The Grand Inquisitor's monologue at the heart of this long novel is one of the greatest passages in literature, but it is Christ's response that chills, haunts, and makes us weep. The Brothers Karamazov is philosophical and brilliant, a somewhat gloomy narrative of the moral rise and fall of the four Karamazov brothers and their degenerate father.
Contemplation doesn't fetter this novel—it is its soul and substance. The subject is human nature, and the anguished perceptions are as relevant now as they ever have been. Some of the content is disturbing (old Fyodor doesn't flinch from depictions of sin and evil), but the ultimate vision is both realistic and Christian in a way that few works beside the Bible have managed.
Alyosha is the youngest Karamazov and a novitiate monk in the local monastery. He is sharply contrasted with his atheist brother Ivan, and in many ways represents Christ whereas Ivan represents mankind. The Grand Inquisitor/Christ exchange comes in the middle of a debate between Alyosha and Ivan concerning the nature of God and man, and is actually a parable told by Ivan to illustrate man's inherent selfishness and inability to follow the Christian God.
The answer to Ivan's nihilism is not another parable or monologue, but the subsequent descriptions of Father Zosima's goodness and Alyosha's selflessness and purity. Given the choice, Ivan posits, man will always choose the security of slavery over the risk of freedom—Alyosha counters simply by choosing goodness despite the suffering it exacts.
In many ways The Brothers Karamazov ends in despair. The dissolution of the family is as much the result of misdirected goodness as of depravity. Many questions about faith and spirituality are raised, few answered. Thisis Dostoevsky's intensely honest representation of human existence—always uncertain and certainly painful. But the conclusion is not wholly tragic: one good deed of Alyosha's remains amid the darkness, evidence that goodness will never capitulate to the madness of evil, evidence that God's hand, though often obscured by human wickedness, still moves.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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