Dostoevsky’s last opus, Brothers Karamazov, is an extensive investigation into the various philosophical views of the world. Mainly, it is the conflict between reason and faith that modulates the clash of different worldviews. The three brothers, Dimitri, Ivan and Alexei represent different strands of philosophical belief. Thus, the eldest, Dimitri, is a “sensualist” who seems to live for pleasure only, spending his time in banqueting and the pursuit of lovers. Ivan, on the other hand, is an atheist and a rationalist, who does not understand the necessity of suffering in the world. Finally, Alexei, the youngest of the three, is the only one who is imbued by a truly religious spirit. The battle among the three sons and their father emphasizes the nature of doctrines and the conflict derived from them. The overall message that emerges is that of a world marked by disunity and disintegration. The three brothers seem to be three parts of a unitary self that is now torn apart: Dimitri is the body, Ivan the mind and Alexei the soul. The fact that they are brothers and that they commit parricide is also extremely significant. Each of them represents a splinter from a higher moral order, where harmony and unity should be dominant instead of separation.
The great tableau that Dostoevsky constructs is that of spiritual degeneration and disunity in the modern world. The three brothers represent radical views of the world, informed by only one dimension of thought. Of the three, Alexei seems to be the one that is the carrier of a superior moral philosophy. By contrast, Dimitri is led by his passions while Ivan is led to despair because his inability to reconcile the idea of suffering with that of love. Thus, according to Ivan, “Christian love is in its kind a miracle impossible on earth” (Dostoevsky 237). Distraught because of the cases of childhood abuse that he reads in the papers, Ivan sees happiness impossible on earth because of the existence of love. His main belief is that the Christian faith is to be denied on account of proposing the obtainment of eternal life through suffering. In his view, love and redemption cannot compensate the price paid with the suffering of a single human being. Dimitri, on the other hand, lives through his senses, although he is also endowed with a redemptive spirit that shows him the right way. Ultimately, despite the fact that he is innocent of his father’s death, his imprisonment brings him towards the recognition of his sins.
The consequences of the three brothers’ philosophies are very significant. First of all, Dimitri is condemned for murder out of passion: he is believed to have murdered his father because they were both in love with the same woman and he is also accused of having stolen a large sum of money in order to pay his debts. The philosophy of the senses therefore leads him to condemnation for crimes of passion. Ivan, who adopts a rational view of the world, is gradually driven to madness because of his inability to cope with violence and suffering in the world, especially when applied to the innocent children. He finds the Christian doctrine disturbing since it advocates the innocence of children, while still allowing them to suffer and to become the victims of violence: “That reasoning is of the other world and is incomprehensible for the heart of man here on earth. The innocent must not suffer for another’s sins, and especially such innocents!” (Dostoevsky 485). The first two philosophies prove destructive: the emphasis on the senses leads Dimitri to imprisonment, while the emphasis on reason leads Ivan to madness.
Finally, Alexei’s philosophy has the least dramatic consequences in the novel. He is animated by a lively religious spirit that leads him to believe in absolute unity and companionship among men. Not accidentally, the novel concludes with the young men among children, while he is preaching unity and love to them. Alexei represents the redeeming power of the soul that governs and transcends the mind and the body. He is the representative of the idea of supreme brotherhood among men. Speaking to the group of children, Alexia emphasizes the Christian doctrine of the possibility of redemption despite sin: “But however bad we may become- which God forbid- yet, when we recall how we buried Ilusha, how we loved him in his last days, and how we have been talking like friends all together, at this stone, the cruellest and most mocking of us- if we do become so will not dare to laugh inwardly at having been kind and good at this moment!” (Dostoevsky 1125). The moment of supreme brotherhood that he and the boys live at the commemoration of the dead child is a time of spiritual awakening that cannot be erased by future degradation or sin. He therefore believes in the power of the human spirit to be good despite its being liable to sin. Like his master and spiritual guide, Alexei believes in spiritual brotherhood over the separation and isolation that dominates the first part of the novel: “Until one has indeed become the brother of all, there will be no brotherhood … But there must needs come a term to this horrible isolation, and everyone will all at once realize how unnaturally they have separated themselves one from another” (Dostoevsky 275). Thus, the last scene of the novel is a factual representation of the idea of supreme brotherhood that annihilates isolation and conflict: “For all men in our age are separated into units, each seeks seclusion in his own hole, each withdraws from the others, hides himself, and hides what he has, and ends by pushing himself away from people and pushing people away from himself…”(Dostoevsky 303).
The three main philosophies discussed in the novel have different outcomes. Overall, Alexei, who represents the soul and Christianity, is the one who bring ultimate hope and light in the end.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Brothers Karamazov. New York: Penguin, 2003.