The Brothers Karamazov
The Brothers KaramazovIntroduction
Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky
For Further Study
At the heart of The Brothers Karamazov is a murder mystery surrounding the homicide of a family patriarch, Fyodor Karamazov, and the role of his sons in the crime. The book is also a novel of ideas: Fedor Dostoevsky debates the existence of God, the role of religion in modern societies, and the consequences of class differences on the individual.
On its publication in 1881 readers were shocked by the controversial nature of the novel, in particular the frank discussions of religion and class division. Today, The Brothers Karamazov is considered one of the greatest novels in world literature; moreover, Dostoyevsky is renowned as one of the preeminent figures in Russian literature, along with such authors as Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, and Alexander Pushkin. His work has influenced many important writers and thinkers of the twentieth century, such as Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, and Sigmund Freud.
Born in Moscow on October 30, 1821, Dostoevsky grew up in a privileged family. His father, a doctor, was a tyrannical disciplinarian; his mother was a pious woman who died before Dostoevsky was sixteen. After her death the family moved to a spacious country estate. To escape the oppressive atmosphere at home, he developed a love for reading, in particular the works of Nikolai Gogol, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Honore de Balzac.
While attending boarding school, Dostoevsky received word that his father had been murdered by his serfs. The family did not report the murder for fear of losing income; their serfs would undoubtedly have been sent to Siberia for the crime.
According to his father's wishes, Dostoevsky trained as an engineer at the School of Military Engineers in St. Petersburg. With this training, he accepted a commission in the Czar's army in 1843. After a year he resigned and began his career as an author, depending on income from the family estate. His first novel, Poor Folk (1846), was published to great critical acclaim but little commercial success.
Dostoevsky's participation in the subversive and socialist Petrashevsky Circle led to his imprisonment. In 1849 he was ordered to die by firing squad. Fortunately, an imperial rider appeared in the nick of time with the message that his sentence had been commuted to ten years of hard labor in Omsk, Siberia.
This traumatic experience prompted Dostoevsky to abandon his interest in humanism, atheism, Western ideas, and liberal thought; instead, he focused his attention on Russian Orthodox dogma and conservative politics. These new interests were fueled by studying the only book allowed prisoners in Siberia—the New Testament. Consequently, Dostoevsky's works after 1849 are wrought with Gospel images of suffering and redemption.
After four years in the penal colony at Omsk, he was released on the condition that he serve in the army at Semipalatinsk. While in the service, he met and married a widow. In 1859, with a grant of full amnesty, Dostoevsky returned with his wife to St. Petersburg. He set to work immediately and started two political journals. He wrote articles on his belief that Russia should take a religious and conservative course in its development and published them in his magazines. Tragically, he suffered several personal and professional setbacks in the next few years: his wife died in 1864; he became a gambling addict; his brother died; and the authorities shut down his political journals.
In 1867 Dostoevsky married Anna Snitkina, a young woman who had been employed as his stenographer. Soon after they married, they traveled to Europe to escape creditors. Together they raised four children: Sofia, Lyubov, Fyodor, and Aleksei. These years abroad proved very fruitful for Dostoevsky, as he completed several works before his return to Russia in 1871.
In the 1870s he reconciled himself to the liberal elements of Russian politics. He finished The Brothers Karamazov in 1880. Within a year of the book's publication, Dostoevsky suffered a hemorrhage in his throat and died on January 28, 1881.
The Brothers Karamazov is set over a period of two-and-a-half months in 1866, in a small Russian town near Moscow. A third-person anonymous narrator tells the story thirteen years later after the events of the novel. In Part I, the Karamazov family is introduced: Fyodor and his three sons Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha. There is assumed to be a fourth son, Smerdyakov, born illegitimate.
Because their mother is dead, and Fyodor has abnegated his fatherly obligations, the sons are brought up outside the Karamazov home.
Each brother—except for Smerdyakov—appears to represent a particular human aspect: Dmitri is the sensualist (body); Ivan is the intellectual (mind); and Alyosha is the spiritual one (soul). As all three aspects struggle and balance one another in the individual, so too do these three brothers in the family. Although different, they ex-hibit a characteristic Karamazov trait, like their father: they are passionate, do not consider the consequences of their actions, and compulsively tell what they believe to be the truth.
Two brothers appear to escape the Karamazov destiny. Born illegitimate, Smerdyakov is rational and deceitful. Alyosha is profoundly influenced by two father-figures, in particular Father Zossima, who provides spiritual guidance.
Dmitri and Fyodor visit Father Zossima to have him settle a dispute over Dmitri's inheritance. Zossima is dying, and soon Alyosha will take over this position of mediator, providing a bridge between spiritual and secular worlds. Their mission is a failure.
Although Dmitri is engaged to Katerina, he has fallen in love with Grushenka. Fyodor decides that he wants Grushenka as his wife as well.
At first Alyosha works to reconcile the hostile factions of his family and community together, but soon he wonders: is he a monk or a Karamazov? Alyosha's dilemma dominates Part II.
Before Zossima dies, he tells his life story to Alyosha. As a youth, Zossima had been a wild young man—much like Dmitri—until he realized God's goodness and the world's beauty. After Zossima felt remorse after slapping a servant, he decided to treat everyone—servants, children, animals—with love and respect.
Perhaps the most well-known passage in the novel occurs in Part II: Ivan's philosophical essay on "The Grand Inquisitor." The poem is set in sixteenth-century Spain during the inquisition when the Church was burning heretics (non-believers) at the stake. It is an imaginary dialogue between a Grand Cardinal and Christ, which parallels the situation of Ivan speaking with Alyosha.
The Cardinal explains his cynical and pragmatic view of humanity, that all a person wants is "someone to bow down to, someone to take over his conscience, and a means for uniting everyone at last into a common, concordant, and incontestable anthill." Because people are hungry, they will accept slavery.
Alyosha is strongly affected by both speeches, but by Ivan's in particular. He experiences a crisis of faith. At the end of Part II, Zossima dies.
Fyodor is murdered and the investigation begins. Dmitri becomes the prime suspect when it is revealed that he has apparently spent a large amount of Katerina's money on a party with Grushenka, precisely the same amount that Dmitri believes Fyodor owes him. Instead, Fyodor offered this money to Grushenka. Dmitri in fact saved half of the money so that he and Grushenka could leave town and begin a new life elsewhere. In everyone's eyes, Dmitri is insane with jealousy and this is assumed to be his motive for his father's murder.
One night, with Alyosha at the monastery grieving for Zossima, Ivan in Moscow, and Smerdyakov apparently fallen into an epileptic fit, Dmitri goes to his father's house looking for Grushenka. When he discovers that she left with a former lover, Dmitri strikes Fyodor's servant Gregory and leaves him for dead. He chases after Grushenka, who welcomes Dmitri's love and offer of escape. At that climactic moment the police arrive to arrest him for the murder of his father. With so much evidence against him, Dmitri's plans to escape are thwarted.
Part IV is set two months later. The scandal has become national news and attracts much attention. A notorious Moscow lawyer has even offered to defend Dmitri. Before the trial begins, Alyosha's maturation into a father-figure to several of the boys in town further develops, and Ivan makes his love for Katerina known.
A number of characters are sick, including Ivan, Smerdyakov, and a young boy, Ilyusha. Ilyusha's relationship with his father contrasts with that of the Karamazovs as Ilyusha and his father lovingly defend one another's honor. Ilyusha also admires the precocious Kolya, who in turn admires Alyosha; these bonds cross class and age barriers.
Smerdyakov admits to Ivan that he killed Fyodor after Dmitri left the house. Smerdyakov commits suicide. Tragically, Ivan has a mental breakdown the night before the trial begins. As a result, this new evidence is never seriously considered. The trial is filled with dramatic tension, and both the prosecutor and the defense attorney deliver convincing arguments on the guilt and innocence of Dmitri Karamazov. There is a collective sense of guilt in the courtroom. According to the narrator's sense of courtroom's reaction just prior to the verdict, Dmitri will be judged innocent. Yet the verdict is guilty.
Alyosha, Ivan, Katerina, Grushenka, and Dmitri plan for Dmitri's escape to America. There is some reconciliation amongst the members of the group. Ilyusha dies and, like Dmitri's trial did for the Karamazov family, this event brings the characters together. Alyosha urges them all not to forget these events because, as dark as they were, they proved the importance of love and community.
Father Ferapont is an old monk who rarely goes to church and is constantly experiencing religious doubts. Yet in the novel, he represents saint-liness. He represents an archaic Christian ascetic and he is adamantly opposed to Father Zossima.
Fetyukovitch is a famous defense attorney. He is attracted by the notoriety of Dmitri's case; in the end, he is unable to save Dmitri.
A former serf, Gregory is a religious old man who decides to stay with Fyodor after his emancipation. Deep down, he hates his master, but he believes he is fated to stay with him. He also acts as a surrogate father for Dmitri.
Madame Hohlakov is a wealthy widow who suffers from a lack of faith.
Daughter of a military officer, Katerina feels obliged to offer herself to Dmitri because he saved her father from prison by providing the money needed to replace embezzled funds. As fate would have it, she later inherits a fortune and repays the debt.
According to Ivan, Katerina is the epitome of the lacerated person, which is defined as someone who suffers a particular humiliation or pain and is incapable of moving beyond that moment. For Katerina, this moment is the offering of herself to Dmitri for money. When he gives her the money without taking advantage of her offer, this act of generosity from a man she thought was base and vile troubles her for years. At first she thinks that marrying Dmitri will ease her mind. She is pla-cated only when she is able to help him later in the novel.
Alexey, known as Alyosha, is the youngest of the Karamazov brothers and an honest young man. Alyosha's earliest memory is of his mother praying to the Virgin Mary to protect him. After growing up away from home, he returns and visits his mother's grave. Later he decides to become a monk.
According to the narrator, he is the "future" hero of the book and of Russia. (In fact, Dostoevsky had planned a second volume focused on Alyosha.) Alyosha serves as a bridge between the corrupt past and a brighter future, as represented by the closing scene where the previously surly gang of boys surrounds him. The atheist Kolya is chief among them.
Alyosha is not a religious fanatic like Father Ferapont or a mystic like Father Zossima. In fact, Alyosha is considered a realist. The difference between Alyosha and Ivan is simply that Alyosha decides, "I want to live for immortality, and I will accept no compromise."
First son of Fyodor, Dmitri is raised by Gregory, the family servant. As a boy, Peter Miusov decides to give him the best education. When he loses interest, Dmitri is passed off on relatives. Having no other prospects, he pursues a military career.
Over the years, his father gives him money, yet never informs him of his net worth. Eventually, he discovers that he has spent all of his inheritance—according to Fyodor. Dmitri's inability to sort out his financial situation and stand up to his father eventually leads to his downfall.
Dmitri's voice can be funny or poetic, swaggering or humiliated. Psychologically, he is a man of passion and the senses, of the earth (Dmitri is from Demeter, goddess of earth, fertility and grain).
The lesson Dmitri learns is that only by the awakening of men like himself to Christian duty, can those in poverty and oppression (as seen in his vision) have a bright, fulfilled life.
Modeled upon Dostoevsky's own father, Fyodor is the patriarch of the Karamazov family. A cruel and miserly man, he is also a misanthrope and narcissist. He plans to use his formidable fortune to marry Grushenka.
Fyodor embodies "Karamazovism," that family trait of the Karamazovs referred to throughout the novel. It is the ability to throw oneself into dissipation—orgies, alcohol, and blasphemy—with wild abandon. According to Kirillovitch, the Karamazovs are emblematic of that element of Russian society whose spiritual side is undeveloped but which possesses an overwhelming vitality. Fyodor stands in opposition to those who hope to enlighten and reform Russia, like Peter Miusov.
- The Brothers Karamazov was made into a silent film in 1918 by Dmitri Buchowetzki and Carl Froelich in Germany. Irmgard Bern and Fritz Kortner were in the cast.
- The second German adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov was directed and scripted by Erich Engels. The 1931 film starred Fritz Kortner (again) as Dmitri and Bernhard Minetti as Ivan.
- William Shatner made his film debut in the 1958 English production of The Brothers Karamazov. Adapted by Julius J. Epstein and directed by Richard Brooks, the film also starred Yul Brynner and Maria Schell.
- A Russian production of the novel was made in 1968. Ivan Pyryev wrote the adaptation. Kirill Lavrov and Mikhail Ulyanov directed the film. Ulyanov and Lavrov also starred in the film, which was nominated for a best foreign film Oscar in 1970.
If Dostoevsky's novel is viewed as a novel of ideas, then Ivan, the middle brother, is the hero. He is a "morose and reserved" young man who recently graduated from the university. Besides the narrator's voice, his voice is the most frequent. Ivan, however, uses other narrative voices to ex-press his thoughts—a devil, an Inquisitor, or a dry recitation of facts.
Ivan gets so caught up in polemics that he ends up in critical condition with a "brain fever." His apparent possession by a demonic being sheds light on the primitive state of neurology just prior to the revolutionary ideas of Sigmund Freud.
Like his father, Ivan prefers logic and facts; they prevent him from falling into a despair brought on by trying to make sense of a world full of absurdities. Therefore he collects facts in a notebook. In this, some critics and biographers assert that he resembles Dostoevsky.
Ivan is responsible for the most famous aspect of the novel, "The Grand Inquisitor." This "poem" is an internal monologue. As Ivan's mental suffering increases, he withdraws from society. He eventually suffers a mental breakdown.
Kirillovitch is the prosecutor who views this murder case as his swan song. He dies of consumption nine months after the trial.
Kolya is a potential Ivan. However, with the intervention of a strong spiritual man like Alyosha, Kolya can become a positive force in the future.
Michael Makarov is a police captain. A man of little education and not altogether abreast of the recent judicial reforms, he is loved by the community for his dependability.
Marfa is Gregory's wife. A smart woman, she knows some herbal remedies that she uses several times a year when Gregory suffers from lumbago. The remedy consists of alcohol and is sleep-inducing, which is a key fact in Fyodor's murder.
Formerly a landowner, Maximov is a silly character down on his luck.
A distant relative of Fyodor and Kalaganov, Miusov is a liberal freethinker, reformer, and an atheist. He is a landowner in the district and has spent considerable time abroad, especially in France. Hypocritically, his revolutionary acts benefit his financial interests, not humanity.
Captain Mussyalovitch is a proud Polish officer who dumps Grushenka. Later he tries to reconcile with her in order to spend her money.
A learned and well-respected man, Father Paissy is a man of reason who assumes the role of Alyosha's spiritual guide.
Dmitri pawns his pistols to Perhotin, a young official who is launched on a bright career because of Dmitri's murder case. Perhotin directs the authorities to Mokroe.
A sycophantic gossip, Rakitin (his name means pliable, like a willow branch) is willing to do anything to be "in the loop." He is a divinity student, but some predict he will eventually be a gossip columnist. He fulfills this destiny during Dmitri's murder trial.
Samsonov is an evil merchant who sexually exploits Grushenka. Now old and dying, he tries to encourage Grushenka to marry Fyodor. To facilitate the match he sends Dmitri to a man who would gladly give him the money he needs.
The mother of Smerdyakov (his name means "the stinker"), Stinking Lizaveta is the town's child. An orphan with a mental disability, she was most likely raped by Fyodor. She dies giving birth to her son in a bathhouse. Gregory takes and raises the child.
Smerdyakov is Fyodor's illegitimate son. Given different circumstances, Smerdyakov could have been Ivan's equal. Instead, his thirst for knowledge has been unsatisfied. Like Dmitri, Smerdyakov resents Fyodor. However, he represses his feelings and becomes Fyodor's trusted confidant to gain a better position. He plans out the murder.
Captain Snegiryov is the town drunk.
Ilusha is the proud son of Captain Snegiryov. He represents the innocent child destroyed by the world in Dmitri's dream. Protective of his family, he is embarrassed by his father's drunken antics. When Dmitri beats his father, the boy is tormented by desires for revenge. When Alyosha tries to befriend him, Ilusha beats him. Alyosha's nonviolent response surprises Ilusha. He races home and comes down with a cold. The cold worsens; before he dies, he reconciles with everyone and becomes a martyr for love and peace.
Known as Grushenka, she represents the ideal Russian beauty. She is the proper counterpart to the ideal man, Dmitri. Grushenka (whose name means light and bright) is dumped by a Polish officer and spurned by her family. With little to her name, a merchant named Samsonov becomes her protector and she becomes his mistress until he is too old. She also helps him in his business and wisely invests any money that comes her way so that she is an independent woman.
Samsonov advises her to marry Fyodor for the money; however, she wants to marry Dmitri for love. When the Polish officer returns she thinks she is still in love with him but discovers he only wants money. Throughout the novel, Katerina and Grushenka are enemies until Katerina helps Dmitri.
Born into the upper class, Zossima becomes an officer until, in his haughtiness, he hits his servant. He asks for forgiveness, considered an incredible act. The next day he refuses to return fire in a duel. He resigns his commission and becomes a monk who wanders the country for twenty years. Eventually, he makes his home in the monastery and tries to reinvigorate the institution of the Elder.
Word of his greatness spreads far and wide. Many predict he will be a saint and they unsuccessfully look for evidence of miracles.
God and Religion
The central theme of the book is the question of God's existence and the role of religion in modern society. At the time he wrote Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky was deeply religious and felt that the only true religion was Russian Orthodoxy. Even so, the question of God's existence bothered him to the day he died. In the novel, he employs the narrative technique of two inset works—an article and a story within the novel—in order to debate religious concerns. The former is Ivan's article on the position of ecclesiastical courts, and the latter is Ivan's philosophical essay featuring the Grand Inquisitor.
With the story of the Grand Inquisitor, Ivan doubts the existence of God. Presented as a debate in which the Grand Inquisitor condemns Christ for propagating the belief that man has the choice between good and evil, the essay reflects on redemption, the conflict between intellect and faith, and the role of evil in Christianity. If one is a Christian, one becomes consumed with questions, such as if God is all-powerful and good, why do children suffer as in Dmitri's nightmare?
Alyosha exemplifies the idea that the answers do not matter. He views a belief in God as a way to spread love. Thus, Alyosha is a man of action, a realist working within the system, while Ivan is paralyzed by doubt and fear.
The questions are not decided by the end of the novel. Still, there are definite lessons: love is all-important and people should love freely; life after death should be an integral belief for all; people are capable of evil, especially when they attempt to divorce themselves from their sensuality; and man must be his brother's keeper.
Finally, salvation for mankind—as Alyosha expresses it to the group of boys at the end of the novel—depends upon social solidarity. Isolation of people from each other must end; people must be guided by their spiritual leaders. This last message is almost a prophetic warning to the communists who hoped to create solidarity without spiritual kinship.
Justice and Injustice
There are many instances of injustice in the book—Dmitri beats Ilyusha's father, Fyodor rapes Lizaveta—but none of these injustices are punished or resolved. In fact, the legal system seems to be a mockery of justice. Courts, lawyers, and punishment are for the weak and are often ineffectual. In the novel, the criminals punish themselves and seek their own redemption. For this reason, the role of the church becomes more important; if secular society cannot effectively punish transgressors, then religion must impose a sense of guilt and eventual punishment for sinners.
Artists and Society
Both the prosecution and the defense use the analogy of the novelist for the case of Fyodor's murder. The imaginative artist, Fetiukovich, has a better grasp of the facts than Kirillovich. Yet Kirillovich triumphs because the average man, who sits on the jury, cannot perceive what is "real."
According to Dostoevsky, reality cannot be explained in terms of environmental factors, social facts, and evidence, but in the impossible terms of faith. If the jury can be made to believe that something else might have happened, then Dmitri is innocent.
The trial's debate over reality and Dmitri's fate is allegorical of the debates in the novel as a whole. Dmitri is not as smart as Ivan, but he knows to focus on the important issues. He believes that people are stuck in the trivial concerns of life and give too little attention to immortality. Apparently, the role of the novelist is to accentuate this situation.
Like many other novels of the nineteenth century, The Brothers Karamazov is composed of a diverse array of narrative techniques. These techniques include tales, anecdotes, confessions, digressions, a novella, and a trial transcript. None of these elements can be isolated from the novel without making it incomplete.
The narrator seems omniscient, yet allows various parts of the story to be told by others without clarification. As a result, there are approximately eleven versions of Fyodor's murder.
The multiplicity of voices and layers drive home the themes of the novel through repetition and mirroring. The novel works on thesis and antithesis. Zossima, and his echo Alyosha, counter Ivan's thesis. Fyodor and Miusov foreshadow Ivan's thoughts. Dmitri repeats a portion of Ivan's speech. Ilusha and his friends are mirrors of and responses to Ivan's "rebellion." Kolya's goose is a mirror of Ivan and Smerdyakov.
There is allegorical significance in virtually every aspect and feature composing the fabric of The Brothers Karamazov. Dmitri's shame hangs about his neck like an albatross. His redemption is in the form of a small icon that Madame Hohlakov gives to him.
Animals and insects are employed not only to describe character traits, but also as harbingers. For example, cockroaches in the wall emphasize Ivan's horror.
Another symbolic technique is the use of color. The dominant color in the story is black, then red. Black stands for mourning but also for bad choices, such as Grushenka's wearing of a black dress. Blackness, or darkness, also hides Dmitri as he awaits Grushenka or watches his father.
The counterweight to blackness is the pure white of snow. Snow saves Russia from its enemies. Snow is the predominant element in the land of exile, Siberia; it signals redemption and rebirth.
Water is a symbolic force by its very absence. The people of the town, like Alyosha, must leave in order to find fresh water. All water in the town is dirty, except for tears and dew.
Topics for Further Study
- Dostoyevsky had a profound impact on many twentieth-century authors like Albert Camus, Richard Wright, and Franz Kafka. Select a novel by one of these authors and write an essay tracing Dostoyevsky's influence.
- There are many references throughout the novel to religious lore. Pick a few of them and research the full stories. How do these references impact the story? Are they relevant to modern American readers, or are these stories ignored?
- Define the concept of the ideal Russian woman. Compare Grushenka and Katerina in terms of this concept.
- Dmitri reluctantly considers escaping to America. What does America represent in this context? Has the impression of America changed?
- How does the story of Ilusha's lost dog reflect the concerns of the novel as a whole?
The Brothers Karamazov is a crime story. A subgenre of the detective story—a nineteenth-century innovation—crime stories focus on the environment in which the crime was committed. They tend to be told from the perpetrator's point of view.
While a crime story at heart, the novel is far more complex. It is not only concerned with the perpetrator's point of view or with the crime, but also with the concept of original sin as allegorized by the criminal event. Thus, the murder is only a device to explore universal philosophical themes such as religion and the existence of God.
The lack of a reliable version of the crime allows the reader to make his or her own decisions—not just about Dmitri but about those larger themes.
Although the Greek story of Oedipus (in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex) has been the subject of many artists, it is best known in the twentieth century through Freud's reworking of the myth as a psychological condition. The Oedipus complex, according to Freud, is common among men who desire the death of their father in order to sleep with their mother. Freud was quite literal about this incestuous desire.
Essentially, the Oedipus story tells the tale of a boy destined to murder his father and sleep with his mother. Knowing this prophecy, extensive precautions are taken to avoid contact with his parents. Yet while traveling as a young man, Oedipus fights and kills a stranger at a crossroads—this stranger turns out to be his father. Later, he arrives in Thebes and solves the riddle of the Sphinx. As a result, he marries Jocasta (his mother). When the truth of his actions are revealed, he blinds himself.
The Oedipal complex is evident in each of the brothers Karamazov. Each brother secretly longs for their father's death—both on behalf of their deceased mother and because their father is very cruel. It is most obvious in the character of Dmitri who was sent away from his father but returns. He falls in love with the woman his father desires. The death of his father enables him to marry Grushenka.
In addition to the Oedipal complex, Dostoyevsky explores other realms of psychology in the novel. In many ways, he was ahead of his time, as he preceded the work of Freud. For example, Dostoyevsky explores several psychological issues: exhibitionism; adolescent perversity; laughter as an unconscious unmasking; the phenomena of the "accidental family"; and the "death-instinct." He also displays the phenomena of split personalities in Dmitri, Katerina, and Ivan.
In 1689 Peter the Great assumed the throne in Russia. His attempts to modernize Russia were not entirely successful, but he did manage many reforms before his death in 1725. Another reform-minded leader, Catherine the Great, resumed the task of modernization in 1762.
From 1801 to 1825, Alexander I continued in the path of Peter and Catherine. He granted amnesty to political prisoners and repealed many restrictive laws. Under Alexander's reign, Russia increased in size and power. When Napoleon marched on Moscow in 1812, he found the city burned to the ground and, with no supplies and winter setting in, he retreated. The Russian army routed Napoleon's troops using guerrilla tactics.
In 1826 Nicholas I adamantly opposed liberal ideas and Western thought. He instituted secret police, strict censorship, and the removal of all controversial materials from educational institutions. Writers were arrested, university chairs in history and philosophy abolished, and student bodies reduced. Meanwhile, he reformed the economy and compiled the first set of Russian laws since 1649. In 1854 the Russian military forces were defeated by an international army of Turkish, British, French and Sardinian troops in the Crimean War (1854–1856).
In the tradition of Peter, Alexander II reduced restrictions on higher learning. He reformed the judiciary, instituting Zemstvas in 1864. A Zemstva was a system of local self-government responsible for education and public welfare. Throughout the 1870s Russia resumed its struggle with Turkey over the Dardanelles, a struggle it eventually lost.
After 1881, Alexander III reintroduced censorship and strengthened the police force. The Zemstvas were curbed, assimilation was forced on minorities, and assaults began in earnest on the Jewish population through a series of pogroms which kill hundreds.
The last of the Romanovs, Nicholas II, started his reign in 1894. Although he had the best of intentions, the populace assumed that he was under the influence of Rasputin, a mysterious religious leader. After a loss to Japan in 1904, his rule was in danger. On January 22, 1905, his troops fired on thousands of peaceful protesters. Hundreds were killed.
Under the reign of Alexander I, secret organizations and societies formed and influenced Russian culture and politics. For example, the Decembrists called for an end to Czarist leadership and advocated a constitutional monarchy or a republic. They attempted to take control of Russia when Alexander I died but were crushed by Nicholas I. Another group, the Nihilists, advocated a complete abolition of the present state. Revolutionary activity increased under the tolerant reign of Alexander II.
Revolutionary groups grew more educated, organized, and focused. Industrialism created a class of factory workers open to communist ideas. This group would eventually overthrow the Romanov dynasty in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Though Alexander allowed the revolutionary groups to exist, they were not content with the pace of reform. In 1881, Alexander was assassinated by a revolutionary.
A serf was a person who was legally designated servile to his landlord. Unlike a slave, a serf could have inherited property, bequeathed wealth, and bought his way out of serfdom or of some servile duties. Dictated by local custom, service included fighting for the landlord in combat and allowing the landlord to sleep with one's daughters.
With the rise of the merchant class in Europe and evolution of feudal societies into constitutional monarchies, serfdom declined. Descendants of serfs rose to the middle class and social mobility increased. In France, serfs gradually vanished as a result of the French Revolution. Yet the practice survived and grew more repressive in Russia. Spurred by revolutionaries, serfs revolted throughout the first half of the nineteenth century in Russia.
The most notable series of revolts occurred during the disastrous Crimean War in 1854. Finally, forty million Russian serfs were liberated when Alexander II ordered their release in 1861. Even though free by law, many peasants remained second class citizens in reality—an issue explored in The Brothers Karamazov.
When The Brothers Karamazov was published in 1881, critics and readers were shocked by the controversial nature of the novel. For example, a negative assessment in Temple Bar contends that the work would "add nothing to [Dostoyevsky's] reputation." Vladimir Nabakov was even less impressed. He deems the novel "quaint" and "weird" though he liked the random phraseology of the chapter headings. Furthermore, a review in The Spectator deems the novel "disordered," although it is "the most carefully composed of [Dostoyevsky's] novels, the constructions seems often to collapse entirely; there are the strangest digressions and the most curious prolixities."
Not surprisingly, most of the critical commentary on the novel focuses on the problem of faith and religion. There is quite a bit of commentary discussing the ideas presented by the fable of the "Grand Inquisitor" alone.
D. H. Lawrence, in his Preface to "The Grand Inquisitor," maintains that complete devotion to Christianity is impossible because it expects too much from its followers. Accordingly, Ivan's position is not evil but honest. Ivan rediscovered something "known until … the illusion of the perfectibility of men, of all men, took hold of the imagination of the civilised nations." That something is, "that most men cannot choose between good and evil."
Compare & Contrast
- Late 1800s: The forefather of Russian communism and Marxist philosopher, Georgy Plekhanov, fled to Western Europe in 1880.
Today: Russia is developing democratic institutions based on the American model.
- Late 1800s: There was a great famine in the agricultural regions of Russia from 1891–1892.
Today: Agricultural problems are still frequent in Russia due to poor infrastructure, inadequate resources for private farms, and a lack of credit sufficient to finance farming.
- Late 1800s: The United States experienced an industrial revolution that would catapult it to the fore of manufacturing by the twentieth century.
Today: The United States is in the midst of an information revolution that has created significant economic benefits. These innovations have changed the way people communicate and do business in the twenty-first century.
Hans Kung, in his "Religion in the Controversy over the End of Religion," views Dostoyevsky as a prophet who "was convinced that the Europe of Western science, technology, and democracy needs Russia's spirituality and concili-ating power in order to find its way to a new, free unity."
The novel interests psychologists because they are concerned not with the crime, as Sigmund Freud maintains, but with "who desired it emotionally and who welcomed it when it was done." According to Freud, in Dostoyevsky and Parricide, The Brothers Karamazov is the "most magnificent novel ever written."
Freud asserts that the artistic "formula for Dostoyevsky is as follows: a person of specially strong bisexual predisposition, who can defend himself with special intensity against dependence on a specially severe father." Even more profound, "it can scarcely be owing to chance that three of the masterpieces of the literature of all time—the Oedipus Rex of Sophocles, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, should all deal with the same subject, parricide."
Besides discussions regarding the novel's themes of religion and psychology, critics consider the characters of the story. Prince Kropotkin contends that with so many characters suffering from "brain and nervous diseases," the novel appears unnatural and fabricated. Further, he asserts that the novel has "here, a bit of morals, there some abominable character taken from a psycho-pathological hospital … that a few good pages scattered here and there do not compensate the reader for the hard task of reading these two volumes."
Camus views The Brothers Karamazov as "a work which, in a chiaroscuro more gripping than the light of day, permits us to seize man's struggle against his hopes." Some critics assert that allegory is more important than characters in the novel. Others note the appearance of the twentieth-century hero—solitary, rebellious, and possibly dangerous.
Critical commentary also focuses on Dostoyevsky's narrative technique. J. Middleton Murray, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky: A Critical Study, asserts that The Brothers Karamazov is not "an encyclopedia of Russian life" but a confused and chaotic symbolic tale.
Ralph E. Matlaw disagrees with this assessment in his The Brothers Karamazov: Novelistic Technique. He maintains that "the minutiae of the novel are as carefully controlled … as the thematic and structural lines."
Victor Terras, in A Karamazov Companion: Commentary on the Genesis, Language, and Style of Dostoyevsky's Novel, agrees with Matlaw and employs Mikhail Bakhtin's (in Fyodor Dostoyevsky) concept of narrative polyphonics. Terras traces the many layers and subtleties of meaning in the novel, asserting that, "the trial of Dmitri … is an allegory of Dostoyevsky's effort" to persuade the jury of mankind that the "cognitive power of the creative imagination" is the most powerful.
Throughout the years, critics grew to appreciate Dostoyevsky's accomplishments with The Brothers Karamazov. In particular, his use of multiple voices is viewed as an effective and innovative narrative technique. Furthermore, his exploration of religious and psychological issues is considered influential for many twentieth century authors and philosophers. Today, The Brothers Karamazov is considered one of the more important works of world literature.
Esdale is a doctoral student in the Poetics Program at SUNY-Buffalo. In the following essay, he explores the role of religious faith in The Brothers Karamazov.
If you have watched any television, you know that murder mysteries and courtroom dramas are popular shows. You also know that real murder trials are televised. The issue with these shows is often not whether the defendant is guilty or innocent, but if the trial is entertaining. Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel, The Brothers Karamazov, is an entertaining murder mystery, both for the reader and for the characters in the novel.
The question of whether Dmitri Karamazov is guilty or innocent of his father's murder is treated very seriously. Critics have typically focused on the novel's presentation of the crisis of religious faith in the nineteenth century; in particular, the characters debate the very existence of God and the implications of the answer. For example, if God does not exist, then guilt, innocence, and sin are meaningless. The critics note that Dostoevsky refuses to give a simple answer to this universal question. Instead, there is a compromise: if God's existence cannot be accepted, then people must accept the world as it is.
Dostoevsky attempted to write a novel that incorporated all aspects of Russian society: rich and poor, men and women, believers and non-believers. Since the character of Dmitri seems to represent the average Russian, the question of his guilt can be perceived as a question of the nation's guilt. If Dmitri is judged guilty, then all are guilty. If he is judged innocent, then all are innocent.
Dmitri is "wrongly" judged guilty. His attorney maintains that "the overwhelming totality of the facts is against the defendant, and at the same time there is not one fact that will stand up to criticism." In other words, the Russian people are guilty, but the individual is innocent.
Novels influenced by The Brothers Karamazov provide insight into Dostoevsky's book. Franz Kafka, for example, loved Dostoevsky's novel; his novel The Trial (1925) chronicles the story of Joseph K., or just K., who wakes up one morning to find that he is under arrest. Yet no one can tell him exactly what crime he committed. His attempts to find information are circumvented by a confusing legal system that functions to hinder, not help, defendants.
K. never learns the nature of his crime; therefore, he cannot adequately defend himself. He meets other defendants whose trials drag on for months and years with no final verdict in sight. K. realizes that the court assumes his guilt and that he is in danger of lingering in the complex legal system for years.
However, a certain logic is at play here: if everyone is guilty, then no one person can be held responsible. Since you cannot punish everyone, no one is punished. The final verdict—everyone is under arrest, and also innocent—has for many readers become prophetic, symbolically describing the world today.
Realistically, someone has to be guilty since we always look for someone to blame—usually a person without power. The verdict in The Trial contradicts the Christian account of original sin in the first family: after Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden for disobedience to God, they became mortal and passed on that mortality to their children. Children are born guilty of their parents' sin. For this reason there is animosity between generations, since many children blame their parents for the burden of guilt. Inevitably, children will rebel against their parents.
According to Sigmund Freud's account of human origins, which describes the tension within the Karamazov family, a son or a group of sons desire to kill the father because the father has exclusive privilege over all women. Competitive instinct governs family interaction. Dmitri is charged, however, with parricide (the killing of a family member), not patricide (the killing of the father). Parricide opens itself to the possibility that any murder is like a family murder.
Adam and Eve's first son, Cain, commits parricide when he kills his brother Abel out of sibling rivalry. And in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Claudius kills his brother—Hamlet's father—to gain the throne of Denmark. Parricide emphasizes that a murder affects more than just the victim. It affects the other family members—like the members (people) of a body (nation). So much attention has been given to the family in literature because the family can be regarded as a small community, or miniature nation. What happens in a family can be said to mirror—with the distortions that all mirrors create—the state of a nation.
An account of the world that claims everyone is innocent then argues against Christian scripture, and claims also that God is dead. This conclusion is likely true of The Trial, but The Brothers Karamazov is more ambiguous. Three characters in Dostoyevsky's novel quote Voltaire, an eighteenth-century French philosopher: "If God did not exist, he would have to be invented." This hypothesis has lingered and turned up in the most unlikely places, such as on the wall of a New Orleans brothel in the 1969 film Easy Rider.
The solution to this hypothesis is of course beyond us; we can only speculate. Fyodor, Ivan and young Kolya all invoke Voltaire's popular hypothesis, and all three are mocked at times for their credulity—believing that if it comes from a book, it must be true. Kolya also asks a question at the heart of the novel: "It's possible to love mankind even without believing in God, don't you think?" Ivan provides an answer that each character will test for himself and herself: "it is not God that I don't accept; it is the world that he has created." Ivan despairs that "everything except man is sinless," and with this disavowal in mind decides that "everything is permissible."
As Dmitri is accused of having murdered his (earthly) father, Ivan can be accused of having murdered God the Father. Richard Peace has noted that "Ivan's father becomes a sort of sacrificial substitute for God." Ivan participates in the events of Fyodor's murder and, at least initially, believes himself to have been innocent because it is not possible to be guilty of killing someone who is already dead: Fyodor had effectively killed himself years before when he rejected the responsibilities of fatherhood—like God. If God has forsaken you and the generation before you has already killed everything, why should what you do matter?
Enter Smerdyakov, Fyodor's bastard son, a character that in many ways makes this novel relevant today. He represents disaffected youth, those alienated from their parents and from themselves, a demographic that has become so stereotypical in the last few decades. Smerdyakov murders the father who had disowned him from birth, but who had consented to employ him as one of the servants. What might have been a familial relation was reduced to an economic relation. A man without a family and an inheritance, Smerdyakov is aimless until Ivan asserts that "everything is permissible."
This reading of the world permits Smerdyakov to kill Fyodor and then flee to France. It is he who will play God and punish people for their pride—he says to Ivan, "It was your pride made you think I was stupid." Yet to create a new life Smerdyakov would have to erase his terrible crime; he would have to claim that he was innocent.
At the end of the novel, once Dmitri has been convicted and sentenced, a plan is put into motion that would have Dmitri escape to America—the ideal place to start again. Americans killed their symbolic fathers—rules that limit freedom, such as God, class, ethnicity, gender or all origins altogether—and are not obligated to pay the debt of history. Yet does eliminating the patriarchal system also alleviate the obligations of mutual responsibility people feel toward each other, toward animals, and toward the earth? Without a symbolic father figure, will the family implode?
The novel suggests that one method of accepting this mutual responsibility is to treat adults as children, and children as adults, which means that fathers would become brothers, and mothers become sisters. Exchanging positions in the family and becoming mutually responsible for each other dismantles one of the primary hierarchies (the Family) that structure inequalities into the human community.
After Cain kills his brother, he responds to God's question about Abel's existence: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Because Cain failed to recognize his responsibility to his brother, God marked Cain and sent him out of the community (as proof that he was always and already outside)—like Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850), who is cursed to wear a scarlet "A" to signify her crime of adultery. The Karamazovs are similarly marked: in Russian, kara means "punishment" and mazov comes from mazat, which means "to daub or smear."
What Do I Read Next?
- Notes from the Underground (1864) marks a turning point in Dostoyevsky's thought. It was written in reaction to Nikolay Chernyshevsky's utopian novel, What Is To Be Done? Here, Dostoyevsky outlines the moral universe that he will explore in the rest of his writings.
- Dostoyevky's Crime and Punishment was published in 1866. This crime novel chronicles the moral struggles of an impoverished student, Raskolnikov, who kills his landlady for money. This novel is considered a masterpiece.
- Published in installments between 1875 and 1877, Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina tells the story of a tragic love affair in late nineteenth-century Russia.
- In Russia, a landowner must pay a soul tax on his serfs—though they are dead—until the next census. Such absurdities inspired Nikolay Gogol's 1842 masterpiece, Dead Souls. Gogol's satire about an enterprising young man who is trying to buy social mobility through prospecting on such dead souls gave Russian literature garnered critical and commercial popularity.
- Ivan Turgeniev's Fathers and Sons (1862) explores the generation gap. The protagonist is a young intellectual nihilist who believes only in the laws of natural science; much to his chagrin, he falls prey to emotions such as love and unhappiness.
Since one of the central questions at Dmitri's trial is whether all Russians are Karamazovs, the title of the novel is suggestive: Brothers Karamazov may include a community larger than a single family. A monk or nun willingly takes on the mark of sin, as Christ did, believing that all have sinned. To believe that "all are guilty" is to take that step nuns and monks take towards participation in the larger brotherhood and sisterhood beyond the family. To believe instead that "all are innocent" is to decide that there is no community. Conforming to society's values and laws then becomes optional, and can lead to anarchy.
To believe both at the same time—and become a sort of monk or nun in the world instead of in the monastery—is a possibility explored in the novel. In doing so, the characters begin to accept degrees of belief and degrees of guilt, and reject absolute belief or guilt. Because laws exist absolutely, however, they exist in conflict with exceptions to those laws. No single explanatory system (such as Christianity) can fully explain the complexity of a world of competing brothers, or competing instincts. You cannot find absolute truth in a book—either in the Bible or The Brothers Karamazov. Reading a book is a solitary pursuit. Truth must be constructed in dialogue with others.
One Father would be the author himself, Dostoevsky, and the monument of his great book. In this book Fatherhood is put on trial and the author questions his own authority by employing what his foremost critic, Mikhail Bakhtin, has called dialogism ("dia-" is two or more, and "-logue" is to speak). Bakhtin focuses more on the novel's form than its religious philosophy, but the two aspects are related. He has noted that "Capitalism created the conditions for a special type of inescapably solitary consciousness" by alienating us from the things we make and from each other, but that this solitary consciousness is a fantasy and an illusion. A solitary consciousness, or monologism ("mono" is one), claims to know the one Truth; it claims that everyone is entitled to her or his own opinion or truth, but in so claiming there is no conversation. No one listens.
Freud's theory of narcissism, which explain how people think only of themselves, offered to the twentieth century a life—not of innocent intentions—but innocent of its own intentions. Freud does not deny guilt, but maintains that there are other, psychological reasons for behavior that go beyond guilt and innocence. The mechanisms that operate the mind, like those that operate a piece of machinery, are neither sinful nor innocent in themselves.
Monologism is natural in capitalist America; in this country you can perhaps too easily claim to be innocent, and that others are to blame. Dialogism instead accepts both guilt and innocence as shared amongst the members of a family or nation. In effect, Dostoevsky kills the author-Father himself by opening up the novel form to multiple or dialogic consciousness, constituted collectively by the author and the characters. In this way, the hero in a dialogic novel becomes a collective hero.
Bakhtin says that a Dostoevsky novel develops itself—and cannot finally ever conclude itself—by creating a hero who takes a position on the world, and draws other people into dialogue with that position. Out of that dialogue certain shared truths emerge.
Although Dostoevsky's world is largely mechanistic, without God and innocent of its own intentions, it still demands that we intuit and respect other people's truths and move beyond monologism.
The declared hero of the novel is Alyosha, who describes the events of thirteen years ago to the narrator. Yet the narrator also witnessed many of the events, and often claims to be recording what he or she saw and heard.
With all these methods the book is almost literally composed collectively, and its conclusion is an exemplary instance of a chorus of voices: the young boys are gathered by Alyosha in both a fatherly and brotherly manner, and as they shout tributes of love they are asked to remember always this moment before they go their separate ways. Such moments might happen infrequently in their lives—in our lives too, so the reader is also drawn into the chorus, and we are entreated to remember the experience of having read this book.
Source: Logan Esdale, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 2000.
In the following essay, McMillin presents a critical overview of The Brothers Karamazov.
The Brothers Karamazov was Dostoevskii's last great novel, bringing to culmination many of the themes of his earlier fiction, such as the debate between religion and atheism, the battle between good and evil in the hearts of 'broad' Russian characters, clashes of incompatible rival women, the ever-fascinating legal process, and, above all, Dostoevskii's longstanding attempts to create a 'positively good man' capable of leading Russia's spiritual regeneration. Moreover, the three brothers seem to reflect the three main stages of the author's life: Dmitrii, his youthful Romantic period; Ivan, his attachment to atheistic socialist circles; and Alesha, his spiritually reborn post-Siberian period.
The longest of the novels, The Brothers Karamazov is also one of the most tightly constructed, topographically exact (the town of Skotoprigonevsk is closely modelled on Staraia Russa where Dostoevskii spent his last years), and chronologically compact: the main action of the book takes place over a period of only three days, but with much interleaving of narration as we follow the lives of the three brothers in long, intercalated sections with a constant feeling of acceleration driving the action on. Each brother in turn, with the aid of significant dreams (and, in Ivan's case, delirium), learns important facts about himself and, for all the narration's pace, the reader shares a strong sense of epiphanic development.
The novel's main theme is the nature of fatherhood. On the one hand we have the saintly elder Zosima, a spiritual father to Alesha, the youngest brother; on the other the irresponsible, scheming, lecherous Fedor Karamazov, a father in the biological sense alone, whose possible murder is a topic of discussion from early in the book. This crime, once committed, provides a source of guilt for all of his sons: Alesha, the novice sent out into the world by Zosima, who for all his Christian goodness cannot avert the parricide; Dmitrii, cheated by his father and a rival for the favours of the amoral Grushenka; and Ivan, the haughty intellectual, spiritual descendant of Raskol'nikov, whose formula 'if God does not exist, then all is permitted' falls onto the receptive ears of his bastard half-brother, the lackey Smerdiakov who, in fact, proves to be the actual perpetrator of the crime.
As a detective story this chronicle of smalltown life is handled in masterly fashion with concatenations of circumstances and fatally coincidental sums of money all seeming to impugn the passionate Dmitrii, who is eventually tried and condemned. Rarely, if ever, has the tension of mounting circumstantial evidence been portrayed in such a gripping manner (Dostoevskii was inspired by a comparable real-life case). His response to the new legal system in Russia adds particular vividness to the description of the trial, in which not only Dmitrii, or even the Karamazov family, but effectively the whole of Russia is judged before the world.
The Brothers Karamazov was Dostoevskii's last attempt to create a 'positively good man'. Father Zosima, though charismatic, is, perhaps, too pale and other-worldly for this role, but Alesha, through counselling distressed adults and children, gains authority as the novel progresses, and it is with him that the book ends. More memorable, however, is his brother Ivan's exposition of the reasons for rejecting God's world: the examples he adduces of gross cruelty to innocent children make his 'returning of the ticket' to God very persuasive. His principal thought is expressed in the 'Legend of the Grand Inquisitor,' a profound and disturbing meditation on Christianity, free will, and happiness, at the end of which Alesha kisses his brother, just as Christ had responded to the Inquisitor with a silent kiss. Subsequently Ivan's brilliant Euclidian mind proves unable to resist a mocking petty bourgeois devil and he falls into insanity. In the world of Dostoevskii's novels Christianity and the intellectual have a purely negative relationship.
Dmitrii, aware that his nature contains elements of both the Madonna and Sodom, shares his father's impulsive, passionate character but none of his cynicism or buffoonery. Dmitrii's romance with Grushenka, who also alternates between satanic pride and self-abasement, voluptuousness and spiritual sublimation, makes this one of the great love stories in all literature. Also fascinating are all three brothers' relations with two other mentally troubled women, Katerina Ivanovna and Liza Khokhlakova, revealing a disturbingly dark side of passion first seen in Igrok (The Gambler) but also encountered in ensuing novels, particularly The Idiot and The Devils. The depiction of these women's behaviour together with the parricide itself strongly attracted the professional interest of Sigmund Freud.
The Brothers Karamazov is a rich and fascinating text containing crime, passion, psychology, religion, and philosophy. It is indeed one of the great novels of the world.
Source: Arnold McMillin, "The Brothers Karamazov," in Reference Guide to World Literature, second edition, edited by Lesley Henderson, St. James Press, 1995.
Mikhail Bakhtin, "Toward a Reworking of the Dostoyevsky Book," in Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics, translated and edited by Caryl Emerson, University of Minnesota Press, 1984, pp. 283-302.
Albert Camus, in The Myth of Sisyphus Vintage, 1991, pp. 93-118.
Sigmund Freud, in Dostoyevsky and Parricide, translated by D. F. Tait, Basic Books, 1959, pp. 222-42.
Prince Kropotkin, "Gontcharoff; Dostoyevsky; Nekrasoff" in Russian Literature, McClure, Phillips & Co., 1905, pp. 151-90.
Hans Kung, "Religion in the Controversy over the End of Religion," in Literature and Religion: Pascal, Gryphius, Lessing, Holderlin, Novalis, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, edited by Walter Jans and Hans Kung, translated by Peter Heinegg, Paragon House, 1991, pp. 223-42.
Ralph E. Matlaw, in The Brothers Karamazov: Novelistic Technique, Mouton & Co., 1957, pp. 20-33.
J. Middleton Murray, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky: A Critical Study, Russell & Russell, 1966.
Richard Peace, in Dostoyevsky: An Examination of the Major Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1971.
The Spectator, Vol. 109, No. 4396, September 28, 1912, pp. 451-52.
The Temple Bar, Vol. 91, February, 1891, pp. 243-49.
Victor Terras, in A Karamazov Companion: Commentary on the Genesis, Language, and Style of Dostoyevsky's Novel, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1981, pp. 100-09.
Albert Camus, The Stranger, translated by Matthew Ward, Vintage Books, 1989.
An ordinary man is drawn into a senseless murder. Camus explores the use of the stranger archetype.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Possessed, translated by David Magarshack, Penguin USA, 1954.
First published in 1871, this is Dostoyevsky's first major novel. Thematically, it concerns politics, atheism, and murder.
Franz Kafka, The Trial, Schocken Books, 1998.
In this novel, Joseph K. is faced with imprisonment, but never informed of his crime. The story explores the psychology of bureaucracy and its impact on the human condition.
Jean Paul Sartre, The Age of Reason, Vintage Books, 1992.
Famous for his theories of existentialism, Sartre examines freedom and responsibility in his philosophical treatise.
Richard Wright, Native Son, Harper Perennial Library, 1993.
A crime novel influenced by Dostoyevsky, Wright debates psychological theories in this story of a young man charged with a crime.