The Brothers Karamazov

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Monday, December 06, 2004

Essay on Literary Criticism:
Harry Slochower

Incest in The Brothers Karamazov

It is accepted in the criticism of Dostoyevsky that Grushenka is the representation of incest in The Brothers Karamazov. It falls along similar ideas that are portrayed in Hamlet and Oedipus Rex, where the son struggles with patricide stimulated and motivated by sexual rivalry. Many aspects of the novel support this criticism, but Harry Slochower has chosen to refute by saying that Katerina Ivanovna (Katya) is the incest figure. He claims that Katya is the deeper of Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov’s burden of incest. Though Dmitri lusts and loves Grushenka, he is connected to Katya, and Slochower has taken this connection into great consideration.

One of his strongest points draws the similarities between Grushenka and Dmitri’s mother, Adelaida. Both come from distinguished families, and are vibrant and self-willed. They seem to both defy the conventional woman. Dmitri was abandoned and neglected by his mother, leaving him with a feeling of insecurity and hatefulness towards a woman who resembles her. The woman then turns out to be Katya, and the resemblance is obvious. Katya at first neglected and disregarded Dmitri, like his mother chose to do, until she was forced to submit to him for her father’s sake. Dmitri loves Katya, but not in the conventional way. He cares about her opinion and approval, but defies her at the same time. Slochower exposes this defiance by pointing out how Dmitri continually cheated on her and took her money, but he never let her out of his life, something he could not manage to do with his mother.

Slochower also reveals Katya’s personality of a mother towards Dmitri. She struggles to control him, just like his mother struggled to control his father, Fyodor Karamazov. This possessiveness is what, Slochower says, drove Dmitri to Grushenka, but he didn’t want to completely leave Katya. Dmitri wanted to repay the money he took, but only with the money his father took from his mother. Maybe this is his way of finding resolution for his mother, in the form of Katya, since her money was stolen by Fyodor. As described by Slochower, Katya is the commanding goddess mom and Grushenka is the mistress mom, and together they complete Dmitri. He needs them both, and even though he loves Grushenka, Dmitri loves Katya in a different way because he knows that Katya will be there to save him. She will be the disciplinary mother who unconditionally loves him as a son.

Slochower agrees that incest exists in The Brothers Karamazov, but not in the figure most widely agreed upon. He reveals how Dmitri, like Hamlet, struggles with the motivation to kill his father for the desire of his mother, but in Dmitri’s case it is for the desire of repaying back Katya who represents his mother. Slochower has chosen to support the idea of incest existing in the form of Katya, and has well supported his criticism.


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