The Brothers Karamazov: Part 4

April 29, 2010

Dear Mr. Dostoevsky,

What, are you kidding me?! I read almost 800 pages of dialogue, description, mystery and intrigue, and you leave me not knowing for certain who killed Fyodor Karamazov?!

Sure I have an idea, but that’s all it is: my supposition. Is there any conclusive proof? Are we to decide for ourselves who the murderer was? I’d always heard the three brothers planned and then killed their father. And, if we take the words of the Bible that if we so much as think ill of someone we have as good as murdered them, then this is true. But, I do not believe for a minute that Dmitri actually took the brass pestle and killed his father with it. Although, he was willing to suffer, and bear the accusation, as he said:

You can revive and resurrect the frozen heart in this convict, you can look after him for years, and finally bring up from the cave into the light a soul that is lofty now, a suffering consciousness, you can revive an angel resurrect a hero! And there are many of them, there are hundreds, and we’re all guilty for them! Why did I have a dream about a ‘wee one’ at such a moment? ‘Why is the wee one poor?’ It was a prophecy to me at that moment! It’s for the ‘wee one’ that I will go. Because everyone is guilty for everyone else. All people are ‘wee ones.’ And I’ll go for all of them, because there must be someone who will go for all of them. I didn’t kill father, but I must go. I accept! All of this came to me here…within these peeling walls…It’s impossible for a convict to be without God, even more impossible than for a non-convict! and then from the depths of the earth, we, the men underground, will start singing a tragic hymn to God, in whom there is joy! Hail to God and his joy! I love him!” (p. 591-592)

I admire how you made a debased character, the biggest scoundrel of all the Karamazov sons, to be the one who in the end finds redemption through his belief and acceptance. “I accept the torment of accusation and of my disgrace before all, I want to suffer and be purified by suffering! And perhaps I will be purified, eh, gentlemen? But hear me, all the same, for the last time: I am not guilty of my father’s blood. I accept punishment not because I killed him, but because I wanted to kill him, and might well have killed him…” (p. 509)

I was puzzled at first, Mr. Dostoevsky, why you ended your novel with the tale of Ilyushka’s death; here is a poor boy, another victim of circumstances, whose role with his father is in direct contrast with that of Dmitri and his father:

  • Ilyushka’s father loves him to pieces, grieves and cares for him beyond all measure; Fyodor cares not one whit about any of his three sons, letting Grigory bring them up the best his manservant can.
  • In Ilyushka’s case, it is the boy who dies; with the Karamazovs, it is the father.
  • Yet both sons, Ilyushka and Dmitri, are victims of circumstances beyond their control. Ilyushka cannot overcome his sickness, Dmitri cannot overrule his sentence; they both suffer willingly for what has been their lot in life.
  • Alyosha reminds us all at the end that something good can come from the innocent child’s death.

    Perhaps we will even become wicked later on, will even be unable to resist a bad action, will laugh at people’s tears and at those who say, as Kolya exclaimed today: ‘I want to suffer for all people’-perhaps we will scoff wickedly at such people. And yet, no matter how wicked we may be-and God preserve us from it-as soon as we remember how we buried Ilyusha, how we loved him in his last days, and how we’ve been talking just now, so much as friends, so together, by this stone, the most cruel and jeering man among us, if we should become so, will still not dare laugh within himself at how kind and good he was at this present moment! Moreover, perhaps just this memory alone will keep him from great evil, and he will think better of it and say: ‘Yes, I was kind, brave and honest then.’  (p. 775)

    I liked how you used this novel, Mr. Dostoevsky, to work through the grief you bore at your own son’s death, the questions you pondered about faith and God, and the way you wanted to leave a message to your Russian people. Through these instances, you have left messages for us, that fundamentally we are saved through our ability to love. Even when we may suffer terribly due to injustice or our own infallibility.



16 thoughts on “The Brothers Karamazov: Part 4”

  1. Great post Bellezza! I hadn't bothered to go further than taking Smerdyakov at his word and believing that he killed Fyodor, even though he's the least truthful character in the book most likely… Huh. Well, I still think he did it, but as to who's fault it was, and how far the blame can get spread around…well according to the defense attorney, it can be traced back to the whole village, all the people who saw the terrible way that Fyodor treated his baby sons and did nothing! Everyone's to blame! And due to his all-round nastiness, everyone kinda wanted him dead. Universal guilt. Oh boy.Anyway, it was fun to read along with you and I'm so pleased that I stuck to it. Thanks for the bookmark! What's our next Russian read?


  2. I really loved the novel as a whole, but I loved the schoolboys and Alyosha's role in trying to heal them all from their guilt. I got my final post up a little while ago. Thank you so much for hosting this! I had a great time and really enjoyed the entire process. It was nice to read it with other people as opposed to trying to get through it myself.I might host an Anna Karenina read-along later in the summer, would you want to join?


  3. Universal guilt…that is a heavy topic! Still, I'll put the blame quite happily on Smerdyakov, and keep my hopes up for Dmitri's "redemption." I'm glad to tuck this novel into my reperatoire of finished classics, and it was greatly enhanced by the sharing of thoughts with one another. Thank you for joining in! Our next Russian read? Hmmmm….maybe we'll have to join Allie's Anna Karenina, a novel I can truly never tire of.


  4. I loved Alyosha's comfort to his brothers and the little boys, too. I'll be by to read your posts, and Sarah's, at the end of the day when I'm not at work, but yes, I'd love to join in your Anna Karenina read-along. I've read that book many times, and I can vouche for its fascinating plot and characters! That would be a great pick for us to read.


  5. I will try and finally post this evening. But, I must say, the further I read, the more I had an inkling Dostoevsky would leave us without the finality of the murderer's identity. I think partially because it seemed he was working out the plot as he went but partially because as Dmitry says – it doesn't really matter who killed him. His death is, more than anything, figurative. This despicable man who was larger than life is brought down ultimately by his own personality. That, as much as anything else, is the true killer in this story. Interesting that it was still satisfying in its own way.


  6. Well, I took Smerdyakov at his word… he had the money in his sock… he had the motive… he hated the old man. What a fascinating book. Thank you so much, Bellezza, for the invitation to read along.


  7. The reintroduction of Kolya and the school boys seemed a bit abrupt to me, but it was one of my favorite parts of the book and, like you, I felt like it was put there as a contrast between fathers. I also felt like the ending with the school boys was to show some hope for the future. I loved that Alyosha said more in the speech at the end than he did at any other part of the book (that I can remember, at least). It gave his last words a lot of impact.You've summed this book up beautifully! Thank you so much for putting this together. I had even forgotten about the bookmark. I'm so excited!My final thoughts are here:


  8. What a good point! Dmitri's death is figurative…do you think he's responsible for his 'death' or his father should take the blame? Ultimately, despite what we are handed, I think we must be responsible for our own choices, and I'm loathe to dump it all on his father…Dmitri had to overcome his frustration, hurt and anger or suffer the consequences. Which he is. I love your comment! It really makes me think!


  9. Julia, thank you for accepting my invitation. I come down to believing it must be Smerdyakov, too. Although a plethora of people hated Fyodor, he had all the convincing evidence. Too bad that the judge and jury couldn't see that, and felt they had to put the blame on Dmitri. On the other hand, maybe that's what had to happen for his 'redemption.'


  10. I loved reading about the boys, too, and Ilyusha's situation broke my heart. I wondered if I felt to attuned to it because of my teaching, but I'm glad to know that you also loved it.Thank you for joining in the read-along! I'll come over to read your post, and I'll put the bookmarks in the mail this weekend.


  11. Also took Smerdyakov at his word. Loved the scenes with him and Ivan though. Very powerful. But, as I have said in a few places, I loved so many small parts of this book but just liked the work as a whole. The pacing problems in parts two and four kind of sunk it for me. Once we reach the trial scene in the final part, I was beginning to check out. It may represent brilliant satire of the Russian court system but it brought it all to a grinding halt just like the similar problem in part two. Thanks so much for hosting Bellezza! So glad to have finally read it!


  12. Frances, I agree. Although Parts 2 and 4 might be sagacious treaties, for me they bordered on lullabies. I was much more interested in the characterization, and the development of the plot, to be perfectly honest. Therefore, I was rather disappointed that the ending seems a bit inconclusive. Probably not to a Russian, but to me. Still, I'm going with Smerdyakov as the killer, although there were many victims besides Fyodor Karamazov.Thanks so much for reading along, again. Your insights are invaluable to me.


  13. I love that you've structured this post as a letter to Dostoevsky. I don't usually feel—or like to feel—so engaged with the author, but that's how I almost always end up reading D. and this time it was strongest, I think. And like you I am left wanting to speak directly to him: answer for this, answer for that, and spit it out already. Thanks again for hosting and look out for my post in the morning.


  14. Ooh…I didn't much like Ilyusha's sections of the book. I thought they diverted attention from the main plot. I really took Smerdyakov at his word when he admitted he killed Fyodor. But somehow, I doubt that he had misunderstood that Ivan had wanted his father dead. He was just trying to tranfer the blame from himself on to Ivan…I never got a feeling throughout the book that Ivan hated his father so much that he wanted him dead.You can find my thoughts on part IV here:


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