By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Walter Covell
Human aggression, compassion, love, and hate possess “The Brothers Karamazov”. The naked origin of these feelings are exposed in the murder of “The Brothers…” hedonistic father.
One of four brothers is a suspected murderer. The oldest brother is a student intellectual, a middle brother is an effusive pleasure seeker, and the youngest is a pious seminarian. A lurking illegitimate fourth son (aged somewhere between the oldest and youngest) adds to Dostoevsky’s tale of parricide.
Twenty years before Sigmund Freud’s “…Psychopathology of Every Day Life”, Dostoevsky penetrates man’s subconscious to reveal unnamed frames of mind that influence human behavior. All of Dostoevsky’s writing probes the human mind allowing listener/readers to hear unspoken thought and vicariously experience the consequence of singular behavior.
“The Brothers Karamazov” introduces the character Ivan Karamazov, an intellectual agnostic, whose agnosticism is skewered by the faith and action of a believer, his younger brother, Alyosha. Alyosha is a character reminiscent of an earlier work (“The Idiot”) that exemplifies man’s goodness and the value of a life lived in moderation.
God, free will, lust, innocence, guilt, and responsibility play out in thoughts and actions of the four brothers. If free will exists, where does it begin and end? Are we free? (Boethius tried to answer that question in the 6th century.)
Or, are we driven by our nature or by God’s plan to become who we are? If you teach someone to hate as Ivan teaches Smerdyakov, his illegitimate brother, are you innocent of any actions that are taken by those whom you teach? Do you as the teacher have any guilt; any responsibility?
The student intellectual, Ivan, in the beginning explains that he does not believe in God, and later denies any responsibility for his father’s murder. His beliefs lead him to despair when he realizes Smerdyakov is the murderer. When he realizes what has happened, Ivan takes moral responsibility for his father’s death. At the end, Ivan seems to be on the verge of reassessing his belief in God.
The question of free will is challenged by the history of the Karamazov family. Every characteristic of the brothers is reminiscent of a part of their father’s strengths and weaknesses. All of the brothers in varying degrees are molded into who they are by their paternal father and, in Dostoevsky’s view, their Holy Father. The evidence of their Holy Father’s role is exhibited in their guilt ridden conscience.
Fyodor Dostoevsky brilliantly expands the value of literature with his insight into the relationship between thought and action.