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Three Brothers, Three Stories: A Word About Each of the Brothers Karamazov

This essay is a comparison of the personalities of the three brothers and of each one's unique place in this intriguing Dostoyevsky tale.

The novel, The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is, as its title suggests, the story of three brothers.  Each brother plays a very important role in the unfolding tale, and each one's contribution to the overall spiritual message of the book is significant.  Were their stories told separately, each would make a fascinating tale--though undoubtedly lacking a good deal of the impact (spiritual and otherwise) that comes from the comparison and contrast of their personalities, experiences, ideologies, styles, and struggles. 

The novel, as a whole, can, however, be approached from several viewpoints--differing angles from each of which a particular brother becomes the central character and all events are evaluated according to the way they affect this "protagonist."  Therefore--without severing the brothers from their common tale--we will nonetheless explore the story of the Brothers Karamazov from three rather unique perspectives:  Alyosha's, Dimitry's, and Ivan's.


From the beginning of the book, Alyosha fits comfortably into the novel's spiritual aspect.  We, in fact, find him residing at the local monastery under the religious tutelage of the somewhat infamous elder Zossima when the story opens.  As we progress through the novel, Alyosha grows in both spiritual and worldly wisdom.  He is, however, very consistent in his faith in God and humanity, despite the often unpleasant and unfortunate things that happen to--and have such a devastating effect on--those he loves.  While he appears to lose faith for a time--after the death of Father Zossima--and seems almost ready to give it all up, his faith is once again restored as the direct result of a miraculous dream and a compassionate helping hand he has managed (despite his own pain) to offer to Grushenka.


Alyosha has never been a judgmental person; nor does he become so after his father's murder, his brother Dimitry's arrest for the crime, or his brother Ivan's ongoing anti-religious arguments.  He accepts people as they are (as he'd always accepted his crude and scandalous father before his death.)  While he fulfills his spiritual mission of bringing people together in love (as he does the schoolboys both before and after little Ilyusha's death,) he also learns that practical matters must be taken care of as well, and is willing to advise (and help) Dimitry to escape after he is wrongly convicted of patricide.  He has, by the end of the book, come a long way from the "novice" in the monastery that he was when he began.  He has indeed grown, by that time, from the "weak youth" who fell to the earth after his heavenly dream, to the "resolute fighter" who rose from it, and who, we are told, will be so "for the rest of his life."


Dimitry is, throughout the book, an earthy, passionate, volatile, and careless--though innately honest, affectionate man, possessing the best of intentions.  He is rather foolish and a little too trusting--believing others to possess the same degree of honor he himself displays (a big mistake.)  He desires--in spite of his own weakness--to do the right thing, but repeatedly falls prey to his own passionate nature.  He attacks his own father out of intense jealousy over Grushenka, as well as the honorable Snegiryov, while in a drunken rage.  He is simply unable to control his passions, though he does have the desire to please God and be forgiven for his misdeeds.  He does, in fact, pray a few times during the wildly escalating events which soon begin to sweep him along (as usual) against his will.


When he is arrested for the murder of his father--which he isn't even aware has occurred at first, thinking that he killed Grigory when he hit him as he fled his father's house over the fence--he begins to realize that things are coming to a head (though, at first, he is naively certain that nothing can go wrong as long as Grushenka loves him.) 


Like Alyosha, he has a spiritually-transforming dream and awakes a new man--able at last to understand and feel compassion for others.  He, too, must soon face practical matters, however, and decides to flee with Grushenka after being convicted of his father's murder.  We are left dangling at this point in the novel, but we are by this time confident that Dimitry will indeed escape and that the man who awoke from his dream "transformed and (with) his face radiant with joy" will indeed "go on...toward the new, beckoning light..."


Ivan, the intellectual, skeptic, atheist proves to be his own worst enemy.  He argues so vehemently against religion that he argues himself into a corner.  Deep inside, he longs to believe--which comes out not only in his nightmare about the devil near the end of the book, but also in his poem about the Grand Inquisitor and his talk with Alyosha about religious matters--but his "common sense" will not allow it.  Ivan is a good and honest man, but one whom people find it difficult to understand and relate to or to feel affection for.  There, in fact, appears, at times, to be something sinister about him, but this is simply his introverted--and therefore often unsociable and uncommunicative--nature asserting itself.


His high-strung, sensitive temperament causes such devastating events as his learning that Smerdyakov murdered his father, believing he had Ivan's own silent complicity in the crime, to drive him to a nervous breakdown.  (Of course, after Smerdyakov commits suicide, Ivan is unable to prove his allegation and his own fragile mental state prevents him from making a convincing case in court on behalf of his innocent brother, Dimitry.)  He has, however, by this time devised a plan for Dimitry's escape, though it will, of course, be necessary, under the circumstances, for others to carry it out.


At the end of the book, Ivan has basically hit bottom.  During his strange nightmare of the devil--which he believes is real--he exhausts all his arguments against the existence of God and faith in Christ, pouring out all his doubt through the dream "devil," which is himself; and soon, a few positive spiritual signposts begin to emerge.  He expresses (covertly, through the "devil" persona,) his intense desire to "join the (heavenly) chorus and shout 'hosanna' (to God,)" as well as to receive a "tiny grain of faith...(which) will grow into an oak tree...and save (his) soul."  It appears that there is, indeed, hope for Ivan yet, which is one of the final spiritual messages of the book.


Three brothers--each so different and yet so much alike, and--each with his own story to tell:  These are the infamous--and intriguing--Brothers Karamazov!

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