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Literature Commentary: The Brothers Karamazov

07 Sep
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, “The Brothers Karamazov” undisputably ranks among the greatest works of modern literature. After hearing it recommended by several of my friends, I thought that now was as good a time as any to experience this tale of murder, justice, and redemption.
Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov is the stereotypical “dirty old man.” An irresponsible father, a profligate spender, a hard drinker and womanizer…he is certainly a negative influence on all those aruond him. However, he also happens to be rich.
Enter the three Brothers Karamazov: Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha. Dmitri is a spendthrift partyer who lives for the moment, enjoying his rowdy lifestyle until the bill arrives. Ivan is a meditative, philosophically inclined atheist. Alyosha is the only one of the three who seems to have any semblance of an ordinary life – after years of spiritual training in a monastery, he becomes a hardworking, caring, and mature member of society.
When Dmitri’s careless ways finally catch up with him, and he faces the prospect of public humiliation for his inability to pay an important debt, he considers the possibility of murdering his aged father. All three sons would inherit vast wealth…and besides, society would be benefited by his death. In a fit of passion, he prepares to confront his enemy and commit parricide…
But does he?
The great conflict in the book revolves around who actually killed Fyodor Pavlovitch. The answer is shocking, terrifying, and deeply thought-provoking.
“The Brothers Karamazov” is far more than a mystery, however. It is a novel about the clash of competing worldviews. The hedonistic lifestyle of Dmitri is powerfully contrasted with both the “moralistic atheism” of Ivan and the biblical Christianity of Alyosha. Ultimately, it is this war between three competing ideas that makes the book’s challenging conclusion so powerful. (If anyone’s wondering why I’m keeping the summary short, it’s because I don’t want to give away any key plot points.)
Dostoevsky is a master of the written word. Descriptions of Dmitri’s drunken extravagance are intercut with verbal jousts between Ivan and Satan and remembrances of the faith of Alyosha’s spiritual mentors. This sets up the fundamental conflict underlying the story and gives great depth to the reader’s understanding of each character. Dostoevsky devotes large sections of the book to analyzing each of the brothers’ inner thoughts and motives, which further develops their characters.
Objectionable content? Nothing that would compromise a PG rating. There is some (very) mild suggestive material, as well as some bloody violence in the context of the murder, but these subjects are handled with great delicacy.
It’s worth noting that this is a very long book, and not easy reading. An intense focus on the text is required in order to fully grasp the complex story. (I finished it last night after reading for 3 1/2 hours. Straight.) It’s certainly worth your while, though, especially for serious students of literature.
VERDICT: 8.5/10
A compelling look at the nature of man and his place in society, all in the context of a mystery story. Excellent.
I’ve read my quota of “hard books” for a while…I think it’s time to read something easy and fun…

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, “The Brothers Karamazov” undisputably ranks among the greatest works of modern literature. After hearing it recommended by several of my friends, I thought that now was as good a time as any to experience this tale of murder, justice, and redemption.

Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov is the stereotypical “dirty old man.” An irresponsible father, a profligate spender, a hard drinker and womanizer…he is certainly a negative influence on all those aruond him. However, he also happens to be rich.

Enter the three Brothers Karamazov: Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha. Dmitri is a spendthrift partyer who lives for the moment, enjoying his rowdy lifestyle until the bill arrives. Ivan is a meditative, philosophically inclined atheist. Alyosha is the only one of the three who seems to have any semblance of an ordinary life – after years of spiritual training in a monastery, he becomes a hardworking, caring, and mature member of society.

When Dmitri’s careless ways finally catch up with him, and he faces the prospect of public humiliation for his inability to pay an important debt, he considers the possibility of murdering his aged father. All three sons would inherit vast wealth…and besides, society would be benefited by his death. In a fit of passion, he prepares to confront his enemy and commit parricide…

But does he?

The great conflict in the book revolves around who actually killed Fyodor Pavlovitch. The answer is shocking, terrifying, and deeply thought-provoking.

“The Brothers Karamazov” is far more than a mystery, however. It is a novel about the clash of competing worldviews. The hedonistic lifestyle of Dmitri is powerfully contrasted with both the “moralistic atheism” of Ivan and the biblical Christianity of Alyosha. Ultimately, it is this war between three competing ideas that makes the book’s challenging conclusion so powerful. (If anyone’s wondering why I’m keeping the summary short, it’s because I don’t want to give away any key plot points.)

Dostoevsky is a master of the written word. Descriptions of Dmitri’s drunken extravagance are intercut with verbal jousts between Ivan and Satan and remembrances of the faith of Alyosha’s spiritual mentors. This sets up the fundamental conflict underlying the story and gives great depth to the reader’s understanding of each character. Dostoevsky devotes large sections of the book to analyzing each of the brothers’ inner thoughts and motives, which further develops their characters.

Objectionable content? Nothing that would compromise a PG rating. There is some (very) mild suggestive material, as well as some bloody violence in the context of the murder, but these subjects are handled with great delicacy.

It’s worth noting that this is a very long book, and not easy reading. An intense focus on the text is required in order to fully grasp the complex story. (I finished it last night after reading for 3 1/2 hours. Straight.) It’s certainly worth your while, though, especially for serious students of literature.

VERDICT: 8.5/10
A compelling look at the nature of man and his place in society, all in the context of a mystery story. Excellent.

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3 Comments

Posted by on September 7, 2009 in Classic

 

3 responses to “Literature Commentary: The Brothers Karamazov

  1. JimmyBean

    October 1, 2009 at 3:07 am

    I don’t know If I said it already but …I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

     
  2. REIT

    October 6, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Hey, I found your blog in a new directory of blogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, anyway cool blog, I bookmarked you. 🙂 🙂

     
  3. Discoking

    March 5, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Great Blog!……There’s always something here to make me laugh…Keep doing what ya do 🙂

     

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