By Chet Yarbrough
The Brothers Karamazov
By Fyodor Dostoevsky
Narrated by Walter Covell
Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian Novelist, 1821-1881)
Twenty years before Sigmund Freud’s “…Psychopathology of Every Day Life”, Fyodor Dostoevsky penetrates man’s subconscious to reveal unnamed frames of mind that influence human behavior.
Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis (1856-1939)
All of Dostoevsky’s writing probes the human mind allowing listener/readers to hear unspoken thought and vicariously experience the consequence of singular deliberation.
Human aggression, compassion, love, and hate possess “The Brothers Karamazov”. The origins of these feelings are nakedly exposed in the murder of “The Brothers…” hedonistic father.
One of four brothers is suspected to be a murderer. The oldest brother is a student intellectual, a middle brother is an effusive pleasure seeker, and the youngest is a pious seminarian. A lurking illegitimate fourth son (aged somewhere between the oldest and youngest) adds to Dostoevsky’s tale of parricide.
The irony of isolated thought and deliberation is that it can lead to genius or horrendous crime. The first might be a Paul Dirac or Volodymyr Zelensky; the second a Ted Bundy or Vladimir Putin.
Theodore Robert Bundy was an American serial killer, kidnapper, rapist, burglar, and necrophiliac (1946-1989) Electrocuted–1989 in a Florida prison.
“The Brothers Karamazov” introduces Ivan Karamazov, an intellectual agnostic. Ivan’s agnosticism and misanthropy contrasts with his younger brother, Alyosha. Alyosha is a character reminiscent of an earlier Dostoevsky’ work (“The Idiot”) who exemplified man’s goodness in a life lived in contemplation and moderation.
“The Brother’s Karamazov” illustrates life’s contrasts with Alyosha, a saintly hero and Ivan, a deluded manipulator of human events. Both live lives of contemplation but one chooses to become a monk; the other an intellectual misfit.
God, free will, lust, innocence, guilt, and responsibility play out in thoughts and actions of the four brothers. If free will exists, where does it begin and end? Are we free? Are we driven by human nature or by God’s plan to become who we are; and to do what we do?
If you teach someone to hate as Ivan teaches Smerdyakov, his illegitimate brother, are you innocent of actions taken by those whom you teach? Does a teacher have any guilt; any responsibility for bad actions of the student?
As an intellectual, Ivan explains he does not believe in God. And later, he denies any responsibility for his father’s murder. His beliefs lead him to despair when he realizes Smerdyakov is the murderer.
Ivan eventually takes moral responsibility for his father’s death. At the end, Ivan seems on the verge of reassessing his belief in God; i.e. an assessment dear to Dostoevsky’s life and a subject espied in all his work.
The question of free will is challenged by the history of the Karamazov family. Every characteristic of the brothers is reminiscent of a part of their father’s strengths and weaknesses.
All of the brothers in varying degrees are molded into who they are by their paternal father and their Holy Father. The evidence of their Holy Father’s role is exhibited by the guilt ridden consciences of everyone but Smerdyakov. Finally, with Ivan’s final acceptance of responsibility for his father’s murder, Dostoevsky concludes an argument against free will.
Fyodor Dostoevsky brilliantly expands the value of literature with his insight into the relationship between thought, instinct, and action. Ivan’s broader intellect, and Smerdyrkov’s lesser intellect informs their actions. Instinct informs Mitya’s action. Religious belief informs Alyosha’s action.
The characters in Dostoevsky’s imagination are incarnations of religious belief. In “…Brothers Karamazov” each character’s life is prescriptive. Life is either designed by genetic inheritance or fulfillment of God’s plan. One suspects Dostoevsky believes the second more than the first.