The Brothers Karamazov

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Saturday, December 04, 2004

The Brothers Karamazov: Literary Elements

Setting: The novel is centered in a mid-nineteenth century Russian town by the name of Skotoprigonyevsk. The action in the novel shifts from the Karamazov estate, to the town monastery, to the houses of the other various characters involved in the story.

Conflict: In The Brothers Karamazov, the main conflict deals with the love triangle between Dmitri Karamazov, Fyodor Karamazov, and Grushenka, and the ensuing murder that occurs as a result of its implications. Other various conflicts affect the play, including the romantic relationships among other characters, including Dmitri’s past love for Katerina, and Alyosha’s involvement with Liza Khokhlakov.

Irony: Elements of irony can be found throughout the play, including:

The monks’ doubt of Zosima’s credibility, due to the stench emanating from his body after his death (this is an example of dramatic irony, as the reader can tell from Zosima’s conversations with Alyosha that he is in fact a great person).

Although Fyodor abandons his children, leaving them in the care of others, one of them is eventually the main focus of concern regarding his murder. In addition, he in fact relies on them in his later years of life.

The simple fact that Fyodor Karamazov believes that he can “love” other humans despite his history of buffoonery and lack of care for others.

Dmitri has two spending sprees throughout the course of the novel, both of which prove to be evidence against him in the trial.

Themes: Some recurring themes in the novel include:

(Lust) Both Dmitri and Fyodor desire the love of Grushenka, but one has to question if either one of them actually care for her. Fyodor’s “love” for others has often proven to be lackluster at best, and Dmitri’s character traits suggest that he couldn’t possibly have such strong emotions for any one individual. However, the end of the story seems to clear things up rather well, as Dmitri’s love becomes more believable through his actions and words.

(Family) Much as in The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov, family plays a key role to the unfolding of the plot. The ties between the Karamazov brothers and their father bring all of the members of the family into the climax of the play, at which Dmitri is convicted of murdering his father. Despite this, Ivan and Alyosha continue to believe in his innocence and still wish to help him in any way they can.

(Money) Again, another Russian work, another Russian theme: money. The 3,000 rubles which Dmitri owes Katerina prove to be the result of the murder of Fyodor Karamazov, and the main foundation on which the prosecution places their evidence against Dmitri. The money, which had been stolen from Katerina by Dmitri in order to be used toward his relationship with Grushenka, is the x factor in Dmitri’s trial.

(Religion) The Brothers Karamazov is absolutely littered with references to religion and its effect on people and the human psyche. Those who are profound believers in their faith as well as those who aren’t quite so religious will love this story because of the manner in which it questions religious beliefs and the generally accepted religious ideals, especially in the philosophical conversations between Ivan and Smerdyakov and Alyosha and his brothers.

Style: Fyodor Dostoyevsky writes in a somewhat sarcastic manner, despite the apparent seriousness of his work. For example, the book begins with these lines from Dostoyevsky: “The Brothers Karamazov is a joyful book.” Really, Mr. Fyodor? Trying to get into our heads before we’ve even read a single line of plot, huh? Wonderful. This brashness that the narrator possesses continues throughout the course of the novel, and the narrator becomes somewhat of a character in and of itself.

Symbols: The Karamazov Brothers come to symbolize all of Russia towards the end of the play. As the prosecutor is explaining Dmitri’s mindset, and why he had to have committed the murder, it is easy to see that the Karamazov triad (Ivan, with his philosophical questioning, Dmitri, with his inclination to fight for what he believes in, and Alyosha, with his constant devotion to his faith and supreme intelligence) comes to embody all that represents Russia at the time that the book was written. It was likely Dostoyevsky’s intention to write this book as a social commentary on Russian life, much as Chekhov did in his plays.

Foreshadowing: Some elements of foreshadowing include:

The early revelation that Fyodor Karamazov’s children were not brought up by him, but rather by his friends and/or servants.

Zosima’s prediction that Dmitri would one day face grave danger, and his subsequent kissing of the ground at Dmitri’s feet.

Dostoyevsky’s hint to the reader before the trial even ends that Dmitri is going to be found guilty.

Social Issues: Nearly every social class is represented in the play, from peasants (Fyodor in his early days), to middle-class members (Alyosha, Dmitri, etc.), to upper-class members (Katerina). The impact of the peasants is felt during the trial, as it is the peasants who make up most of the jury in number. Could Dostoyevsky have been suggesting paying more attention to the lower class?

Influences: As previously mentioned, Dostoyevsky parallels Chekhov in that both of their plays showcase many of the same themes, symbols, and ideas. However, Dostoyevsky seems to be the master of the human mind, as proven by this engaging novel.


  • At October 29, 2017 at 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks! This guide really helped me in understanding some topics that I need to use in my essay about The Brothers Karamazov.


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