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The Brothers Karamazov


The Brothers Karamazov is one of the most well-known novels by Fyodor Dostoevsky mostly because it addresses a number of deep philosophical ideas. The main characters try to comprehend their place in life as well as share their beliefs and disbeliefs in God and other spiritual issues. The present paper closely elaborates on the meaning of being a Karamazov as implied by the author. The question is complicated as all three brothers are very different from each other supporting different values and lifestyles. The evolution of the idea behind being a Karamazov will be examined closely in the paper. It will be also examined whether the illegitimate son, Smerdyakov, can be considered as a real Karamazov. The relevant implications from the book and relevant quotations will be formulated. In general, the close investigation of the novel demonstrates that the desire to comprehend a sense of life and reach social justice may be viewed as a characteristic feature of being a Karamazov. Although all brothers comprehend it differently, they orient to the higher objectives in their lives and try to act according to them. It also becomes evident that Smerdyakov cannot be considered as being a Karamazov because he systematically violates the basic moral principles.

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Karamazov Trait

The three brothers from the novel demonstrate radically different forms of behavior and world perception. To some degree, it is caused by the controversial behavior of their father Fyodor Karamazov. In particular, Dostoevsky briefly characterizes him in the following way: very shortly after getting his four-year-old Mitya off his hands Fyodor Pavlovitch married a second time. In fact, it becomes evident that Fyodor does not have strong religious or moral grounds. He is often motivated by his emotional or sensual impulses. He is also not interested in contributing to the ethical development of his children.

Under such conditions, every son has to find his personal response strategy to the psychological and moral challenges imposed by his father. Dmitri suggests that one should pursue his/her own happiness in all its forms as the only way to achieve social justice. As ones life frame is limited, it is admissible to devote it to women and various forms of entertainment. Ivan is mostly concerned with the existing burden of emotional and psychological sufferings in the world. On this basis, he concludes that he cannot accept God because the latter would not accept such an unfair state of the world. In contrast, Alyosha is a truly religious person who recognizes the power of God and His immense contribution to the well-being and ethical evolution of each individual without any exception. He also believes that one should demonstrate the moral behavior in all aspects of his life allocating the higher significance to the interests of other people.

Thus, it is evident that their life principles and implications formulated from the similar external environment are opposite. However, it seems that some underlying common aspects (the Karamazov trait) can still be identified. It refers to subconscious desire of each of the sons to comprehend a sense of life and act according to the determined principles. All of them are preoccupied with the underlying ethical norms and their actual place in the world. For example, Ivan states that I want to forgive... I dont want more suffering. It indicates the principle that is shared by all brothers as they want to avoid sufferings and contribute to social justice. The problem is that they make different practical conclusions from that motivation. Dmitri believes that sensual experience is an appropriate way of avoiding pain and achieving some improvement. Ivan questions God and His actions although he states its not God that I dont accept...only I most respectfully return him the ticket. Ivan believes his response to be adequate considering the scope of injustice present in the world. Only Alyosha accepts Gods will with gratitude and tries to make everything possible to improve the lives of others. However, the desire to determine what justice is and avoid sufferings is common for all brothers and may be viewed as the major Karamazov trait.

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Evolution of the Idea of Karamazov

The novel clearly indicates that being a Karamazov influences brothers in different ways depending on the way they behave and interact with other people. Dmitri has continued his attempts to enjoy happiness and justice with the help of sensual experience. However, it has resulted only in a more serious confrontation with his father and other individuals. Ivan has rejected God but has not found the decent alternative. Correspondingly, his behavior has become closer to that of Dmitri resulting in the further conflicts and misunderstanding. Only Alyosha has interpreted being a Karamazov from a religious and spiritual perspective leading to the adoption of the consistent and moral behavior. Alyosha does not concentrate exclusively on his narrow interests but tries to specify the needs of others and make the possible contribution.

The evolution of the idea of Karamazov mostly refers to determining the correct philosophical and practical implications from the enjoyed experience by all brothers. The readers observe that different basic assumptions and conclusions made lead to different behavior strategies and priorities when interacting with others. For example, Dmitri and Ivan mostly believe that the interests of all people are in a fundamental conflict in relation to one another. Therefore, to become really happy, one should be able to disregard the interests of others. They often involve in verbal abuse; moreover, they believe it to be acceptable and even desirable under some conditions. In contrast, Alyosha accepts the idea of forgiveness that should be granted to other people in an attempt to receive it from God. Moreover, forgiveness he asks for is not only for himself, but for all men, for all and for everything. Alyosha has comprehended that all people are interrelated with each other at some spiritual level. Therefore, separating oneself from others is a serious mistake made by individuals. Alyosha clearly states that these ideas have come directly from God claiming that someone visited my soul in that hour.

The above quotes demonstrate the serious difference in the interpretations and priorities adopted by different brothers. Alyosha has recognized that only spiritual values can lead to the proper harmony among people. In contrast to his brothers, he believes that people should not perceive the interests of others as being antagonistic in relation to their own. Only through the mutual forgiveness, humanity may survive and reach the highest spiritual goals. The conversations of the brothers do not allow formulating the only correct interpretations and mode of behavior. Each of them continues supporting his values demonstrating disregard to others views. However, the subsequent events of the novel confirm the correctness of Alyoshas approach and interpretation of peoples ethical duties. The orientation to sensual experiences and the attempts to accumulate wealth at the expense of other people only lead to higher sufferings. Thus, such efforts cannot be effective in the long run, especially due to the fact that all brothers have been initially motivated to avoid sufferings.

Alyoshas approach has several strengths compared to those of his brothers. Firstly, it does not lead to any inconsistencies between theoretical assumptions and actual behavior. He does not have to select the optimal mode of behavior that will correspond to his interests but rather reveal his underlying moral beliefs. Secondly, he does not intensify the existing conflicts but rather tries to minimize them and find the acceptable solution for each person involved. It also reflects his view that all people are spiritually related to each other, and their needs are mutually complementary. Thirdly, the systematic application of Alyoshas strategy may reduce the amount of spiritual sufferings experienced by people.

The evolution of the idea Karamazov has led from the multi-interpretation approach adopted in the beginning of the novel (when all brothers have advocated their mutually incompatible views) to the single-interpretation one (promoted by Alyosha). In fact, the author does not impose his perspective on the readers, but the novels events as well as the consequences of different actions have indicated that humanity cannot survive without mutual forgiveness and the desire to help each other without expecting any additional personal gains. Moreover, many readers may be preoccupied with the idea of Karamazov as a search for sense of life and social justice even after reading the novel.

Smerdyakov and Karamazov Trait

One of the most controversial and complicated characters in the novel is Pavel Smerdyakov. He is rumored to be Fyodors illegitimate son, and it is supported by the fact that he has been brought up by one of Fyodors servants and is currently working as a servant himself. He performs numerous duties but also suffers from the serious illness epilepsy associated with considerable physical sufferings. However, his ethical views and actual behavior could not be even fully explained by his life challenges. For example, he was regularly involved (even as a child) in causing pain and hanging stray cats. He also disregards any appeals to God and religious values. He supports Ivan in his theoretical attempts to invalidate religious claims and construct an alternative system.

However, the most fundamental problem is revealed I the end of the novel when it becomes evident that Smerdyakov is responsible for killing his biological father Fyodor. Moreover, Smerdyakov has not even tried to publicly accept his guilt while comprehending that it may lead to punishing innocent people. As he has not accepted any religious dogmas, he has concluded that he should not even try to help others or respect their interests or concerns. At the same time, the underlying ethical issues may still appear to be important for him because he has been unable to live under such pressure and ultimately killed himself.

When assessing the behavior and life priorities of Smerdyakov, it is necessary to consider the serious difference between him and other legitimate sons. It refers to the fact that his rights have been systematically neglected from his early childhood. Moreover, even although almost all people realized that he was also Fyodors son, he was unable to receive any benefits or social status. The described situation could be interpreted as a serious factor leading to Smerdyakovs perception of the world as being fundamentally unjust. On this basis, he has also concluded that there is no God as any All-Mighty Being would not tolerate such an amount of evil.

When assessing Smerdyakovs worldview and behavior, it is possible to specify the following similarities and differences in relation to three Karamazov brothers. The key similarities refer to the highly negative attitude towards the world that is full of injustice as well as acceptance of Ivans attitude towards God. Smerdyakov has accepted Ivans disbelief in God and the fundamental contradiction between the prevalent sufferings in the world and Gods will. However, the major differences refer to the actions made and ebahvior demonstrated by the Karamazov brothers and Smerdyakov. Although both Dmitri and Ivan have made some controversial claims, demonstrated their preference towards sensual experiences, and initiated verbal abuse; they never committed legal crimes, especially of such a scale as killing their close relative. It means that all of them have had the underlying feeling and perception of justice. In contrast, Smerdyakov has extended the disbelief in God to the unprecedented scale when killing Fyodor. The presentation of characters in the novel demonstrates that none of Karamazov brothers could possibly commit such an act (even despite Dmitris numerous negative statements against his father).

Moreover, Smerdyakov was not even morally consistent with his claims. For example he says to Ivan I liked you so much then, and was open-hearted with you while in reality he has tried to conceal the fact of killing Fyodor even knowing the existing investigation organized against Dmitri. Smerdyakov tried to misrepresent the situation and make other people suffer. He even claimed that he [Dmitri] wants to throw it on me and make out that it is the work of my hands. It indicates that the degree of moral degradation has reached the highest possible level.

On the basis of the above considerations, it seems that Smerdyakov cannot be viewed as a real Karamazov. The reason is that he has consciously violated all basic legal and ethical norms. Although Dmitri and Ivan also made numerous mistakes, they still tried to reach social justice and avoid sufferings. Smerdyakov not only killed his biological father Fyodor but also decided to cause additional sufferings to Dmitri and other family members. Therefore, the real Karamazov nature can be understood only through examining the behavior and values of three brothers: Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha.


To summarize, the provided analysis demonstrates the conflict philosophical and religious ideas expressed by different characters in the novel. Dostoevsky has elaborated on the ideas expressed by brothers as well as their justification in detail. The ideological conflicts have resulted in corresponding behavior strategies and sufferings for different people involved. Despite the serious differences between brothers, their search for a sense of life, social justice, and the desire to minimize sufferings may be viewed as the Karamazov trait. However, being a Karamazov has influenced the brothers in different ways. In particular, Dmitri has continued seeking sensual experience; Ivan has tried to find the plausible justification of the world without God; and Alyosha has asked for forgiveness for all people in the world. The subsequent events have illustrated the implications of all these approaches.

The evolution of the Karamazov idea has indicated the transition from a multi-optional perspective on applying the Karamazov trait (as advocated by Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha) to the only correct view (that of Alyosha). Moreover, many philosophical and worldview considerations may be further elaborated by each reader separately on the basis of his/her own experience and reactions. The close investigation of characters behavior shows that Smerdyakov cannot be considered as being a real Karamazov due to the fact he has violated the fundamental legal and ethical principles shared by all brothers. Although Smerdyakovs life conditions were difficult, his rejection of God, cruelty towards animals, and the ultimate killing of his biological father could not be attributed to his life difficulties. Moreover, he consciously misrepresented the situation to avoid responsibility for his actions while knowing that Dmitri would probably be severely punished. Thus, Smerdyakov should not be viewed as a person possessing the Karamazov trait. The latter is observed only among three brothers. Other interpretations are both incorrect and logically inconsistent.

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