The Brothers Karamazov: Part II


I finished the second part of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov the other day. To start out, I will not be talking about The Grand Inquisitor, which might be Dostoevsky’s most acclaimed chapter among his readers.I am refraining from discussing The Grand Inquisitor because I feel somewhat ill-equipped to deeply evaluate it. I am intrigued by Ivan’s “poem” -The Grand Inquisitor – and I will continue to think about it and come back to it. But for now, I will look at other sections of Part II that struck me.

I want to focus on Ivan, the middle Karamazov brother. Ivan and Alyosha, our main character, have an opportunity to grow closer together in this section of the novel. Ivan is an atheist (although he does say that he believes in a God (p. 235)), while his brother, Alyosha is a monk. This is what Ivan says about Life that I want to point out.

“If I did not believe in life, if I were to lose faith in the woman I love, if I were to lose faith in the order of things, even if I were to become convinced, on the contrary, that everything is disorderly, damned, and perhaps devilish chaos, if I were struck even by all the horrors of human disillusionment – still I would want to live

“…I’ve asked myself many times: is there such despair in the world as could overcome this wild and perhaps indecent thirst for life in me…?

“…True, it’s a feature of the Karamazov’s, to some extent, this thirst for life despite it all; it must be sitting in you, too; but why is it base? There is still an awful lot of centripetal force on our planet, Alyosha. I want to live, and I do live, even if it be against logic. Though I do not believe in the order of things, still the sticky little leaves that come out in the spring are dear to me, the blue sky is dear to me, some people are dear to me, whom one loves sometimes, would you believe it, without even knowing why; some human deeds are dear to me, which one has perhaps long ceased believing in, but still honors with one’s heart, out of old habit…

“…Of course I know that I will only be going to a graveyard, but to the most precious graveyard, that’s the thing! The precious dead lie there, each stone over them speaks of such ardent past life, of such passionate faith in their deeds, their truth, their struggle, and their science, that I – this I know beforehand – will fall to the ground and kiss those stones and weep over them – being wholeheartedly convinced at the same time, that it has all along been a graveyard and nothing more. And I will not weep from despair, but simply because I will be happy in my shed tears. I will be drunk with my own tenderness. Sticky spring leaves, the blue sky – I love them, that’s all! Such things you love not with your mind, not with logic, but with your insides, your guts, you love your first young strength…

“…Certainly, love [life] before logic, as you say, certainly before logic, and only then will I also understand its meaning.

(pp. 230-231)

Related to this, in Ivan’s “poem,” The Grand Inquisitor says to Jesus Christ in his 11 page speech:

“For the mystery of man’s being is not only in living, but in what one lives for. Without a firm idea of what he lives for, man will not consent to live and will sooner destroy himself than remain on earth, even if there is bread all around him.” (p. 254)

It’s easy, as a Christian reader to put off the “atheistic” Ivan. But he might be one of the most intelligent characters in the novel, one who is getting closest to the truth – but, of course, he is mistaken in certain situations. This, among other things, draws my mind to the doctrine of common grace and the doctrine of Imago Dei. Father Paissy says to Alyosha:

“For those who renounce Christianity and rebel against it are in their essence of the same image of the same Christ, and such they remain, for until now neither their wisdom nor the ardor of their hearts has been able to create another higher image of man and his dignity than the image shown of old by Christ.” (p. 171)

In Alyosha’s manuscript of Elder Zosima’s Life and Homilies, Zosima says this:

“…all things are good and splendid because all is truth.” (p. 295)

It is easy for me to put Ivan in a box, a “secular” box. It is easy for me to put all of what Ivan says in its own category and dismiss it as “not in Christ.” Yet, this is wrong. He is a character that is piercing truth – more so than almost any other character in Brothers –  even if there is some brokenness in his life and in his thinking.

Ivan Karamazov is the character that we learn most about in Part II of Brothers (Zosima might be the second character we learn most about). I have really enjoyed getting to dive into the life of Ivan, and understand the beauty that comes through him.


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