I am going to quote the entirety of Alyosha’s final speech in the novel. This speech is at the stone of Ilyusha, a dead schoolboy and friend. Alyosha says these words to the other schoolboys, his friends:
“Gentlemen, we shall be parting soon. Right now I shall be with my two brothers for a while, one of whom is going into exile, and the other is lying near death. But soon I shall leave this town, perhaps for a very long time. And so we shall part, gentleman. Let us agree here, by Ilyusha’s stone, that we will never forget – first, Ilyushechka, and second, one another. And whatever may happen to us later in life, even if we do not meet for twenty years afterwards, let us always remember how we buried the poor boy, whom we once threw stones at – remember, there by the little bridge? – and whom afterwards we all came to love so much. He was a nice boy, a kind and brave boy, he felt honor and his father’s bitter offense made him rise up. And so, first of all, let us remember him, gentlemen, all of our lives. And even though we may be involved in the most important affairs, achieve distinction or all into some great misfortune – all the same, let us never forget how good we once felt here, all together, united by such good and kind feelings as made us, too, for the time we loved the poor boy, perhaps better than we actually better than we actually are. My little doves – let me call you that – little doves, because you are very much like those pretty gray blue birds, now, at this moment, as I look at your kind, dear faces – my dear children, perhaps you will not understand what I am going to say to you, because I often speak very incomprehensibly, but still you will remember and some day agree with my words. You must know that there is nothing higher, or stronger, or sounder, or more useful afterwards in life, than some good memory, especially the memory from childhood, from the parental home. You hear a lot said about your education, yet some such beautiful, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man stores up many such memories to take into life, then he is saved for his whole life. And even if only one good memory remains with us in our hearts, that alone may serve some day for our salvation. Perhaps we will even become wicked later on, will even be unable to resist a bad action, will laugh at people’s tears, and at those who say, as Kolya exclaimed today: ‘I want to suffer for all people’ – perhaps we will scoff wickedly at such people. And yet, no matter how wicked we may be – and God preserve us from it – as soon as we remember how we buried Ilyusha, how we loved him in his days, and how we’ve been talking just now, so much as friends, so together, by this stone, the most cruel and jeering man among us, if we should become so, will still not dare laugh within himself at how kind and good he was at this present moment! Moreover, perhaps just this memory alone will keep him from great evil, and he will think better of it and say: ‘Yes, I was kind, brave, and honest then.’ Let him laugh to himself, it’s no matter, a man often laughs at what is kind and good; it just comes from thoughtlessness; but I assure you, gentlemen, that as soon as he laughs, he will say at once in his heart: ‘No, it’s a bad thing for me to laugh, because one should not laugh at that!'”
“I am speaking about the worst case, if we become bad,” Alyosha went on, “but why should we become bad, gentlemen, isn’t that true? Let us first of all and before all be kind, then honest, and then – let us never forget one another. I say it again. I give you my word, gentlemen, that for my part I will never forget any one of you; each face taht is looking at me now, at this moment, I will remember, be it even after thirty years. Kolya said to Kartashov just now that we supposedly ‘do not care to know of his existence.’ But how can I forget that Kartashov exists and that he is no longer blushing now, as when he discovered Troy, but is looking at me with his nice, kind, happy eyes? Gentlemen, my dear gentlemen, let us all be as generous and brave as Ilyushechka, as intelligent, brave, and generous as Kolya (who will be much more intelligent when he grows up a little), and let us be as bashful, but smart and nice, as Kartashov. But why am I talking about these two? You are all dear to me, gentlemen, from now on I shall keep you in my heart, and I ask you to keep me in your hearts, too! Well, and who has united us in this good, kind feeling, which we will remember and intend to remember always, all our lives, who, if not Ilyshechka, that good boy, that kind boy, that boy dear to us unto ages and ages! Let us never forget him, and may his memory be eternal and good in our hearts now and unto ages and ages!”
Kolya, one of the schoolboys, asks Alyosha after the speech at Ilyusha’s stone:
“Karamazov!” cried Kolya, “can it really be true as religion says that we shall all rise from the dead, and come to life, and see one another again, and everyone, and Ilyushechka?”
“Certainly we shall rise, certainly we shall see and gladly, joyfully tell one another all that has been,” Alyosha replied, half laughing, half in ecstasy.”
It is strange, but fitting, that a novel about a horribly broken family, about a son murdering his father (which son, I will not reveal), about people torturing each others’ hearts, would end with a holy fool and a group of children. It is strange because it is a shift in focus from what just occurred: the trial. It is fitting because this ends the novel with hope. Even though one brother will be going to prison, and the other could very well die soon, there is still love, there is still memory, there is still the future.
This ending reminds me of the final lines of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey (this might be considered a stretched connection):
But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.