Book Report on Dostoevsky\'s "The Brothers Karamazov"


The main characters of Dostoevsky\'s novel The Brothers Karamazov are, as
the title suggests, the members of the Karamazov "family," if it can indeed be
called such. The only things that the members of this family share are a name
and the "Karamazov curse," a legacy of base impulses and voluptuous lust.
References to this tendency towards immorality are sprinkled heavily throughout
the novel; phrases such as "a brazen brow and a Karamazov conscience,"
"voluptuary streak," and "Karamazovian baseness" abound.
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, the father of the brothers Karamazov, is the
embodiment and the source of this immorality. In him Dostoevsky creates such
perversity and depravity that one can feel no positive emotions for the man.
His physical appearance--he is "flabby" with "small, suspicious eyes" and a
"long, cavernous mouth with puffy lips, behind which could be glimpsed small
fragments of black teeth"--accurately reflects his foul, disgusting character.
He has no respect for himself; he enjoys playing the part of the shameless
"buffoon" for attention, even though the attention he receives is negative.
Because he has no respect for himself, he can have no respect for others, either.
He has no respect for women, for example; he is a despicable "voluptuary," and
he satisfies his lust at any cost. He drives his wife to madness by bringing
"women of ill-repute" into their house right in front of her. Even more
shockingly, he rapes a mentally retarded woman, who later dies giving birth to
his illegitimate son, Smerdyakov, who grows up as his father\'s servant.
Fyodor is even more blatantly disrespectful to his three legitimate
children. After his wife\'s death, he abandons them, for they "would have been
a hindrance to his debaucheries." He is never a true father to any of them.
When his oldest son, Dmitry, becomes an adult, Fyodor is even so cruel as to
deny Dmitry his inheritance and instead use the money to seduce Grushenka, with
whom his son is in love.
It is Alyosha, the youngest brother, that is most successful in escaping
the curse of the Karamazovs. Miraculously, he is almost the complete opposite
of his father; he is an easygoing "lover of mankind" whom everyone likes. When
the reader first meets Alyosha, he is a young monk of strong faith, a disciple
of the Elder Zosima; he is the embodiment of Zosima\'s teachings that one must
love man unconditionally and not condemn man\'s actions. Indeed, Alyosha treats
everyone he meets with respect and love, and consequently everyone responds to
him in the same way. He tolerates anything without censure, even the "filthy
lewdness" of his father. As a result, even his father grows to be "sincerely
fond of him."
Alyosha plays the role of the mediator in the novel. Dostoevsky
deliberately creates Alyosha as a static character who undergoes few changes,
and, therefore, he is the stable, solid character around whom the conflicts of
the novel unfold. He moves in and out of these various conflicts and attempts
to ameliorate the existing tensions and solve the problems. And, indeed, the
other characters open up to him and trust him because of his refusal to judge
them and their actions.
Alyosha is not a Christ figure, however, nor is he a mere "holy fool."
He is, in fact, a "real Karamazov" , and he has more credibility as a mediator
because as a Karamazov, he knows and understands the lowest depths of the soul.
The ability that he has to understand the depravity inherent in man gives him,
and therefore the reader, great insights into the personalities and motives of
the other characters. For example, it is Alyosha that guesses that Katerina
Ivanovna does not truly love Dmitry, and that she acts out this "false love"
only so that she can, out of pride, "observe [her] heroic sacrifice of
faithfulness and reproach [Dmitry] for his unfaithfulness." Dostoevsky uses
Alyosha\'s insights into the minds of others as a unique way by which to develop
his characters.
Ivan, the second youngest of the brothers, is much different from both
Fyodor and Alyosha. Ivan is a cold and haughty yet brilliant man incapable of
forming lasting relationships with anyone; his intellect is the only thing he
values. He rarely talks to anyone about anything but his ideas; he is, as
Dostoevsky describes him, "a man who needs [nothing but] the resolution of his
ideas." As Dostoevsky develops Ivan\'s character, however, one sees that it is
his intellect, the very thing that he most prizes, that is the cause of anguish
and eventual madness.