The Brothers Karamazov

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Saturday, December 04, 2004

The Brothers Karamazov: Plot Summary

The book begins by introducing Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, describing him as a man that is only interested in money and women. Through his various relationships with women, he ends up having three baby boys: Ivan, Dmitri (Mitya), and Alexei (Alyosha). Much like the whoring star of Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Fyodor doesn’t want to have much (if anything) to do with his children, and instead of looking after them as they grow through their youth, he passes them on to relatives and acquaintances.

The initial conflict in the novel occurs when Dmitri returns home to his father’s place to request an inheritance left by his mother. Fyodor objects, stating that he will keep the money for himself. Both of Ivan’s brothers eventually become involved in the quarrel, and Alyosha, who is a member of the local monastery, suggests that his elder Zosima help to settle the quarrel. However, when all four men arrive at the monastery, an argument ensues, and the reader learns that there is also a woman, Grushenka, who is involved.

More problems ensue between the members of the family that same day, as Dmitri knocks his father to the ground over a dispute regarding Grushenka. The result is a bruised and battered Fyodor, who nevertheless maintains his “superior” composure. The next day, as Alyosha visits yet another woman connected to the Karamazovs, Katerina, he finds that Ivan is at Katerina’s, visiting.

Zosima, Alyosha’s greatest influence in life, dies shortly thereafter. Alyosha, who had learned so much from Zosima, decides to try his best to live up to Zosima’s reputation, despite the feelings among other monks that Zosima was actually corrupt. Alyosha heads to Grushenka’s house, and the two young persons form a close bond. Alyosha has now become tied to the relationship between Grushenka, Dmitri, and Fyodor; though he knows little about how important this tie will eventually prove to be.

Meanwhile, Dmitri, who owes Katerina 3,000 rubles from their previous engagement, attempts to do everything in his power to gain the money to pay her back. After visiting Grushenka’s house and not finding her there, he heads to his father’s house, thinking she might have gone there instead. However, he finds his father alone, and after getting his attention, decides to run away. While running away, he runs into Grigory, a servant of Fyodor’s and strikes him with a pestle that he found at Grushenkas. After checking to make sure that Grigory is okay, the bloodied Dmitri flees the scene.

Dmitri then head back to Grushenka’s, learns that she has left to pursue a former lover, and then follows in her footsteps. As he spots Grushenka and her new lover together, he begins carelessly spending money, which is apparently from an envelope that his father Fyodor had left under his mattress in case Grushenka decided to be his lover. Through the carousing and spending, Grushenka realizes she’s still in love with Dmitri. But before the two can make their getaway, the police arrest Dmitri for the murder of his father, who has been found dead at his estate.

Before the trial takes place, Ivan speaks with another one of Fyodor’s servants, Smerdyakov, about the murder. Smerdyakov confesses to the murder, but he also states that Ivan planned the whole thing. Ivan, who is already suffering from sickness, begins to dive into insanity. Smerdyakov hangs himself a day before the trial.

At the trial, the two sides give their evidence, and the courtroom shakes with the sudden announcement from Ivan that he was the murderer. In order to save Ivan, Katerina submits a letter written by Dmitri saying that he was going to kill his father. In the end, the court finds Dmitri guilty and sentences him to twenty years “in the mines.”

Despite all of this, Dmitri and Katerina forgive one another, and Katerina offers her help in Dmitri’s escape from prison, which is surprisingly supported by Alyosha.

To conclude the novel, Alyosha attends the funeral of a young boy, Ilyusha (whom he had met earlier in the novel), and tells all of the young boy’s friends to remember to be kind, loving people throughout their lives.


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