The world seems so full of wickedness. We watch tragedy after tragedy lately and wonder at the evil that surrounds us. I hurt for the young man that was so emotionally undeveloped that he killed his fellow students without conscience. And of course I mostly hurt for the empty arms of the mamas that lost their beautiful teens in the latest school shooting. But it is not a new story. Fyodor Dostoyevsky struggled with the problem of evil and the death of children aloud for us in his acclaimed novel The Brothers Karamazov, through the character Ivan.
Dostoyevsky was working through his own grief at the time of writing the novel. He had lost his own son. The raw emotion in the book could only be written by one acquainted with grief. In the novel Fyodor Karamazov is a disgusting reprobate and a buffoon. He is the father of three sons whom he has utterly neglected and is rumored to be the father of an illegitimate fourth son. Dmitri is the passionate, impulsive one representing the appetitive, emotional man. Ivan is the intellectual, questioning one, representing the logical man. Alyosha is the quiet, pious one, representing the spiritual man.
Ivan spends much of the novel claiming disbelief in God because so much evil exists in the world, particularly the abuse of children. Ivan wishes to have nothing to do with God if God allows innocent children to suffer. It is, of course, the most difficult question of all time. It is one that is not answerable in platitudes and simple words. The author answers in the actions of Alyosha and the illegitimate son, Smerdyakov.
The goodness of Alyosha’s care for the children, particularly those that appear the cruelest, responds to Ivan’s accusations without words. In contrast, Smerdyakov follows Ivan’s reasoning to its logical conclusion. I won’t give away the climax of the book, but the plot revolves around the consequences of Ivan’s philosophy, Dmitri’s passions, Alyosha’s devotion, and Smerdyakov’s actions.
The character development revolves around the natural consequences of the thinking and behavior of the characters, especially the father, Fyodor. The length of the novel may seem intimidating, but it is well worth the time it takes to read it. It is the sort of book that you will be digesting and thinking about for a long time to come. I recommend that you listen on an audiobook. We found ourselves running extra errands just to hear more of the story!
Some interesting things to look for in the novel are the contrasts between Father Zoisma and Father Ferapont, the contrasts between love interests Grushenka and Katerina, and the theme of children, especially as it relates to each of the Karamazov brothers. Ivan’s poem “The Grand Inquisitor” is an interesting piece of literature, worthy of its own study in good and evil.
Of all the books we have read this year, this one is at the top of my list. I find my self quoting it, relating it to scenarios I come cross, and finding it referenced all throughout philosophy and literature. That is how I know it is worth the effort – it makes me think for a long time to come! Let me know what you think!
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