Few books have made such an enormous impact in the world of literature as The Brothers Karamazov did, and few can rival the breadth and depth of its scope. A passionate study of human psychology and a deeply philosophical novel that discusses Existence of God, Free Will and Morality. This book is a battlefield of ideas, woven into a compelling narrative surrounded by three-dimensional characters. The story takes twists and turns, confronting unsurmountable philosophical quandaries at each stage, only to reach a climax that leaves us baffled at the sheer scale of intellectual labour that Dostoevsky undertook.
The story revolves around the Karamazov family comprising of a buffoon father and his three sons; Dimitri, the eldest son, is a sensualist while the second son Ivan is a scholar and an intellectual. The third and youngest son, Alyosha, is deeply religious and aspires to be a monk. A conflict arises between the eldest son and the father (over a woman) and the other two sons try to resolve the matter through mediation. But it doesn’t work. Every character then goes on to confront his dilemmas as the story proceeds, and the complication arising out of these conflicts sheds light on the issues that Dostoevsky desired to explore.
Then a heinous crime takes place and an investigation ensues. We see different shades of human mind under duress, as the crime is investigated, it exposes a plethora of virtues and vices that the reader is unaware of initially. This spiritual and philosophical anatomy of human mind explores the undertones of emotions like guilt, jealousy, love and angst. The characters come out alive with all their flaws and dispositions, standing in stark contrast with not just the other characters around them, but also with their self-perception. As the famous Russian Critic Merezhkovsky while describing Dostoevsky’s mastery noted:
“The reader is aghast at his omniscience, his penetration into the conscience of a stranger. We are confronted by our own secret thoughts, which we would not reveal to a friend, not even to ourselves.”
We find a part ourselves speaking through the mouth of a diseased and corrupted man, who disseminates the base emotions that have haunted each one of us.
Since there is such a tremendous wealth of ideas and philosophies discussed here, I can understand the predicament of some readers who find it difficult to get through the book. But then ‘nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy’. If the reader succeeds to relate with any of the main characters, which I did with more than one character, it becomes rather easy to follow their chain of thought and their peculiar viewpoints. The story in itself is quite interesting. Although some scenes are very long, and a couple of speeches and dialogues take more than 30 pages at times, but its all worth it.
Because Dostoevsky has a lot to teach us about ourselves. This great expositor of human experience, addresses us like a prophet standing at a vantage point, a place from where his studious gaze sees through our corruption and baseness, and warns us of the moral crisis that the modernity has ushered in. The reader roams through a bazaar of ideas, only to find himself dazzled at the expansiveness of human intellect. He then knows that he knows nothing.
I wonder what was Dostoevsky aspiring to do when he sat down to write this masterpiece. Was he attempting to diagnose the maladies that afflicted mother Russia? And used The Karamazov family as a perfect imitation of the dysfunctional yet fascinatingly diverse Russian society?
Or was he giving a solution, or an introduction to a solution as Irwin Weil suggests, to the problems that the diseased and guilty human mind suffers from?
I don’t know for sure but I think I can say this with some amount of certainty that; Dostoevsky, through this book, made a case for love. Through Father Zossima and Alyosha, he tries to invoke the inherent goodness of human heart and urges us to give love a chance. While the sufferings of this world are too great for us to fend off, love can cure many of our afflictions.
Only a few thousand years of civilization has us divided into sects and religions. Pitted against one another, we spend our lives educating ourselves about the things that divide us. In our hubris, we forget that we don’t matter in the grand scale of things. We, the miniscule children of chance, are stuck on a round globe, hanging in the immensity of the infinite. For a sentient being in another corner this universe, we exist only in the realm of probabilities. And yet here we are, clinging hopes to our tormentor and our redeemer; Love.