children in the face of sin and cruelty, and is another fantastic example of inversion. He takes Ivan’s assertion that there can be no faith where children are abused and systematically inverts that argument to state that, on the contrary, where children are abused there must be faith, for it is ultimately that faith that will allow one to finally see that “we are all one another’s servants,” including children’s servants (reminiscent of Myshkin’s attitude towards children, as well). In other words, children are not the deterrent to faith, they are its inspiration and hope. The child, sinless, reflects the sins of others, as a mirror would. He argues: “You pass by a little child, you pass by, spiteful, with ugly words, with wrathful heart; you may not have noticed the child, but he has seen you, and your image, unseemly and ignoble, may remain in his defenceless heart. You don’t know it, but you may have sown an evil seed in him and it may grow, and all because you were not careful before the child…” (emphasis added)

     Among several other such examples of the dialectic of inversion, notably the question of freedom and isolation, one of the most powerful instances occurs apropos of miracle and mystery in Christianity. Ivan’s Grand Inquisitor, if it will be recalled, reclaims “miracle, mystery, and authority” in order to rule the “feebleminded nature” of men. Zossima’s approach to miracle and mystery radically inverts the notion that miracle and mystery are instruments of deception to assert, on the contrary, that they are rather instruments of self-awakening and clarity, that is, the clarity with which to see the goodness of humankind. Zossima’s notions of hell and heaven are surprisingly realistic and earthly-based, indeed, he states that the atheist intellectuals “have more fantastic dreams than we.” Rather than state that miracle and mystery are incomprehensible and otherwordly, as does the old inquisitor, Zossima argues that they are capable of being comprehended in this world: “If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day,” he says. It is within one’s capacity, then, to see that “paradise is on earth,” as his brother Markel said. When one comes to this realization, Zossima states that one will see that one is “in the hands of a living God,” and that hell is “the suffering of being unable to love.”

     In deconstructing Ivan’s ideas to invert them in argument for Christian faith, Zossima ultimately negates the inquisitor’s notion that men need to be lead and instead illustrates how it is within every man to be able to “see paradise on earth.” Zossima reflects that their ability to do is exampled in John 12:24, the preface and Dostoevsky’s epigraph: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Zossima consistently alludes to the goodness of humankind through this passage, and it is in this way that perhaps there is not one corn of wheat in this passage, but two: the first, like Ivan, would die, alone. And the second, although it would die, would offer the world its goodness, out of the goodness of its tiny corn of wheat heart and would, thus, not die alone.

Love vs Passion

Submitted by Jordan M. Gilbertson on Thursday, 11/19/2009, at 12:47 AM

One thing that has struck me while reading this novel is the ways in which the women affect the Karamazov family in an almost formulaic fashion, confusing the Karamazov's through the act of love (albeit in various forms), which seems to confuse the archetypal ‘Karamazov’ sensuality of each of the brothers.

            Katerina and Grushenka, especially, seem to be characters that tear the Karamazov’s apart through the love which is felt for and by them on the part of both Fyodor and the brothers.  It is almost as if the Karamazov’s, each so accustomed to the base sensual and passionate instinct by which they are fundamentally driven (even if they all exhibit it very differently) are unable to cope with actual love. Thus, Ivan convinces himself that Katerina belongs with Dmitri despite his clear love for her, in an effort to separate himself from something that he is not able to comprehend. Likewise, Dmitri’s passion is inflamed to great extremes that result in him attacking his father.

            Alyosha seems to connect with these women--seen especially in the case of his connection with Grushenka in Book 7--but that can be explained as part of his inborn capacity for empathy. He still, however, has a suppressed or diverted “Karamazov-ness,” which seems even in his case to prevent him from understanding love in reference to himself. He can observe and understand the workings of love among his brothers, even humanity in general, but he is confused by his relationship with Lise.

            Perhaps I am reading too this matter, but the Brothers Karamazov would have obviously been an entirely different novel had these women not, in some way, developed conflicting relationships with each of the Karamazov’s in turn.

Dostoevsky's Portrayal of Children

Submitted by Jack L. Seaver on Thursday, 11/19/2009, at 12:39 AM

It was really amazing to me (though it really shouldn't have been, considering his talent) how perfectly Dostoevsky was able to show the psyche of an early teenage boy. As much as I found Kolya's personality insufferable and irritating, it really does capture the bizarre hybrid of arrogance and insecurity found in every teenage boy. In many ways, Kolya seems to represent Ivan a decade or so prior to the events of the story. Kolya's attitude before meeting Alyosha appears to be directing him on the same path as the "atheistic leftist student/intellectual" present in so many of his works. Kolya is a fascinating character in his own regard, and additionally serves a view into Ivan's life, a truly deft construction by Dostoevsky.

Another indirectly related point I wanted to make consured Ilyushka's illness. So much of Ivan's rebellion focuses on children and cruelty to children by adults. That such cruelty could exist is repugnant to Ivan, and he does not want to participate in a system where believing in God accepts it. Surprisingly, Ivan focuses almos exclusively on cruelty between humans. Ilyushka's illness, however, is not the responsibility of anyone in particular (at least not directly, it does start soon after Dmitri humiliates his father), but is seemingly the will of God. I don't know why Ivan doesn't speak about tolerating cruelty's that happen by chance, with no guilty perpetrator. His lack of faith in God stems from the failures of humanity and the follies of its free will. It does not stem from the seemingly random occurences that many give God responsibility for. I'm not sure exactly what to make of this, but I do find it curious.

Recycled Characters

Submitted by Brigitte C. Morency on Wednesday, 11/18/2009, at 10:31 PM

The farther I delve into "The Brothers Karamazov," the more I return to the characters of "The Idiot." Dostoevsky undertook the difficult task of creating "a perfectly beautiful man," and, in many ways, failed. I think he made the Prince too innocent to be perfect in the eyes of God. Father Zossima's "memoir" teaches the other monks that in the eyes of God, the sinner is the most valued of all people. This is because the sinner has been to the depths of the human soul, and therefore understands the value of forgiveness and redemption through faith. The parable of the philanthropist murderer perfectly personifies the "God loves a sinner" message of the book. Only through genuine remorse for his actions is this many redeemable. He lived for nearly two decades in fear of the truth; but, through confession and self-reflexion, he decides to tell people the truth. Although the man dies soon after formally confessing to the authorities, he goes to God in peace, accepting of his fate.

Dostoevsky wanted his readers to embrace communal love. He feared greatly the self-isolation of the modern man, realizing that the sinner who is not forced to confront his actions is never healed, and therefore capable of committing more crimes against mankind. Zossima leaves his fellow monks with one command: love all God's creations. Only through compassion can mankind be redeemed. 

Dostoevsky took 600 pages in "The Idiot" to give the same argument in 40 pages of "The Brothers Karamazov." Truly, his experimentation with characters such as Myshkin and Ippolit helped him develop the characters of Zossima and his brother Markel (who died similarly to Ippolit, but unlike him, found peace with God). Dostoevskian characters live on beyond their respective narratives, proving the strength of this author's message and love for mankind. 


Grushenka and Alyosha

Submitted by Susannah E. Rudel on Wednesday, 11/18/2009, at 8:53 PM

I found the interaction between Grushenka and Alyosha at the end of Book 7 very interesting, in that it seemed to establish a reciprocal relationship between them, which I was not expecting.  Alyosha’s world is completely turned upside down when Zosima dies and people begin to question his goodness; suddenly the man Alyosha saw as his ideal is disgraced, leading Alyosha to seem to question his faith; he says, “I do not rebel against my God, I simply ‘do not accept his world’” (341).  As Rakitin takes Alyosha to see Grushenka, he anticipates that he will see the “’fall’ of Alyosha ‘from the saints to the sinners,’” but Alyosha soon states that Grushenka has in fact restored his soul (343, 351).  First, I found it surprising that Grushenka would have this effect on Alyosha because she is presented as the fallen woman, and says herself that she is wicked.  It is also interesting because the main presence of Grushenka thus far in the novel has been in the battle for her between Fyodor and Dmitri, and now Alyosha is the one creating this strong connection with her that is founded in something other than lust.  Alyosha has an impact on Grushenka as well, in that he is able to forgive and love her as no one else has, despite her shame and wickedness; she says, “…he wrung my heart…He’s the first to pity me…I knew someone like that would come and forgive me.  I believed that someone would love me, a dirty woman, not only for my shame…” (357).  This moment reminded me of the Prince and Nastasya in The Idiot, in that the Prince loved Nastasya out of pity as well, and was able to see beyond her societal status as the fallen woman.  Upon leaving Grushenka and returning to the monastery, Alyosha is joyful and the torment in his soul is gone (359).  Although the dream Alyosha has while Father Paissy is speaking somewhat confused me, it seemed to me that his encounter with Grushenka made him see the importance of forgiveness, since Grushenka was able to forgive her abuser, and he is now ready to go out into the world and do good as Zosima had wanted.   

Womanly love and hysterics

Submitted by Genelle L. Diaz-Silveira on Tuesday, 11/17/2009, at 6:21 AM


It strikes me as odd that by book 2, many of the women we have met (by which I mean Lise and Katerina Ivanovna) are given to hysterics. First, we are given a description of the type of women prone to these fits when Alyosha's mother is introduced. "Later this unhappy woman came down with something like a kind of feminine disorder, most often found among simple village women, who are known as shriekers because of it."

Though Lise and Katerina Ivanovna are not necessarily "shriekers," each has her own hysterical episode very soon into the story. Lise's fits are almost understandable; she's a young girl who is perhaps terribly frustrated because she cannot walk, because she sees herself having little agency in life. Katerina Ivanovna, however, is described as a somewhat powerful woman. Upon his second meeting with her, Alyosha even sees "courageous, noble energy and [a] certain clear, strong faith in herself." But when Katerina Ivanovna introduces Grushenka to Alyosha, she displays a strange type of over adulation. She kisses Grushenka's hand multiple times, strokes her as if she were her little pet; she embraces her and proclaims that Grushenka will facilitate Katerina Ivanovna's martyrdom by marrying the officer who scorned her. In other words, even before Grushenka replies that she never promised such a thing Katerina Ivanovna is in hysterics.

Katerina Ivanovna, at this moment it seems, loves Grushenka out of pure desperation, out of the idea that in claiming to love this notoriously base creature she is projecting for others the same noble character that she hopes to project when she marries Dimitri. This proneness to hysteria presents for us a stark contrast to the women we've met in other Dostoevsky novels. Aglaya, for example, in her interactions with Nastasya Filipovna was nothing like this. She spoke with Nastasya frankly, on her own terms, never saturating her with this pity love fueled by selfish desires. Maybe it is because the story is taking place in the provinces- though neither  Lise or  Katerina is of the lower classes. It seems to me, though, that for Katerina Ivanovna, the hysterics stem not from an actual lack of agency but from a perhaps falsely perceived lack of one, an obstinate pride and a desire to appear saintly. These are two of the ways I can understand the provinces influencing behavior: 1. lack of agency, and 2. religion. Maybe Katerina Ivanovna's hysteria is caused by a religiosity- not necessarily concerned with God, but dedicated to a belief of what men and women should be.  Katerina Ivanovna can get by without marrying at the moment and she can certainly get by without marrying Dimitri. She simply has a hero complex. She wants to be Dimitr's god. She wants him to worship her for the suffering he has caused her, she says, as she verbally crucifies herself for Alyosha in Khokhlakov's drawing room.

As a reader, I don't really respect Katerina Ivanovna for her desire to save Dimitri. It is motivated by a selfish desire to appear good. Her love for Dimtri is not like Alyosha's innocent, unassuming uncritical love; it is even borne from her judgment of him and the image she will attain if she marries him. Further, I don't condone her hysterical behavior and hope moral baseness is not the prerequisite for strong women in this novel.

Ingratitude as a Hindrance to Faith

Submitted by Danielle M. Morrissette on Monday, 11/16/2009, at 11:06 PM

One of the most striking and strange scenes in the Brothers Karamazov is in Book Four when Alyosha spots the young children who are throwing rocks at the young sickly boy. When Alyosha tries to help him, the boy bites his finger. This is a retaliation against the Karamazov family, since Dmitri, dragged this boy's father out of a tavern by the beard. After he realizes this, Alyosha tries to help the family by offering them money to help them with their financial hardships as well as a peace offering for Dmitri’s misdoings against this family.  And then the man throws the money back at Alyosha.   

This whole scene goes back to the scene in the monastery when the "lady of little faith" was fine with doing good deeds as long as there wasn't ingratitude. This is the riddle of what Dostoevsky offers us: the Christian teaching that one must give and by doing so will be participating in active love, and therefore will gown to love all humanity, as is taught in Christianity, and will believe in God. However, what Dostoevsky is perhaps showing us is that participating in active love is not always as easy as it sounds; in fact it is terribly hard to participate in active love or to indeed love some of the very characters in this book. How are we as readers supposed to love Fyodor Pavlovich? How are we really supposed to love Dmitri or Ivan? All three of these characters are highly unlikeable people in this work. I think this is one problem that Dostoevsky doesn't have a complete answer for. It's as if he is saying “Participate in active love and you will love everyone, and your belief in God will be strong," however he doesn't exactly point out what should be done with people who are a) unlikeable and b) refuse help. Since there are many people like this in the world, can the follower of Christ still love them as much as those who are good, those who are want help, and those who are grateful for help? In this sense, I think that I'm with the lady of little faith in that it is terribly difficult to love everyone, even through active love, because people can be so awful. This is perhaps why Elder Zosima made Alyosha go into the real world so that he could come to understand that while Christian love and charity are good in and of themselves, they are more difficult to carryout outside of the monastery walls. 


Alyosha and criminality

Submitted by Samuel T. Aden on Monday, 11/16/2009, at 1:49 PM

In his characterization of Alyosha I do not think Dostoevsky is trying to rely on traditional moral structures of exclusive virtuous religiousity battling a sense of depravity (whether it be familial, political, social...).  In locating Alyosha in a monastery, Dostoevsky must be doing more than simply juxtaposing his chosen lifestyle with a heredity of sensuality. The question of whether an individual is able to exist outside of 'genetic' constraints must be YES due to Dostoevsky's already established sense of romanticism; there must be more.

I would advocate abandoning the whole question of the extent of Alyosha's inevitable propensity towards sensuality (from his Karamazovian descent) and instead of accepting the existence of any pre-established catagories of exclusive good or evil (being represented by his faith and his family), simply looking at the way Dostoevsky presents Alyosha's social reception.

That said, I am not going to do that here. Instead, I will show why I think this is the right question to be asking. For that I think Walter Benjamin can be brought back into the discussion. Much of what he wrote confronted political issues, specifically the authority(force) of government(law) to wield violence against the population it governs. One of the conclusions he draws in his essay "Critique of Violence" is the inevitability of violence in any act of law, even in current systems of democracy. The only means by which law may approach the population are through some kind of violence or oppression. Any reconstruction of that law would simply redirect the flow of violence. There is this fundamental contradiction that accompanys any attempt at legal action - nonetheless, all that civilization can do is continue its pursuit of law.

For this reason, Walter Benjamin comes up with the figure of the "great criminal" as an individual who only opposes law so far as he can escape and exist outside of law.

"that violence, when not in the hands of the law, threatens it not by the ends that it may pursue put by its mere existence outside the law.  Often the 'great' criminal, however repellent his ends may have been, has aroused the secret admiration of the public. This cannot result from his deed, but only from the violence to which it bears witness. In this case, therefore, the violence of which present-day law is seeking in all areas of activity to deprive the individual appears really threatening, and arouses even in defeat the sympathy of the mass against law." (pg 281, 'Critique of Violence' in WB's Reflections.)

We as readers can be held to be the public enthralled by Alyosha's 'criminal' activities throughout the text by default, or as Dan pointed out in his blog, Alyosha is already a very popular character stumbles across scandal after scandal. His personal conflict can be analyzed in regard to his family and his faith (as has already been discussed), or instead also looking at the space that he attempts to create outside the influence of these two forms of "law". In other words: there is no Alyosha the sensualist or Alyosha the monk, there is simply Alyosha and his social context.

Idea as Character in The Brothers Karamazov

Submitted by Muddasir M. Ayaz on Monday, 11/16/2009, at 12:34 PM

It seems a bit difficult to understand characters independently of an archetype, having read many of his works by now. I can't help but notice that Rakitin is the Brothers Karamazov version of Lebedev, or that Dmitri is another version of Rogozhin (well, I suppose the entire family is an extended version of Rogozhin in one sense), Grushenka is your insert-name-of-fallen-woman-here, and so on. However, to judge these characters based on the principles from which they derive there personalities seems unfair, doesn't it? If Dostoevsky really is being didactic, then wouldn't it be fair to assume that he would want to reach a large audience, so he wouldn't necessarily want to reach only the people who had read his previous works? I'm a bit confused as to why these archetypes keep coming up -- what purpose does it serve him if the characters represent the same ideas; after all, if the same ideas keep showing up, then isn't Dostoevsky making the same argument in all of his books, or delivering the same message? I'd like to think it isn't as simple as that, but why else would it serve his interests to use these same ideas, merely reworked with different names and somewhat different stories?

Names and Nicknames

Submitted by Corina Leu on Sunday, 11/15/2009, at 7:51 PM

The variant usage of names in The Brothers Karamazov provides us with extremely important information regarding the kind of people the Karamazov's are. Alexei Fyodorovich has a multitude of nicknames, he is called Alyosha, Alyoshka, Alyoshenka, Alyoshechka, Alexeichik, Lyosha, Lyoshenka. This suggests that Alyosha is a friendly and welcoming man. People like him, and are generally attracted to his goodness and generosity. Like Alyosha, Dmitri also shares a multitude of nicknames, in that sense these half-brothers are very alike. Ivan on the other hand, is rarely called by a nickname. The only instance when Ivan is called by a nickname, is when his father calls him Vanya. And like Ivan, both Smerdyakov and Fyodor Pavlovich carry little to no nicknames.

What's interesting about this lack of nicknames (in the case of Ivan, Smerdyakov and Fyodor) is not necessarily their complete absence, but their ensuing effect upon these men. When people suddenly give these men nicknames, the event and not the nickname itself, reveals something meaningful about these men. In Ivan's case, we find that he is very touched by Smerdyakov's song when Smerdyakov sings about a man named Vanya. Although Ivan is rarely called Vanya except by his own father, he takes this song personally. He is very touched and influenced by it. 

And what does it mean that Dostoevsky gave his own name to a man like Fyodor Pavlovich? How do we reconcile this literary decision with the men behind this name? 

Miracles and Realism

Submitted by Hannah M. Gais on Saturday, 11/14/2009, at 4:23 PM

On page 26 the narrator discusses the idea of realism in its connection to faith.  To quote:

"[I]t seems to me that Alyosha was even more of a realist than the rest of us.  Oh, of course, in the monastery he believed absolutely in miracles, but in my opinion miracles will never confound a realist.  It is not miracles that bring a realist to faith.  A true realist, if he is not a believer, will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles as well, and if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own sense than admit the fact.  And even if he does admit it, he will admit it as a fact of nature that was previously unknown to him.  In the realist, faith is not born from miracles, but miracles from faith.  Once the realist comes to believe, then, precisely because of his realism, he must not allow for miracles" (26).

What seems particularly striking about this excerpt is the idea that miracles are not what bring a man to faith; indeed, miracles are part of the faith, but they are not the direct cause of faith.  With the prominence of various charismatic groups and the widespread idea that these miraculous occurrences are what ought to bring someone to faith in the Christian God, Dostoevsky's comment is somewhat odd.   To further illustrate this point, we may praise Thomas for his faith in Christ, but his questioning the testimony of the other apostles is not what is viewed as virtuous; rather, it is his ability to eventually see the light that is viewed as glorious.   Thomas is a "doubter," and in an age where "doubt" implies complete disbelief, this is perhaps the logical conclusion; however, according to the narrator's definition, Thomas is entirely justified.  Thomas, like Alyosha, was a realist.  He believed, but his belief was deeper than that which was simply derived from events that are deemed "miraculous."  Neither are the "fool" of the psalms who states that there is no God -- not simply because he has not seen any miraculous events, but because he would not allow himself to open up intellectually and spiritually to the idea that he may in fact be in error.  A true doubter and a true realist, it seems, becomes one who is open yet has the power of discernment; he is one who can see yet can also analyze from an entirely unbiased point of view.  Miracles, thus, are a product of faith.  They are not the instigator of belief, but they nevertheless deepen one's belief in God.  Assuming as much, Alyosha is established as being a well-grounded and highly-spiritual person, almost more so than those around him, I believe.

The Great Sinner

Submitted by Eva M. Becker on Thursday, 11/12/2009, at 9:28 PM

In considering the notion of the" great sinner" discussed in class today, I am particularly striken with the first chapter in Part Two, "Father Ferapont," in which Father Zossima, dying, speaks of the nature of monks versus laymen. "Because we have come here and shut ourselves within these walls," he says, "we are no holier than those that are outside, but on the contrary, from the very fact of coming here, each of us has confessed to himself that he is worse than others, than all men on earth...And the longer the monk lives in his seclusion, the more keenly he must recognise that."

I think that Father Zossima's words here are particularly interesting to examine in understanding the sequence of events that have occured up until now in the novel, particularly in understanding the "Karamazovian" sensualism argued to be inherent in Alyosha's genetic legacy. Father Zossima's words may, for instance, help shed light on Dmitri's telling Alyosha that he is possessed with the Karamazovian sensualism, to which Alyosha, in all his "pure heartedness," readily agrees with him. His words may also reflect his earlier urging to Alyosha to leave the peace and safety of seclusion and to "do his work" in a world manifest with the banality of evil.

In addition, Zossima's insistnece that men of religion are no holier, but in fact "worse," than those outside the cloisters, may also help to give a greater depth to Alyosha's character, as both a Karamazov and a Christ-like figure. It is as though Dostoevsky is explaining a clearer context in which one might understand the goodness and purity of Alyosha as Christ-like, as we are urged to understand that he, like everyone else, is a "sinner," and, in light of his likeness to Christ, perhaps a "great sinner."