What does the existence of this injustice say about the believer's God? How could He be both kind, just, and all-powerful, and yet allow all of these things to happen? Here is a question which must be answered by every serious, thinking believer in order for him to maintain faith in a God with these attributes. If he cannot satisfactorily answer this question and others that attend it, his faith must be abandoned. Hence there is no more important question that concerns the believer. Every one must develop his own personal theodicy, or "defense of God's goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil" (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary).
The question of why suffering is fundamentally a religious one, and discussion of it is not foreign to most Latter-day Saints. Sunday School lessons, church talks, and testimonies are regularly devoted to the exploring of this topic; questions are asked, answers are speculated, sometimes prayerful and sometimes quite frivolous evaluations are made, and eventually some kind of conclusion is arrived at. The result is a sort of "Mormon theodicy"; an explanation of evil in the world that fits (more or less) with the Restored Gospel worldview. Richard G. Scott in his October 1995 conference address presented a theodicy which very effectively summarizes the LDS viewpoint on the matter. There are, according to Elder Scott, "two basically different sources" of trial and suffering. "Those who transgress the laws of God will always have those challenges. The other reason for adversity is to accomplish the Lord's own purposes in our life that we may receive the refinement that comes from testing" (Scott 16).
So there are two causes of suffering. In the one, God or circumstance punish us for unrighteous behavior. In this case suffering is a purifying and cleansing process, and if we respond to it in the right way, the experience can bring about humility on our part, which can lead to sincere repentance. Or it could lead to total rebellion in the opposite direction, of course. Either way, it is generally accepted that God is just in sending these afflictions to the transgressors; he would, in fact, be likely considered unjust if he did not. This is not the enemy that theodicies are built to combat, for few thinking believers seriously question God's right to punish wickedness as He sees fit.
The other form of suffering is much more difficult to accept. It comes through no fault of our own, merely as a trial so that "we may receive the refinement that comes from testing." When this type of suffering comes along we could, in fact, view it as a compliment that the Lord has deemed us "worthy" to suffer such a trial to further our spiritual progression. For example, the apostles of the primitive church, after being beaten for testifying of Christ, "departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name" (Acts 5:41). Such trials, if we endure them well, may strengthen our faith, maturity, and understanding. Real spiritual growth is achieved that could have come about no other way.
But what if we didn't ask for increased faith, maturity, and understanding? What if we don't believe that any distant, ill-defined "spiritual growth" is worth going through what we or, perhaps even worse, our loved ones have to endure now? Here the justice of God may begin to be genuinely questioned by the believer. Although the question of suffering may have been sufficiently answered in a Sunday School class before, eventually a real trial comes along, one which may be completely unexpected and for which the believer may find himself totally unprepared. Suddenly the standard, pat answers tossed out so casually in church aren't sufficient. The individual who may be suffering intensely from the world's harsh injustice cannot accept answers that were created or passed along by people who have never gone through similar trials themselves, nor been forced to take a good, hard look at-and perhaps even doubted-the validity of these answers. Such superficial responses will sound tiresome, clichéd, and even offensive to the unfortunate sufferer. He will not accept them, and instead search for other answers.
But is there another answer to the problem of suffering for the Latter-day Saint beyond that which has been delivered by an apostle of the Lord, as outlined above? In fact, there is not. The sufferer must reconcile his trials with the justice of God in order to maintain faith in Him; any other answer will compromise his beliefs and result in a falling away. But although this same answer that was so easily obtained before must ultimately be arrived at again, this time the route to its attainment does not pass through a Sunday School class but is a long and arduous journey through a "furnace of affliction," in the which the faith of many a former believer has cracked. Those who emerge intact, however, find themselves strengthened from the heat, their faith solidified by the fire. Though they still hold the same answer in their hands, they are nowhere near where they started.
What kind of theodicy must be present in our minds that will withstand the blaze of a furnace that may well burn "seven times more than it was wont to be heated" (Dan. 3:20)? At times like these we must turn to the Lord for guidance and safety, as did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in their furnace, and He may in turn direct us to the writings of Fyodor Dostoevsky. In this impressive body of work we find that the battle raging within us has previously been played out by one of the world's great literary geniuses. The theodicy which Dostoevsky struggled throughout his life to create is one of the most powerful in all of literature, and stands as one of the great pillars of strength to which the believer can turn for protection of his precious faith.
Dostoevsky was no stranger to affliction, either. A brief survey of his life's history will show how he suffered one hardship after another, bearing a seemingly endless series of crosses. Born in Moscow in 1821 to a family of "impoverished nobility," he was raised in a largely content though hardly affluent and quite strict household (Frank 1:6-22). By the time he was 19 years of age, however, both his parents were in the grave. His much-beloved mother died of illness in 1836 (37), and three years later while Dostoevsky was attending the Academy of Engineers in St. Petersburg his father died, many say killed by his own peasants. Whether he was actually murdered or simply died of a stroke or seizure is still a subject of debate among biographers; the important fact here is that Dostoevsky himself believed throughout his life that his father had, in fact, been murdered (86-7). Guilt feelings of partial responsibility for his father's death tormented the young student for some time after; Freud characteristically surmises that "Dostoevsky emotionally assumed a burden of parricidal guilt" (88).
It may well have been this incident and its accompanying torments that led Dostoevsky to be such a vociferous proponent of the liberation of the serfs when he began to frequent the gatherings of the Utopian Socialist political circles of St. Petersburg in the mid- to late-1840's. Dostoevsky reasoned that it was the dissatisfaction of their oppressed position in society that caused his father's peasants to revolt, so it is not surprising that the abolishment of serfdom was a principal issue which seemed to obsess him in discussions among his political comrades (Frank 1:256). A will to action eventually led Dostoevsky to associate with a more radical satellite of the Socialists led by Nikolay Speshnev (267), the entire circle of which was arrested by the Tsar Nicholas I's police on April 22, 1849 (290). The alleged conspirators were all sentenced to hard labor in Siberia (Dostoevsky for four years), but the Tsar made the highly unusual order that they were to be first taken to Semenovsky Square and a mock execution staged, without the prisoners' knowing that their lives had been spared until the last possible second (Mochulsky 140). This action was performed in the bitter cold of December 22, 1849; the first group of prisoners was actually tied to the post and even blindfolded, while the remaining prisoners awaited their own turns, before the drums finally signaled retreat. The terrible ceremony caused one of the prisoners to go insane (Frank 2:58). It had a profound effect on Dostoevsky, who left vivid accounts of the event in a letter to his brother Mikhail that same day and, twenty years later, in his novel The Idiot, told through the mouth of the hero Prince Myshkin.
Four years of hard labor in the penal colony at Omsk in Siberia followed for Dostoevsky, years of nearly unimaginable tribulation. To the duress of having his freedom stripped away and the awful living conditions he was forced to tolerate was added the incessant persecution of the convict-nobility like himself by the peasant criminals, who reveled in their superiors' humiliation. Later he wrote to his brother Andrey: "I consider those four years as a time in which I was buried alive and closed in a coffin. How horrible that time was I have not the strength to tell you, dear friend. It was unspeakable, interminable suffering because every hour, every minute weighed upon my soul like a stone" (Mochulsky 147).
Dostoevsky's release in 1854 brought an end to these horrors, but the difficulties that were to accompany his entire life continued. He was at that time exiled to the Tsar's army for another six years. During that time he managed to involve himself in a tragic, almost masochistic love affair-so typical of the catastrophic relationships he depicts in his writings-with his first wife, Mariya Dmitriyevna. After a frantic, jealous struggle to secure her hand, he finally managed to do so on February 6, 1857, but that very night promptly fell victim to an epileptic attack in front of his terror-stricken bride. The ill-starred marriage lasted eight years until the death of Mariya in 1865, and Dostoevsky confesses, "She and I were decidedly unhappy together . . . but we could not stop loving one another. Indeed, the more unhappy we were, the more we became attached to one another" (Mochulsky 162-3).
The tragically-timed epileptic fit that struck on his wedding night was just another in a series of attacks that had plagued him off and on for the past decade or so of his life, particularly during his years in prison. Shortly thereafter, however, he was at last diagnosed as having "genuine epilepsy," rather than the simple nervous disorder that was previously conjectured, and told that he would almost certainly die eventually during one of those attacks (Frank 2:215-6). Though he did not, in fact, die from any such attack, they continued to plague him on a regular basis throughout his life and were a persistent impediment to both his physical and mental well-being and his ability to accomplish his ambitious writing goals. "As soon as I arrived in Geneva," he once wrote to a friend while he was in the process of writing The Idiot, "my fits began. And what fits! Every ten days a fit, and it took me five days to recover from it. . . . How can [the novel] be good when all my faculties are utterly shattered by my illness?" (Magarshack 8)
At the time of the writing of this letter Dostoevsky
was married to his second wife, Anna Grigoryevna, who had been his stenographer
for his short work, The Gambler. The positive, uplifting effect
which Anna had on the writer until the end of his life through her patient
tolerance, support, and assistance can hardly be overstated. But the couple
was not destined to have a trouble-free journey through their life together.
Fyodor's infamous gambling addiction reached a peak in the late 1860's
and threatened the couple's financial and emotional stability. Upon returning
from another disastrous night at the roulette table, Anna writes, "F. M.
used sometimes to be so overwhelmed that he began to weep, got down on
his knees before me, imploring me to forgive him for tormenting me with
his behavior, would go into extreme despair" (Mochulsky 325). Added to
this ordeal was the anguish of the loss of their first child, Sonya, in
May, 1868, at the age of three months. The sorrowing father in a letter
written shortly thereafter communicates his grief in a deeply affecting
Though the Dostoevskys were to go on to have three more children, they would repeat this experience ten years later when the youngest, Alyosha, died at the age of three after a seizure of convulsions-apparently inherited from his father (571-2).
One significant advantage that Dostoevsky enjoyed throughout his life as he approached these problems was his religious upbringing. Though religion in traditional education in Russia at that time played a rather "modest role" (Frank 1:42), Dostoevsky's family was the exception. He himself writes that "I came from a pious Russian family. . . . In our family, we knew the Gospel almost from the cradle." Notably, the book of Job made a deep impression on him at an early age (52). Too, he was raised in Moscow, "the city of innumerable churches . . . of palace and church combined," and his family made an annual spring excursion to a nearby monastery (45-6). "One can gauge from such details," writes Frank, "how completely Dostoevsky's childhood immersed him in the spiritual and cultural atmosphere of Old Russian piety" (47). These strong childhood experiences furnished for Dostoevsky deep spiritual roots which imbued him with an almost fanatical love for Christ which he would retain all his life. It is essential to note when studying the spiritual struggles of Dostoevsky that because of this basic foundation developed as a child, he always approached the crises of his life as a Christian thoroughly examining his beliefs, not as an atheist daring the world to convince him.
Nonetheless, his was always a highly dynamic faith, with marked peaks and valleys. It would be a mistake to say that at any time he had gone "all the way" to one side or another, as his faith was constantly under evaluation. Hence during his years with the Socialist political circles in Petersburg, although he spent considerable time with and in fact followed affirmed atheists such as Belinsky and Petrashevsky, one can't simply brand Dostoevsky as an atheist at that time, though his faith certainly hit a low point then. Belinsky, according to Mochulsky, was bound and determined to turn him from his childhood convictions, mocking once that "Every given time that I'll mention Christ like this, his whole countenance changes just as though he were on the verge of breaking into tears" (Mochulsky 119). Dostoevsky confesses, "at that time I passionately accepted all his teaching" (119). But in 1849, just minutes before his supposed execution, he expressed to Speshnev the hope that "we shall be with Christ" (Frank 2:58).
That mock execution was a turning point for Dostoevsky.
In the remarkable letter written to his brother Mikhail just hours afterwards,
the author bewrays a renewed love for life, an intense gratitude at being
given another chance, and a determination to be better that is reminiscent
of Alma the Younger:
The conversion is still complex; no mention of
Christ is made in the letter, and the horrors of Omsk yet awaited him.
But it was there in Siberia that the real work of his conversion was completed.
The writer firmly endured the path he had chosen at Semenovsky Square throughout
his imprisonment, while "the 'old man' died slowly struggling torturously
with the 'new'" in a four-year internal debate (Mochulsky 150). Dostoevsky
in 1873 commented on this conversion process:
This "regeneration of one's convictions" that
Dostoevsky underwent in his time at Omsk resulted in a new personal creed,
or symbol of faith, as he called it, which he expressed in a letter written
to N. D. Fonvizina upon leaving prison.
These quotations form an extremely important background that must be kept in view as one attempts to study and interpret Dostoevsky's important works written later in his life. The light in which the last quote in particular is viewed will heavily influence these interpretations. The statement is again as ambiguous as Dostoevsky himself and could either be viewed as staunch discipleship or fanatical stubbornness-a reaction to Belinsky's mockeries. This author's feeling is that it is unlikely that a person would intentionally voice such a stubbornness. More likely it is the expression of a feeling familiar to every Latter-day Saint who has struggled with building their own testimony. Although frequently news items or doctrines or scriptural passages may arise which would appear for a while to seriously threaten the foundations of one's faith, time after time the threats are eventually proven harmless, and after enough occurrences of this the point is reached where one is not in the least swayed from one's position despite so-called "proofs" against the Gospel. Dostoevsky, as a "child of nonbelief and doubt," knew that he would have so many spiritual crises throughout his life that, while he fully intended to thoroughly examine each problem that he might come across, in the meantime he would stick with Christ and thus avoid a life plagued by constant vacillation.
But even if this view is held to be true, it is important to keep in mind the ambiguity of the statement. Dostoevsky's faith was never a static, finished creature but was instead highly dynamic, constantly probing and questioning. At times it may have appeared to be shaken. Indeed, this appearance of weakness or leaning the other way is occasionally so striking that many critics are convinced that that is, in fact, the "real" Dostoevsky.
But the "real" Dostoevsky is much more complex
than that. The more trials the author was forced to face in his life, the
more this faith was taxed. The more his faith was taxed, the deeper the
answers which he developed-his own theodicy-had to probe, and hence the
more convincing it became. He spared nothing on either side, throwing his
whole soul into both questioning his beliefs and coming up with adequate
answers to the problems presented. Biographer Joseph Frank uses the words
of Soren Kierkegaard to describe the nature of Dostoevsky's faith:
In the midst of this "dialectical hovering," Dostoevsky examined and portrayed different types of evil and suffering, and the extreme depths to which man is actually capable of suffering, perhaps more penetratingly and effectively than any other author in history. In ruthlessly pressing these problems to their extreme end, Dostoevsky shows his depth of understanding of the issues involved and lends much-needed credibility to his proposed answers for the sufferer.
A critical danger to avoid in presenting one's theodicy is the tendency to give the impression of glorifying suffering for its own sake. The author of the theodicy may get so caught up in pointing out the great benefits which eventually come as a result of great suffering that he may lead his readers to believe that he is essentially saying that suffering is a good thing. In some cases, the author may even believe it to be true himself. But anyone who has suffered or is in the midst of great suffering himself will immediately vehemently object to such an idea. Lehi's axiom that "Men are that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25) spells out explicitly that the idea of suffering being an end in itself has no place in LDS doctrine.
Dostoevsky in fact would be the last to glorify suffering for its own sake. Having endured so much tribulation himself, he knew how terrible and senseless it could be firsthand, and his books show that he was equally familiar with the absolute extremes of cruelty that man is capable of inflicting and enduring as well. The author was completely incapable of seeing any intrinsic good in that suffering. Although he consistently portrays in his books characters with masochistic tendencies, characters who are fascinated with suffering and seem to wish to seek it out, they are always roundly condemned by the author, frequently through the events of the book.
Hence there appear to be two different kinds of suffering at play here, a dichotomy described quite aptly by Paul in 2 Cor. 7:10: "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation . . . but the sorrow of the world worketh death." If "sorrow" in this verse is understood as "sufferings," we see that these characters' sufferings go under the category of "worldly sorrows," since they clearly seem to "work death" rather than "repentance to salvation." What makes the difference? Why is some suffering "godly" and really does seem to work out for the benefit of the sufferer while other suffering is "worldly" and, far from beneficial, is even harmful? A closer examination of a trio from Dostoevsky's vast gallery of "worldly sorrowers" will illustrate that the difference lies in the source of the suffering, or how it was that the character came to be in this state of suffering; and also how he makes use of the suffering, that is, the effect of the trials on his own character.
The narrator from Dostoevsky's famous short story Notes From the Underground is perhaps the author's most prominent example of a character who suffers a great deal and yet clearly derives no benefit from it. The Underground Man seems to actually get some sort of morbid thrill out of pain and even tries to bring it on himself: "My liver hurts me-well, let it damn well hurt-the more it hurts the better" ("Notes" 263). Later he goes on at length concerning the "pleasure in toothache" (273-74). Physical pain alone is not enough for him, though; he also loves to constantly mentally chastise and goad himself: "I used to realize intensely that again I had been guilty of some particularly dastardly action that day . . . and inwardly, secretly, I used to go on nagging myself, worrying myself, accusing myself, till at last the bitterness I felt turned into a sort of shameful, damnable sweetness, and finally, into real, positive delight!" (267)
That the Underground Man's sorrow is not "working salvation" is readily apparent from Part II of the Notes, where we see him in "live action," so to speak. Here he only manages to bring more humiliation and scorn upon himself through a pair of episodes with his friends and the prostitute Lisa. "[U]nable to bear [his] solitude any longer" ("Notes" 314), the Underground Man seeks out his old high school acquaintances in the hopes that they will pull him out of the sewer that he finds himself in. His friends, however, despise him for allowing himself to sink so low and, although they give him a chance by consenting to his tagging along to their dinner, are soon turned off again by his haughty temperament which is so easily offended by their not including him as "one of the gang." A dreadful meal follows and utter disaster is averted only by his losing them in the trip to the brothel. Here the Underground Man shows promise again of pulling himself out from the mire in his encounter with the prostitute Lisa, but again he fails. We are encouraged by his moving speech to Lisa on the evils of prostitution, which enslaves the prostitute, deadens the soul, and inevitably ends in complete ruination. We even see a brief desire expressed on his part to help her out when he gives her his address and tells her to contact him. But upon leaving he immediately slides back into his old cesspool, wishes that she will not come, and is completely humiliated by his own behavior when she does.
The reason why the Underground Man's sorrows are "worldly" lies chiefly in the source of his tribulations. He inflicts them on himself physically, mentally, and emotionally, and derives a sort of perverse pleasure from it. Since the pain simply comes from himself for its own sake, there could not possibly be anything "godly" about it and hence no good derived therefrom. Because he is so caught up in the pain and in inflicting it on himself, then, all focus is directed completely inwards and hence the result of the suffering is a self-love that feeds off itself and eventually seals him off from the outside world. The Underground Man is unable to drag himself out because his self-love and self-torture had, as Lisa sees, turned him into "a loathsome man, and, above all, . . . incapable of loving her" ("Notes" 373).
In the novel Crime and Punishment we see in the character of Marmeladov another man who endures extreme physical and mental suffering but does not seem to advance at all from it. Having allowed himself to plunge into the deep abyss of his drinking addiction, having stolen all the money and material possessions of his wife and step-children to support this addiction-thereby driving them into poverty and misery and his own daughter to sacrifice her very chastity for the survival of the family, Marmeladov feels an extreme amount of guilt for the wrongs that he has done. Hence while on the one hand he feels no real remorse or ability to free himself from his overpowering addiction, on the other he knows that he has done a great wrong and so it is absolutely intolerable for him to not suffer for it. The longer he goes without paying some sort of price for his sins the more torturous his guilt becomes; he knows he must pay for his ruining the lives of his family. So it is actually a relief to him to go home and endure the rantings and ravings and beatings of his nearly insane wife: "'This is a sweet satisfaction to me! This gives me not pain but plea-ea-sure, my-y-y dear sir!' he exclaimed, while he was shaken by the hair and once even had his forehead bumped on the floor" (Crime 21-2).
We never do see anything in the way of repentance or improvement of character in Marmeladov, despite his buffetings. Later in the book he dies, in fact, when he throws himself in the path of a carriage while in a drunken stupor. Although the source of his sufferings comes about in a slightly more indirect way than those of the Underground Man, who simply beats himself directly, Marveladov nonetheless wants to bring these pains on himself, rather than allowing God to send the sufferings as He sees fit. The motive for the self-affliction this time is not self-love but intense guilt, a will to suffer for doing what he knows is wrong, without wanting to repent. The result of these sufferings is that his guilt feelings are assuaged, he is no longer tortured by the knowledge that he has done something wrong without paying for it, and hence he is justified for having done so in the first place. The cycle only continues unbroken until he dies, as he is then free to go back and drink away the rest of his family's possessions, knowing that he will pay for it eventually.
Another, otherwise exemplary character from Crime and Punishment, Dunya, represents our final example of futile suffering. Dunya and her mother's love for Raskolnikov lead them to essentially abandon everything in their lives in their hopes for him. Dunya at the beginning of the book is bound and determined to sacrifice her entire married life, living with a man whom she can barely tolerate, in the hopes that it will lead to a good connection for Raskolnikov and allow him to launch his career. Late in the book she is completely willing to put her safety in jeopardy by meeting with Svidrigaylov, with whose questionable character she is very familiar, for the purpose of saving her brother's reputation, which had apparently been threatened in the contents of Svidrigaylov's letter to her. Despite her willingness to give up everything for her brother, however, her sacrifices are completely unnecessary and even bring about harmful results. Her engagement to Luzhin only makes Raskolnikov more determined to kill the pawn broker and render such sacrifices unnecessary, and her rendezvous with Svidrigaylov nearly costs her her own life, when Svidrigaylov in reality had no intention of reporting Raskolnikov and giving up the most potent weapon he held against him, and besides, Raskolnikov reported himself the next day anyway.
The cause of Dunya's suffering is slightly more complex than the others we have examined. Unlike the Underground Man and Marmeladov, she does not wish to bring suffering on herself for its own sake. But even though she does not seek out the suffering for its own sake, she still is the agent bringing the suffering on herself. Since it is not necessary, hers is not a "godly sorrow" but instead a sign of her trying to play God herself. The result of her sacrifices is that she ends up barely escaping with her life, while Alena and Lizaveta Ivanovna are not so fortunate. Although it is certainly unfair to blame their deaths on Dunya, it nonetheless shows the futility of taking God's duties into one's own hands.
The Man from the Underground, Marmeladov, and Dunya all go through a great deal of tribulation, unfortunately to no avail, but at least their examples do serve some purpose for Dostoevsky's theodicy. The trials and sufferings that are so much a part of our earthly existence can eventually lead to some good, as will be shown, but only if the attitudes of the trials' recipients is that of a submissive servant of the Lord. The sufferings are not to be sought out nor used for one's own agenda, but are to be meekly accepted as God's will, and subsequently worked through with His divine assistance. Even Christ "shrank from the cup" that the Father held to him in the Garden of Gethsemane, but meekly asked that "Thy will be done" (D&C 19:18; Matt. 26:42).
As mentioned several times already, Dostoevsky in his works portrayed the existence of and extent to which humans are capable of suffering as well as and perhaps better than any other writer in history. It remains to investigate what exactly were the effects of such suffering on the characters of his novels and judge by the outcome if the overall experience can be said to have been beneficial. Clearly the word "beneficial" used here will be quite subjective; whether the reader agrees that the overall effect of suffering is in fact beneficial will largely depend on whether his worldview matches that of Dostoevsky's. By the end of this paper, however, we will also have shown that the worldview which Dostoevsky uses as a basis for his theodicy matches quite closely with that of the typical Latter-day Saint reader.
The effects of suffering are varied and can permeate every aspect of life. Dostoevsky in his major works ruthlessly pushes the problems associated with each of these effects of suffering to their extreme end. These problems, however, do not in these works immediately appear in all their full-blown complexity and glory, together with a neat, complete solution proposed by the author to resolve them, but rather emerge bit by bit, with more and more aspects and ramifications of the difficulties, together with possible solutions, manifesting themselves throughout the writer's career. Hence in this paper we shall see in the earlier works, such as Crime and Punishment and The Idiot, the initial development and experimentation with these ideas associated with the problem of suffering, which in turn will set the stage for the author's final work, The Brothers Karamazov. It is in this climactic achievement of Dostoevsky's artistic endeavor that the most complete, and indeed terrifying, development of the problem of evil will be shown, together with the author's most thorough, powerful response thereto.
There are two different but closely-linked ways in which a Dostoevskian character is typically affected by the evil and suffering of the world. One is obviously where the character himself is the victim and is forced to undergo physical, emotional, or spiritual suffering of varying degrees of intensity. Such trials may often either cause or come as the result of a fall-a threat of or complete destruction of the world or worldview which that character has created for himself. The character falls because he realizes, or at least believes, that the worldview which he has constructed has been proven invalid, and that he must build another one in order to go on living. Some sort of suffering, often very intense, always accompanies these crises, for the destruction of one's dreams, beliefs, or ideas is frequently the most painful trial of all to endure, not to mention all of the suffering which may have come incidental to the events which caused the crisis to occur in the first place. But this suffering is necessary, for it is pain, immediate and intense, that unfailingly gets our attention and alerts us that a crisis is taking place in our lives.
The concept of a fall is critically important to the development of many of Dostoevsky's characters. A good deal of the remainder of this paper will go to examining the causes and effects of these falls, particularly on characters such as Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment and the title figures of The Brothers Karamazov. The most immediate benefit derived from such crises is that it causes the fallen individual to reevaluate his worldview. Previous assumptions and priorities inferred therefrom are reexamined and perhaps rearranged. A restructuring of the worldview eventually takes place. The experiences that the individual has while in this fallen and hence evaluative state are also extremely important, for they will help turn him either toward or against God. Some of Dostoevsky's most brilliantly insightful passages come while examining the character's mental state during these moments of crisis. The character's mental faculties are strained almost to the breaking point as he agonizes over what he knows and what he feels. But if he turns back to God and completes his spiritual resurrection, the character is inevitably in a better position than when he started. The progress which has been made from the beginning to the end, and the fruits of the later character, vindicate God and the suffering He allowed the character to go through in order to attain the desired ends.
The other of the two ways mentioned above in which a character can be affected by suffering is by the observation of suffering by others in the world around him. Seeing others, especially loved ones or innocent children, undergo extremely difficult periods in their lives is often more painful to the sensitive observer than personal suffering, and it cannot help things when they note the wide disparity between the differing degrees of suffering that different people are forced to endure. Often it is the immediate impact of his own personal suffering, however, that causes the character to suddenly become so sensitive to the suffering of those around him-hence the close link between the two effects of suffering in the world. In Dostoevsky's writings it is not uncommon for these observations of human suffering to lead to some sort of rebellion against God on the part of the character. Perhaps the strongest arguments against God that Dostoevsky both formulates and attempts to combat are advanced through the mouths of his "metaphysical rebel" (Frank 4:331) characters such as Ippolit Terentyev in The Idiot and Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov.
Additionally, Crime and Punishment is
more concerned with drawing up the battle lines between doubt and faith,
and perhaps waging a portion of the war, than with actually declaring a
winner on one side or the other. Raskolnikov, whose very name literally
means "schism, or split" (Crime 466), embodies in one person the
two different sides to a given issue in various contexts throughout the
book, and he constantly vacillates between the two opposing modes of thought
or behavior that vie for control. From the first section of the novel,
in which Raskolnikov debates whether or not to kill the old pawnbroker,
right through to the Epilogue, where the hero continues to argue within
himself of his own guilt or innocence concerning the murder, Dostoevsky
through his penetrating description of Raskolnikov's ongoing mental gymnastics
vividly portrays the agonizing spiritual conflict that occurs in the heart
of the fallen individual, the indecisiveness that plagues anyone who may
be at a spiritual crossroads, forced to decide between good and evil at
the risk of abandoning his entire ideology that he has developed up to
There exist two great ideas which permeate the subtext of the novel and provide a framework for nearly all of Raskolnikov's inner struggles. They each first make their appearance in the form of possible motives for the murder committed at the end of the opening section. The first, which Mochulsky labels the "Rastignac idea" after a character in Balzac's novel Pere Goriot (Mochulsky 280), is the Utilitarian notion that "thousands of good deeds will wipe out one little, insignificant transgression" (Crime 56). "May not a man do something which in itself is a small evil, for the sake of accomplishing a great good; may he not kill one insignificant and pernicious being in order to bring happiness to many worthy people who otherwise are going to perish?" (Mochulsky 280) Raskolnikov hears this idea expounded upon by a student in a tavern several months before the murder actually takes place, and it is recalled to his mind again at a critical stage in the final week before. Further, he is plagued by the need for his sister and his mother to sacrifice their own interests for him and is determined to make such sacrifice unnecessary. He ends up convincing himself that the murder will not only help out his own family but actually be of benefit to mankind in general; he practically owes it to society to commit the act.
The second idea, dubbed "the idea of Napoleon" by Mochulsky (282), posits the existence of an occasional, one-in-a-billion, "extraordinary man," such as Napoleon, whose mission in life to bring about the advancement of the entire race allows him to overstep the ordinary moral bounds which restrict the rest of the world in order to accomplish his greater good. Raskolnikov is fascinated by this idea and has already explored it at great length when the novel opens, having written an article-later published-which argues for this very theory. "If such a one," states the murderer, "is forced for the sake of his idea to step over a corpse or wade through blood, he can find in himself, in his conscience, a sanction for wading through blood" (Crime 220). The idea reveals a great deal of egoism which dominates a side of Raskolnikov, which will surface more clearly later as he attempts to further justify this idea in his own mind.
These two ideas, which at first glance may appear quite similar, are actually fundamentally diametrically opposed. While the Rastignac idea demands a personal sacrifice-including the subsequent spiritual and physical suffering which may accompany the "altruistic murder"-on behalf of the rest of humanity, the Napoleonic idea denigrates the masses as insignificant and dispensable and views them as essentially cattle to be controlled by the few, the great. The hypocrisy of this latter attitude is one which Dostoevsky will return to in later works, and in particular will discredit Ivan Karamazov's plan for the supposed happiness of man. In Crime and Punishment, the polarity of these two ideas accounts for a great deal of the contradictory, even schizophrenic behavior of Raskolnikov throughout the novel. For example, he donates the last of the money in his possession to Marmeladov's unhappy family early in the book, but immediately "repents of his action," reasoning that he actually needed the money more himself (Crime 22). And later when he attempts to prevent a gentleman from taking advantage of a poor, drunken girl, he suddenly changes his mind and urges the policeman he had just called over to "Let him [the gentleman] amuse himself!" (42) "Raskolnikov's precipitous shifts of behavior have usually been taken merely as a manifestation of the psychological antinomies of his personality; but for Dostoevsky, psychology and ideology were now inseparable, and each such reversal is correlated with some reference to radical doctrine" (Frank 4:107).
After the murder begins the process of self-discovery-and hence, for Raskolnikov, the process of his fall. For although Raskolnikov himself is not very clear on exactly what his motive is at the time of the murder, he does have these two ideas floating around in his head and subconsciously assumes that it must be one of those. The remainder of the book, however, shows both of these motives to be completely invalid, in the sense that not only could they have not possibly been the real motives for Raskolnikov's crime, but also because of the events and conversations which occur which show to the hero the basic unsoundness of both the Napoleonic and Rastignac ideas in actual application. The invalidation of these ideas destroys the young student's intellectual world which he has created for himself, causing his fall.
The Rastignac idea is the first to fall, and in fact its demise has already been foreshadowed before the murder takes place. Dostoevsky uses Raskolnikov's conversation with Marmeladov in the tavern, for example, to show how the same Utilitarian, rational system of morality that Raskolnikov was to use as a justification for murder results in inhuman treatment towards those elements deemed by the powers that be to be the "dregs" of society (Frank 4:104). In this scene the drunkard explains his futile attempts to obtain a loan: "And why, indeed, I ask, should he give me it, when he knows that I shall not repay it? Out of compassion? But recently Mr. Lebezyatnikov, who is a follower of the latest ideas, was explaining that in this age the sentiment of compassion is actually prohibited by science, and that that is how they order things in England, where they have political economy" (Crime 10-11).
The inconsistency between theory and application of these proclaimed benefactors of society, together with the stark incongruity of the repulsively bloody murder scene with its professed altruistic motives, already place the Rastignac idea on shaky ground in the mind of Raskolnikov before he even has time to realize what he has done after the murder scene. The necessity of having had to also kill the pawnbroker's perfectly innocent sister, Lizaveta, in order to preserve his own anonymity further plagues the murderer. The ultimate insult, which ends up causing Raskolnikov to virtually verbally renounce his own act, occurs a few days after the murder when he receives a visit from Peter Petrovich Luzhin, the hated fiancé of his sister Dunya. Raskolnikov views the middle-aged lawyer as "a petty tyrant who looks forward gloatingly to bending the proud but penniless Dunya to his will." (Frank 4:117). Luzhin loves to parrot "the convictions of the younger generation" (Crime 29) and in this visit his spouting of the same Utilitarian logic that Raskolnikov had used to justify his murder causes the latter to clearly see the absurdity of it, causing him to exclaim that, "Carry to its logical conclusion what you were preaching just now, and it emerges that you can cut people's throats. . . ." Immediately upon saying this, however, Dostoevsky tells us that "Raskolnikov was pale, his upper lip trembled, and he was breathing with difficulty" (129), as he realizes that he has just condemned his own motive.
As the Rastignac idea quickly fades into the background, Raskolnikov seizes upon the Napoleonic idea to save himself. Dostoevsky writes a great deal about the immense "pride" of the hero in his notes which preceded the writing of the novel (Mochulsky 283). As mentioned above, Raskolnikov has already toyed around quite a bit with this idea of an "extraordinary man" who is able to step above the common morality for the sake of his own, higher morality. His youth, exceptional intellect, and this pride which Dostoevsky mentions in his notes all contribute to the young student's wondering if he himself is, in fact, one of these extraordinary men. But again this "motive" of sorts has already begun to be invalidated before the murder has even been completed. Raskolnikov begins to realize over the next few days following the murder that, despite all the careful thought and preparation to which he had devoted considerable time in the preceding six months, the actual execution of the murder had been an extremely sloppy affair. He was late from the beginning (which led to his ending up having to kill Lizaveta as well), only managed to grab an axe by happenstance from a porter's lodge, was hardly able to steal anything of real value from the dead pawnbroker, left the door to her flat wide open throughout the entire proceedings, and ended up only escaping unseen from the scene of the crime by sheer luck, dropping some of the stolen jewels in a landing below as he did so (Crime 62-74). Hardly the job of a future emperor of the race. Raskolnikov realizes this, and he mocks his own incompetence later (232).
In addition to the sloppiness of the murder, other factors come into play which have the collective effect of eventually forcing Raskolnikov to abandon the Napoleonic motive as well. As early as the morning after, as he feverishly rushes about his flat to dispose of all the evidence he has left exposed, he finds his faculties "deserting him" and wonders, "What if it is beginning already? Can this really be the beginning of my punishment?" (Crime 76) His feeling of suffering for the crime he has committed intensifies later that morning when he responds to a summons to the police station to pay an IOU. There, comments Frank, Raskolnikov "suddenly realizes that his entire relation to the normal moral-social world has irremediably changed. 'A gloomy sensation of agonizing everlasting solitude and estrangement took conscious form in his soul . . .'" (4:114). The very fact that he is suffering for overstepping the bounds of common morality sharply reminds him that he is just as subject to those bounds as the next person. Although he attempts to explain it away, revising his theory by stating aloud that "Truly great men must, I think, experience great sorrow on the earth" (Crime 224), a few hours later he admits to himself that "No, those people are not made like this; the real ruler, to whom everything is permitted, destroys Toulon, butchers in Paris, forgets an army in Egypt, expends half a million in a Moscow campaign, . . . everything is permitted to him" (232).
The destruction of the two major ideas which
had previously motivated Raskolnikov completes his fall; the worldview
which he had created for himself at the beginning of the novel and he thought
to have provided for him a justification to commit the crime has been invalidated.
At this point the fallen individual is in a state of limbo and is forced
to look around for an alternative direction to pursue, one of which alternatives,
of course, may be to try and salvage his old worldview. Towards the end
of Crime and Punishment, as the two early motives fade into the
background another split in Raskolnikov takes center stage in the form
of two alternative routes which the fallen hero may take out of his predicament.
They are respectively represented by the two characters who wield the greatest
influence over him in the latter part of the novel-the amoral philanderer
Svidrigaylov and the prostitute Sonya. Dostoevsky planned early on for
this split to take place, as Frank quotes from the author's notebook for
Crime and Punishment:
The two characters also happen to loosely correspond to the two great ideas of the novel, though in the case of Sonya it is from a completely different perspective. Sonya, by sacrificing her own virtue for the sake of her family, represents the true altruistic, self-sacrificing justification for breaching the moral law that is inherent in the Rastignac idea. "She is the existential reality of that love for suffering mankind which, when amalgamated with the Utilitarian reason of radical ideology, had become perverted into the monstrosities of [Raskolnikov's] crime" (Frank 4:130). Raskolnikov attempts to accuse her of being on the exact same level as himself, telling her that "You too have stepped over the barrier . . . you were able to do it. You laid hands on yourself, you destroyed a life . . . your own (that makes no difference!)" (Crime 278). But as Mochulsky notes, these words "are filled with malice and a fiendish lie. To lay down one's life for one's friends is the very same thing as destroying the life of one's neighbor!" (308)
The truth is, Sonya represents the route of simple and all-encompassing faith in God and the wisdom of His plan. Her embodiment of Christian love transcends the bounds of common morality. Despite her sins, she still considers herself to be doing God's will and seeks to submit herself thereto throughout the novel, knowing that things will work out in the end for those who do. Dostoevsky challenges this simple faith in the scene where Sonya is falsely accused by Luzhin of stealing a one-hundred rouble note from him (Crime 330-42), in one of his early reminders that unjust things happen to righteous people. But Sonya remains firm in her meekness, so to speak, in the very next scene, when Raskolnikov rather maliciously asks her, "[S]uppose you were allowed to decide . . . either that Luzhin should live and go on doing evil, or that Katerina Ivanovna should die. How would you decide?" Sonya is confused as to why the question should even be asked; "But I can't know God's intentions. . . . Where is the point of such empty questions?" (344) In the end Sonya's strength in her simplicity outlasts that of all the other major characters.
Svidrigaylov, on the other hand, represents the eschatological result of the consistent application of the Napoleonic idea across all aspects of life. Writes Frank, "Svidrigaylov mirrors the elemental thrust of that egoism which, concentrated in Raskolnikov's monomania, had ultimately led to the murders; and he now confronts Raskolnikov as someone who has accepted the thoroughgoing egoistic amorality which, as Raskolnikov now has begun to realize, he had unwittingly been striving to incarnate himself" (4:129). Raskolnikov loathes the sophisticated philanderer who has come to Petersburg in hot pursuit of his sister Dunya, and is even shocked by Svidrigaylov's account of his "criminally libertine past" (139), but finds the inconsistency between his own cherished Napoleonic idea and his expressed revulsion to Svidrigaylov's behavior slapped back in his own face when the latter retorts, "You preach to me about vice and aesthetics. You-a Schiller, you-an idealist! Of course that's all as it should be and it would be surprising if it were not so, yet it is strange in reality" (398).
Svidrigaylov prefigures other Dostoevskian characters such as Stavrogin in The Possessed and Smerdyakov of The Brothers Karamazov in that his chief characteristic is his complete absence of any moral principles. He is equally capable of doing good or bad. Hence while on the one hand Svidrigaylov harasses Dunya, eavesdrops on Raskolnikov and Sonya's conversations, and is even suspected of killing his former wife, Marfa Petrovna, he also towards the end of the novel allows Dunya to escape from him unmolested and generously ensures the financial security of Katerina Ivanovna's young children and of his would-be fiancée. But the appearance of balance and neutrality in Svidrigaylov's actions is shattered by his chillingly candid suicide, revealing the lack of any life-sustaining motivations in the amoral gentleman's worldview and tipping to the side of evil the scales which measure his character. "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot" (Rev. 3:15).
Raskolnikov at this point also lacks a life-sustaining motivation, and mentally oscillates between the two alternatives left to him, represented by Sonya and Svidrigaylov. A long and sleepless night follows his extended conversations with each of the two, but the morning which dawns on Svidrigaylov's suicide also finds the tortured murderer still alive, though he later admits that, "I wanted to reach a definite decision and I found myself walking near the [river] Neva many times; I do remember that. I should have liked to end things there, but . . . I decided against it . . ." (Crime 437). Why he decided against it is the great question of the book's ending; Mochulsky sneers that "He does not have enough strength of will to commit suicide, and so he surrenders to the authorities" (311), and indeed he hardly seems penitent in his visit with Dunya shortly before heading to the police station: "Crime? What crime? Killing a foul, noxious louse, that old moneylender . . . was that a crime?" (438) But he also goes to Sonya and accepts her gift of a cross (though he laughs that, "This, then, is a symbol that I am taking up my cross. He, he!" (442)). Also, and perhaps most significantly, he takes her advice by going to the Haymarket Square and kissing the earth (444-45), though he stops short of confessing his crime to the world at that time. Still, the act symbolizes his return to his mother Earth and to the conventions and moral bounds of society, the detachment from which had so plagued him from his first appearance at the police station.
It is Raskolnikov's "irrational love for life"-a lower form of faith in Dostoevsky (and in which we hear echoes of the young political insurgent whose life has just been spared at the scaffold) that the writer frequently uses to keep a more skeptical fallen hero (such as, for example, Ivan Karamazov) on his feet, as it were, as he begins to traverse the long and difficult road that leads to real faith-that causes him to choose the route represented by Sonya. But he does not take to it wholeheartedly, as we see him nearly turn back from his confession at the police station and then later, in Siberia, still defiantly insisting that "My conscience is easy" (Crime 459). Although the dream sequence in the Epilogue (461-2) has the effect of causing Raskolnikov to finally give up on his Napoleonic idea once and for all, and the famous concluding scene of the prisoner casting himself at Sonya's feet gives us hope that Raskolnikov may be finally headed toward a permanent conversion, we are spared the details of this promised "gradual regeneration" (465). Knowing the young student as we do by now, we could very easily remain skeptical of such a promise, remembering that Raskolnikov himself has reminded us that "Everything cuts both ways" (303).
Even if the question of which road Raskolnikov ends up taking is not satisfactorily resolved in the novel (and remains a subject of fierce debate among literary scholars), the ambiguity merely shows that the real conflict, which rages on in the mind of Fyodor Dostoevsky and not the fictional Raskolnikov, is to be continued in future novels. "All that," the author writes to conclude the book, "might be the subject of a new tale, but our present one is ended" (Crime 465). Dostoevsky has in Crime and Punishment only fired the battle's opening volleys, the echoes of which will still be heard nearly fifteen years later in his great final work, The Brothers Karamazov. In the meantime, what we take with us from this book is a penetrating insight into how a suffering character may as a result of a fall be torn between good and evil, faith and doubt. It is a conflict perhaps best captured in the novel by the unforgettable image of "the murderer and the harlot who had come together so strangely to read the eternal book" (278), the metaphysical significance of which scene is brilliantly summarized by Frank: "Nowhere perhaps do we come closer to Dostoevsky's own tortuously anguished relation to religious faith than in the mixture of involuntary awe and self-conscious skepticism with which Raskolnikov reacts to Sonya" (Frank 4:131).
An atmosphere of suffering and hopelessness pervades this book. The characters wallow in a moral corruption symbolized by their obsession with money, their individual, petty struggles for power one with another, their complete disregard for or occasional rebellion against God, and their mocking and basic misunderstanding of the Prince's meekness and goodness towards them. This feeling of gloom and doom seems unshakable throughout; the dark cloud that hangs over the whole novel refuses to part until the final, inevitable catastrophe of Nastasya's murder concludes the action. The image of the Apocalypse looms over the novel in the form of the horseman carrying a scales which will soon pronounce judgement on this world (Idiot 219).
But the scales are more balanced than one's initial impression may indicate. The blackness which dominates the novel's terrain is interrupted by an occasional flash of light. For amidst all this corruption stands the Prince, a type of Christ who, though far from physically or intellectually imposing, nonetheless exerts a strong (albeit ultimately unsuccessful) influence on all the other characters of the book, who in turn wonder that they are so affected by such a simple being. The powerful evidence amassed in the book which seems to argue against religion and the existence of God is summarily refuted by the basic irrationality of the Russian faith; the Prince's stubborn, undying belief in his inspiring vision of a Christ-centered world attempts to offset the harsh realities of the current state of morality. "The contradiction between despair and hope, disbelief and faith was embodied in The Idiot. The novel is constructed on the jolting contrast of darkness and light, death and resurrection" (Mochulsky 352).
That it should be thus ambiguously expressed is hardly surprising to those familiar with Dostoevsky, of course. The book is simply an extension and expression of the author's ongoing internal struggle which has been amply noted already. Such is particularly the case with this novel, which Frank declares to be "the most personal of all his major works, the book in which he embodies his most intimate, cherished, and sacred convictions." Indeed, ten years after finishing The Idiot Dostoevsky would write of this book to a correspondent, "All those who have spoken of it as my best work have something special in their mental formation that has always struck and pleased me" (Frank 4:316). It is only in this book, for example, that Dostoevsky through the mouth of the principal character gives a detailed account of his emotional state during the last few minutes before he was to be executed by the firing squad (Idiot 86-8). In this book, too, the author endows, again on the Prince, the disease of epilepsy, an intensely personal and dominating aspect of his life, especially during the period of the writing of this novel. Written entirely away from his Russian homeland, the author must have been reminded of a previous separation from home when imprisoned at Omsk, and the novel expresses through the Prince many of the feelings concomitant with his own exile from and return to native soil. Mochulsky goes so far as to declare Myshkin to be "an artistic self-portrait of Dostoevsky himself, his story is the writer's spiritual biography" (Mochulsky 369).
Unlike the highly structured Crime and Punishment which preceded it, The Idiot is, rather, differently organized. After the action-packed, breathtaking novella of which Part I consists, it seems that the author was unsure of exactly how to proceed with the development of the book. In the remaining parts we are left not with any kind of a coherent, unified progression of the themes and plot of the book towards some sort of resolution, but instead a hodgepodge of images, expressions, and loosely connected stories. Again, the organization (or lack thereof) of the novel is indicative of Dostoevsky's frame of mind at the time, the current state of his own mental debate concerning the problem of evil. Although he lacked the organization and basic perspective on the problem that he would later enjoy during the writing of his final novel more than a decade later, he was at the time of the writing of The Idiot keenly aware of the principal issues of the problem that needed to be dealt with, and the extreme tension existing between the respective sides of good and evil. Not quite prepared to articulate a credible answer to the age-old problem, Dostoevsky instead shows his understanding of its complexities by painting a picture which graphically portrays the nearly overpowering presence of evil in this world, which is somehow mitigated by a small sliver of hope emanating from the side of goodness and meekness. "Meekness is the most powerful force in the world," the author wrote once in a rather melodramatic moment (Magarshack 21); this novel is his own experimental venture to see if that hypothesis is actually borne out in the harsh realities of the contemporary world.
The array of images portraying the strong, firmly-entrenched position of evil and suffering in the world is both impressive and potentially quite depressing. In The Idiot the evil is as a disease to which no character is immune. "[Here] the baneful contagion has embraced everyone, all the souls are ulcerous, all the foundations are unstable, all the wellsprings are poisoned" (Mochulsky 352). Manifestations of the disease take on many forms. The novella which opens the novel functions as an exposition of the scheming, self-serving nature of all the main characters of the book which surround Prince Myshkin. Ganya, Rogozhin, and Totsky all vie for the hand of Nastasya Filippovna, each with the most reprehensible and selfish of motives; Nastasya in turn rejects the offer of the Prince, which contains a real possibility of eventual peace and happiness, for the more dangerous Rogozhin, which can only result in catastrophe-as it eventually does.
The scene also exposes the motif of love of money-"the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10)-which plays a prominent role throughout the novel. The Idiot portrays "a world of money, millionaires, capitalists, businessmen, usurers, and greedy adventurers" (Mochulsky 353). The actual auctioning of Nastasya's hand off to the highest bidder is at least somewhat successfully kept beneath the surface by the scheming groom candidates until the appearance of Rogozhin, "whose brutal frankness in bidding for her favors (his hundred thousand rubles are wrapped in a copy of the Stock Exchange News) rips off the mask of hypocrisy from the whole sordid scheme" (Frank 4:324). Later, when Nastasya tosses the hundred thousand rubles in the fire, the whole company is utterly paralyzed with shock at such an act toward what they deem the staff of life. Lebedev crawls on his knees, imploring the crazed woman to allow him to fish the bundle out with his bare hands; Ganya, to whom the act is directed, simply faints dead away (Idiot 192-5).
The obsession with money is not confined to the upper classes, either. A parallel development of the money motif-along with other major themes of the book-occurs among the novel's minor characters, a group that "affirms, sometimes in a grotesquely comic form, that the inner moral struggle precipitated by the Prince in the major figures also can be found among the smaller fry" (Frank 4:329). Ferdyshchenko, for example, frankly introduces himself to the Prince as one who cannot be trusted to loan money to, "because I'm sure to ask" (Idiot 115). Later at Nastasya's soirée he confesses to once having stolen three rubles and pinning the blame on a maidservant, who was then fired (167). Ptitsyn unashamedly announces his profession as a usurer and has plans for two or three houses. The compulsively mendacious General Ivolgin borrows from everyone with no honest intention of ever paying it back; he finally ends up stealing Lebedev's wallet, the guilt from which act leads to his eventual stroke and death. Then there are the "so-called Young Nihilists," the group of political radicals-among them Burdovsky, Keller, and Ippolit-who come into the Prince's home and belligerently demand a hefty share of the Prince's inheritance on the grounds that Burdovsky is "the illegitimate son of the Prince's deceased benefactor" (Frank 4:330). Although their claim is untrue, the Nihilists are actually entirely honest in their intentions and act in good faith. But their demand that the Prince pay up out of "duty," because he is bound to act as "an honorable and honest man" (Idiot 284), is pure hypocrisy, going as it does against their own political ideal of the complete destruction of traditional morality. Further, the publication of Keller's libelous, almost entirely fictional newspaper article against the Prince is hardly what one would term an "honorable and honest" course of action. "In the novel, The Idiot, we see the fatal power of money over the human soul" (Mochulsky 354).
From the positioning of lucre as the god of this
world it is a small step to the questioning of the existence and justice
of God in the traditional sense. Mrs. Yepanchin guesses correctly when
she asserts the core beliefs from which the money-demanding Nihilists'
philosophy springs: "They don't believe in God, they don't believe in Christ!"
(Idiot 301) Indeed, the Christ of much of the cast of The Idiot
seems to have died on the cross to never rise again. "The key religious
symbol" of the novel is the almost grotesquely disfigured body of Christ
taken down from the cross, portrayed with "unvarnished realism" in Hans
Holbein's painting, the Dead Christ (Frank 4:332). The impact that
this painting had on Dostoevsky on his first viewing it in a Swiss museum
is recorded by his wife:
The stark, even arresting painting shows with unflinching detail the extreme version of the kenotic Christ; the theological term which describes Christ as having "emptied himself" of all divine attributes upon his incarnation (Frank 4:319). In the case of this painting it seems that every last drop of divinity that may have existed in the Lord has been systematically squeezed out of him by his passions of the previous twenty-four hours; it is a courageous act of faith indeed to believe that such a pathetic figure could rise again.
It is this kenotic Christ which is repeatedly emphasized throughout The Idiot, both through Holbein's painting and through the character of Prince Myshkin. The painting first appears in the novel at the house of Rogozhin when the Prince is paying him a visit. When Rogozhin mentions that he enjoys looking at it, the Prince exclaims, "Why, some people may lose their faith by looking at that picture!" Responds the first, "Aye, that also may be lost" (Idiot 236). The sensualist Rogozhin does yearn to believe, but the inexorable forces of evil seem to completely overpower any and all attempts at making the good prevail, as the painting shows. The scriptural promise of the eventual triumph of the forces of righteousness is called into question by the overwhelming evidence to the contrary as evil and suffering prosper throughout the world.
The theme is continued in the speech of Ippolit,
the dying young consumptive who knows he will succumb to his disease within
the next few weeks. The impending crisis causes him to question the justice
and even the very existence of a God that would allow such a thing to happen,
and as such he becomes "the first in Dostoevsky's remarkable gallery of
metaphysical rebels"-anticipating, in particular, Ivan Karamazov (Frank
4:331). Having been deprived of the gift of life, Ippolit seizes upon what
he has lost as the overriding, supremely important object of existence.
Life alone is what matters, and it subordinates to it all other considerations.
Hence he is particularly outraged by Holbein's painting, portraying as
it does the lifeless Christ. He wonders that the Savior's disciples were
able to maintain their faith before such a spectacle, and like Rogozhin
despairs of any hope of the triumph of good in the face of such a power:
Complementary to the disturbing image of the dead Christ is another vivid scene introduced by Ippolit, which graphically and memorably portrays the struggle between the two great opposing forces of the world. Like his comments on the Holbein, the scene is detailed during Ippolit's "Necessary Explanation," which he delivers to a reluctant audience as his final confession before his impending demise. Here he describes a dream in which he is attacked by a large, scorpion-like reptile, which he fears poisonous, "but what worried me most was who could have sent it into my room, what they meant to do to me, and what was the meaning of it all." Eventually his large dog Norma comes bounding into the room to kill the creature, and has it in her jaws, but just before she is able to crush it in two, the scorpion manages to bite the dog's tongue and inject its toxic venom into its mouth (Idiot 400-402). No further commentary on the strange dream is ever made anywhere else in the book, but the haunting image lingers in the reader's mind throughout. Dostoevsky with this simple dream sequence brilliantly conveys the peril of man's excruciating struggle against evil, the frustration of persistent failure to permanently subdue the dark forces at work in the world.
Against this dark background of corruption and
despair, the Prince stands as firmly as he can, a faint, flickering light
at times struggling to avoid being extinguished. "The image of the prince
is not sketched and not sculptured-it is chiaroscuro" (Mochulsky
353). The Prince himself, as mentioned, is a type of the Prince of Peace,
but significantly it is the kenotic Christ which he resembles; not
the God of Armies, nor the Christ who cleansed the Temple, but the meek,
submissive sacrificial lamb of Isaiah 53. Myshkin possesses many of the
attributes described in that Messianic chapter:
The Prince astounds all those whom he encounters in Part I with his frankness, meekness, humility, and sincerity. He is not bothered by having to depend on others for material welfare. "The Prince's behavior is marked by a total absence of vanity or egoism; he simply does not seem to possess the self-regarding feelings on which such attitudes are nourished" (Frank 4:318). The Prince in the scene of Nastasya's soirée stands in marked contrast to the other characters who vie for Nastasya's hand for purely selfish, mostly monetary reasons. Unlike the others, Myshkin is able to see beyond Nastasya's proud and contemptuous front and discerns "something trusting, something wonderfully good-natured" in her face (Idiot 102). Hence he demands more out of her than do the rest, rebuking her at one point, "You're not the woman you pretend to be. Why, it isn't possible!" (138) Nastasya is evidently greatly stirred by the Prince's reprimand, as that evening at the soirée she exclaims that "The prince means a lot to me, for he is the first man I've ever come across in whom I can believe as a true and loyal friend. He believed in me at first sight, and I believed in him" (175). But though this trust in the Prince "stops her from marrying Ganya, [the Prince's] own offer of marriage, as she rises to a paroxysm of bitter self-hatred, is powerless to prevent her from running off with Rogozhin" (Frank 4:324-5).
The effect which the Prince has on Nastasya-enough to cause her to be greatly moved spiritually, but not enough to completely reform her-is representative of the influence which Myshkin has on nearly all of the characters of the book. The Prince's quiet, meek example gives everyone a start and causes them to re-examine themselves and their traditional notion of what it means to be strong. He sees the good in all who surround him, assumes that their motives are righteous, and, as Skaftymov has pointed out, serves as a catalyst for each character in their "inner struggle between [their] own particular manifestation of egoism and a desire to overcome it in some appropriate form" (Frank 4:324). Hence Ganya confides in him that "scoundrels love honest men" (Idiot 144), Rogozhin exchanges crosses with him (239), the haughty Aglaya falls in love with him almost against her will. But by novel's end we find that little has changed; Ganya continues in his opportunistic ways, Aglaya unwisely marries a shallow Pole, and Rogozhin secures the novel's almost inevitable catastrophic ending with his murder of Nastasya. Dostoevsky's "positively beautiful individual" (Mochulsky 627) has failed to show that he is capable of co-existing with a world filled with such corruption.
But the Prince's practical failure is not the final word on the matter. To Rogozhin's aforementioned crisis of faith upon viewing Holbein's Dead Christ, Myshkin responds with a series of four anecdotes, "which illustrate that the human need for faith and for the moral values of conscience based on faith transcends both the plane of rational reflection and that of empirical evidence" (Frank 4:328). Rogozhin's question of the existence of God is also answered by the Prince in his summary of his just-concluded speech: "The essence of religious feeling has nothing to do with any reasoning, or any crimes and misdemeanors or atheism; . . . it is something our atheists will always overlook, and they will never talk about that" (Idiot 238). Dostoevsky here anticipates his later, more complete answer to the empirical failure of religion that he will give in The Brothers Karamazov by appealing to irrational evidences in the development of his response. Despite the apparent failure of religion in the first three anecdotes to stand up to the arguments of learned men, or even to provide a better way to live for abusers of the faith, the essential spirit of God still exists in the first smile of the baby towards its mother, a relationship so fundamental that it can affect each of us in a basic way.
It is this hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds that drives the Prince's grandiose vision of the promised life to come. His is not a blind optimism, oblivious to the realities of the surrounding world, as he shows by his vivid account in Part I of the man condemned to die, and also by his sensitivity in dealing with the unfortunate Swiss peasant girl Marie. Myshkin does feel the suffering of the world, but remains an idealist. The story of his interactions in Switzerland with the children and the unfortunate Marie, and the simple happiness which that little band was able to attain among themselves, becomes a sort of model society towards which the Prince aspires for the rest of the world. "All through the last three years I spent in the village, I simply could not understand how and why people are sad and dejected" (Idiot 97). Late in the novel, just before his epileptic fit at the Yepanchins' gathering towards the end of the novel, he expounds at some length on his slavophilic vision of the "Russian God and Christ" shining forth to the rest of the world which will overcome the dangerous ideas of the West and Catholicism (548-51). He has tremendous faith in the great, saving power of beauty, here represented in the features of Nastasya Filippovna. Such beauty, as Adelaida Yepanchin says, is enough to "turn the world upside down" (103), but only if it is accompanied by inner beauty as well. Says the Prince, while admiring Nastasya's portrait, "What I can't tell is whether she is kind-hearted or not. Oh, if she were! That would make everything right for her!" (59)
The tragic ending to the novel does not exactly point towards an optimistic outlook on the world, but the reader has already been prepared for such an ending. The impact of the seemingly inevitable practical failure of the Prince is lessened considerably by his previous speech affirming the basic irrationality of faith. Hence the message of The Idiot remains ambiguous; the reader is left in a quandary that will not be here resolved. The situation is perhaps best symbolized by the paradox of epilepsy-another parallel image to that of Ippolit's dream of the dog and the scorpion depicting the tension of good and evil, confusion and enlightenment. The Prince's relative freedom from the confines of epilepsy is what has allowed him to return to his native country as a "normal" person, but traces of the disease remain within him, and the fits still return from time to time. Ironically, however, it is in the moments immediately preceding the epileptic attacks that he feels an unearthly sensation of "a great calm, full of serene and harmonious joy and hope, full of understanding and the knowledge of the final cause" (Idiot 243). This long sought-for feeling of peace and harmony, however, is attained for only the briefest of moments, immediately after which comes the fit of unendurable agony. And each seizure which Myshkin is forced to endure further damages his mind and draws him closer to returning to that state of idiocy from which he had so recently been restored at the opening of the novel. "Myshkin is thus inevitably doomed to catastrophe because the unearthly light of love and universal reconciliation cannot illuminate the fallen world of man for more than a dazzling and self-destructive instant" (Frank 4:327). Whether this world will ever be illuminated by the "light of love and universal reconciliation" for more than "a dazzling and self-destructive instant," as in the Prince's vision, remains unresolved.
If The Idiot was the "most personal" of Dostoevsky's novels, Karamazov was not far behind it in proximity to the author's heart. "There is a novel in my head and in my heart, asking to be expressed," Dostoevsky wrote in a letter of December, 1877, and the following month found him for the first time "working intensively on a plan for a new novel" (Terras 5). Work on the book was delayed in May of that year when tragedy once again struck the Dostoevsky family in the form of the death of his three-year-old son Alyosha. "I have never felt so sad," the father wrote in a letter shortly thereafter; "we all grieve" ("Letters" 756). Dostoevsky at that point interrupted work on the novel, sending the rest of his family to Staraya Russa and embarking himself on a "pilgrimage" to the monastery of Optina Pustyn, where he found solace for his grief and inspiration for his novel from the renowned Elder Amvrosy (Mochulsky 572-3). The crucial role that these events-occurring so early on in the creative development of the novel-played in its eventual formulation is evidenced by the author's endowing perhaps the principal character and certainly the most spiritually sensitive of the Karamazov brothers the name of his highly-favored, recently-deceased son, and by his modeling to a significant degree the character of Elder Zosima, who would ultimately be the voice of the actual verbal form of Dostoevsky's theodicy, after the Elder Amvrosy. Dostoevsky upon his return from Optina Pustyn immediately resumed work on the novel, and the first two Books were submitted to the Herald in November, 1878.
If the theme of suffering and its effects was not necessarily primary in the other works which we have examined here, it is definitively placed at the forefront of Karamazov, pervading, backgrounding, and occasionally starkly arresting throughout the entire book. It is here that we at last find the most concrete and complete examples in all of Dostoevsky of characters who have experienced the "entire" process of falling, despairing, appealing to God, and finally resurrecting. The relation of the details of these falls and resurrections together with the examination of where the character stands in the aftermath relative to his spiritual status beforehand will give us considerable insight into how Dostoevsky feels concerning the relative worth of such experiences. This will not conclude the matter, however, because Dostoevsky himself presents these relatively easily-drawn conclusions with an even greater challenge, through the character of Ivan Karamazov, in the form of the observation of the suffering of others-the second effect of suffering that we have been examining in this paper. This other challenge, and Dostoevsky's own response to it, will be treated later in the section.
The central role that the theme of fall and resurrection will play in The Brothers Karamazov is frankly announced to the reader by the epigraph of the novel itself: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24). The message of this small parable permeates the entire development of the novel, foreshadows the events of each of the three brothers' lives, and sends a ray of hope to the novel's darkest moments. The murder of their father Fyodor Pavlovich unites the brothers' fates, but each experiences his own fall, and his own unique spiritual crisis in this fallen state that eventually impels him towards the morning of his resurrection. The most clear-cut examples are those of Alyosha and Dmitri, who experience closely-paralleled falls and resurrections, and so it is they that we will examine first.
Alyosha, as already mentioned, is clearly the most spiritually sensitive of the three brothers. He is "a symbol of the writer after the period of his penal servitude, when a 'regeneration of his convictions' took place within him, when he discovered the Russian people and the Russian Christ" (Mochulsky 597). Dostoevsky in his author's foreword refers to the youth as the novel's "hero," though he admits that at first glance there may not appear to be anything particularly remarkable about him. Still, the author insists, "for me he is remarkable, but I doubt strongly whether I shall succeed in proving this to the reader" (Karamazov xvii). Alyosha is, in fact, Dostoevsky's second attempt at portraying the "positively beautiful individual . . . an immeasurable task" (Mochulsky 627). The first, of course, was Prince Myshkin in The Idiot, but the writer did not feel that he had at all succeeded in that book in accomplishing the "immeasurable task" set before him, and so we find Alyosha to be quite a different individual. He does, of course, inherit many of the prince's virtues, such as meekness, trust, modesty, sensitivity, and a love of people which is readily reciprocated, but unlike the prince, Alyosha is "radiant with health . . . very handsome, too, graceful, moderately tall. . . ." He is also "more of a realist than anyone"; though he believes in miracles, the narrator explains that "Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith" (Karamazov 13-14, 19-20). Hence we find early in the book that the author has been very careful to ensure that Alyosha, though spiritually-oriented and Christlike in the extreme, is viewed as one who has his feet firmly planted in this world as well and is co-existing quite successfully with its inhabitants-unlike the prince, who never did seem to find "where to lay his head."
The integration of Alyosha with the world makes
him more accessible to the reader; the exalted realm that his thoughts
and behavior inhabit shows that his subsequent fall can happen to anyone,
regardless of their spiritual status. In his case, however, the entire
process of fall and resurrection occur at a much higher plane than it would
for the rest of us. Alyosha's fall occurs towards the beginning of Book
Seven-which is itself entitled "Alyosha"-shortly after the death of Elder
Zosima. The young novice's sense of justice is outraged when the body of
his beloved mentor begins to decompose prematurely, a humiliating development
in light of the exceedingly high expectations, shared by nearly all the
monks and surrounding townspeople, of a series of miracles taking place
upon the elder's death. And shortly thereafter we find that rather than
follow the rest of the monks to the regularly-scheduled service that afternoon,
Alyosha leaves the hermitage to fall into the hands of Rakitin and further
temptation. Dostoevsky here pauses to explain Alyosha's seemingly extreme
It could be assumed that had the Elder Zosima's body decomposed even at a normal rate, that Alyosha would be satisfied, that he would, perhaps, look elsewhere for the miracles he sought, or find some other explanation. But that the body should decompose prematurely, in disappointment of the very least of his expectations, is to him an unabashed insult to the memory of his teacher of the past year; the absence of any divine intervention "at the most critical moment" (Karamazov 318), then, is simply inexcusable. Adding to Alyosha's anxiety at this moment is the recollection of his conversation of the previous day with his brother Ivan and the latter's fanatical, highly-disturbing demands for a seemingly absent meting of justice from God, an argument which we will examine ourselves later on. Though the narrator assures us that "it was not that something of the fundamental . . . faith of his soul had been shaken," it is nonetheless made clear that a crisis is brewing in Alyosha's soul at this time and that Ivan's tirade against God is at the forefront of it when the youngest Karamazov remarks to Rakitin, "I am not rebelling against my God; I simply 'don't accept His world'" (318-19)-a direct quote of his older brother.
Hence we find that Alyosha's spiritual state here corresponds quite closely to our definition of a fall-a threat of or complete destruction of the world or worldview which that character has created for himself. And in this case, the pain and suffering which always attends such a fall is indicated quite explicitly by the author, who informs us that Alyosha's "heart was breaking" as he left the monastery, that his conversation with Ivan had left a "tormenting and evil impression" on his mind, and that when Rakitin finds him, there is "a look of suffering and irritability in his face" (Karamazov 318-19). Alyosha is now in that state of limbo which immediately follows the fall, in which we found Raskolnikov vacillating for so long in Crime and Punishment. Here the newly-fallen, suffering individual "casts his eyes about" for where to go, how to proceed. He is forced to re-evaluate his previous beliefs essentially from the perspective of an outsider, and entertains notions of alternative beliefs and worldviews for the first time on the same plane as those which he may have held all his life. This moment is precisely that referred to at the beginning of this paper in which the believer passes through the "furnace of doubt," a process which will lead to either the reinforcing of or the cracking of his precious faith. The events which follow hard upon this moment will have a crucially important effect on the spiritual future of this youngest Karamazov, either causing him to more or less permanently turn his back on his God which has apparently abandoned him, or to return to Him a more determined and less pliable disciple.
It is significant that Dostoevsky does not here employ dramatic plot twists or some other earth-shaking event which would prove to sway his fallen characters in one direction or the other. Quite the opposite is true, in fact; the author throughout the book goes to great pains to emphasize the very smallness or relative insignificance of the external events which have a decisive internal effect on the character. The ultimate conversion is thereby portrayed as one motivated by an almost purely mental/spiritual evaluation process which results in an independent decision, rather than one which has been essentially forced upon him by overwhelmingly compelling external factors. The absolute freedom of choice enjoyed by the fallen individual at his spiritual crossroads is assured.
Thus we find in the chapter entitled "An Onion,"
where Rakitin has led Alyosha into the receptive arms of the voluptuous
Grushenka, that though nothing particularly spectacular or even noteworthy
seems to have occurred, by the end of the scene both Alyosha and Grushenka
are profoundly affected, and that for the better. Focusing on the example
of Alyosha, we find that at a critical spiritual moment for him, when Grushenka
is sitting on his knee and he finds aroused in himself "a feeling of the
intensest and purest interest without a trace of fear," Grushenka learns
of the death of his Father Zosima.
That light which dawns in Alyosha's face at this
critical moment proves to be the first ray of the morning of his spiritual
resurrection. So deeply touched is he by the reverence shown by Grushenka
towards his beloved teacher that he from that moment casts off the demons
of sensuality which had begun to plague him, sharply rebukes Rakitin for
his tauntings, and praises Grushenka as "a true sister, . . . a loving
heart" (Karamazov 329). His first steps along the path back to his
God have now been firmly taken, and he will not waver therefrom for the
remainder of the novel. The would-be seductress is equally moved by Alyosha's
sincerity, having found for the first time someone who has discovered the
good within her. "'He called me his sister and I shall never forget that,"
she informs Rakitin. "Though I am bad, I did give away an onion." She explains.
The symbolic significance of the onion as the small external event which has important, far-reaching spiritual consequences plays an important role throughout the book, as will be further illustrated later.
If the "post-realization" scene for Raskolnikov
at the conclusion of Crime and Punishment was a somewhat less-than-satisfactory
demonstration of the completeness and depth of his conversion, we are left
with little if any doubt after reading the corresponding scene in the story
of Alyosha. Having demonstrated his continued faith in his God by resisting
the temptations available at the house of Grushenka and afterwards returning
to the monastery, he is at last rewarded with his sought-after miracle.
Upon his return to the elder's cell where Father Zosima's coffin lies,
he finds Father Paissy reading from the New Testament over the coffin,
specifically the story of the first miracle at Cana of Galilee. Alyosha
notes the open windows to rid the room of the smell of decomposition, but
"even this thought of the odor of corruption . . . no longer made him feel
miserable or indignant" (Karamazov 337). Thereupon follows a dream
in which he finds himself at the marriage at Cana, is reunited with his
Elder Zosima, and together they watch the Lord help to bring about the
joy of the guests of the wedding through his turning the water into wine.
Alyosha runs outside in an ecstasy of joy, embraces the earth, "long[s]
to forgive everyone and for everything, and to beg forgiveness" (340).
Dostoevsky, not generally known for the unambiguity of his examples, has in the case of Alyosha provided us with his clearest illustration of the necessity of crisis and suffering as agents of spiritual progression. What could be a clearer and more concise summary of the overall effect of the youth's experience than that "He had fallen on the earth a weak youth, but he rose up a resolute champion"? The fall and its attendant suffering experienced by Alyosha were simply preludes to his achieving the next level of discipleship, necessary steps on the path to joy and perfection. Clearly the youth has come further; clearly the suffering he went through was, in his case, both necessary and meaningful.
A virtually parallel but not necessarily as reassuring fall and resurrection is also experienced by the oldest of the Karamazov brothers, Dmitri, or Mitya. Although Alyosha is termed the novel's "hero" by its author, Dmitri stands at the center of most of the novel's action and plot development. It is this eldest son who more closely than any other character of the book fits Mochulsky's description of the Dostoevskian hero: "It seems that they [Dostoevsky's heroes] breathe not air, but pure oxygen, do not live, but burn themselves up. The whole Karamazov family possesses an intense vitality" (Mochulsky 608). The energy of Dmitri alone is enough to give the entire book a sense of continual and occasionally frantic motion.
In the character of Dmitri we find another "Raskolnikov"-a
"schism, or split." Still young, vibrant, and overflowing with passion,
Dmitri's emotional state throughout the book is a precarious balance between
the unfathomable depths of joy, the "irrational love of life"; and the
unrestrained sin of sensuality, the chaotic element of sex. "Before him
are revealed two abysses-above and below" (Mochulsky 600). Like the hero
of Crime and Punishment, Dmitri continually wavers between the two
extremes, but unlike Raskolnikov he does so without calculating or excessive
reasoning within himself but rather impulsively, allowing the first thought
which enters his mind to be that which guides and consumes him. Hence he
euphorically declaims Schiller's Hymn to Joy to Alyosha, but then
identifies himself with the insects-to whom, the hymn says, is accorded
"sensual lust" (Karamazov 96). All of which leads inevitably to
the enigma of the ideal of beauty, as Mitya fully recognizes:
It would be difficult to imagine two more disparate personalities than those of Dmitri and Alyosha; nonetheless, the two are shown as good friends throughout the book, and as mentioned, end up enduring very similar falls and resurrections. In reality, the wide gap between their personalities itself adds to the meaningful content of the book by portraying essentially the same process of fall and resurrection being experienced by two very different people, rather than simply repeating the same story twice.
It is more difficult to tell exactly where Dmitri's fall takes place than it was in the relatively clear-cut case of Alyosha, as Dmitri is constantly hitting spiritual peaks and valleys as it is. Proceeding from our working definition of a fall, however, we find that for the oldest brother the dominant theme around which his life revolves throughout the course of the book is his delirious, all-consuming, and highly jealous love of Grushenka. "The storm thundered, the plague struck, I was infected and am infected till now and I know that everything is now over, there'll never be anything else. The cycle of the times is fulfilled" (Karamazov 107). Dmitri surrenders himself completely to what he supposes his passion to end all passions; for him, he will either have Grushenka, or murder, or die.
Thus it is that Dmitri's fall does not take place until after he has both obtained her for a fleeting moment, and then lost her upon his arrest for parricide. The realization that he has, in fact, lost her does not immediately dawn on him upon his arrest but actually occurs a few hours later after the preliminary inquiry has been going on for quite some time and he realizes that the enormous pile of evidence which is accumulating against him appears insurmountable. The long, exhausting, and for Mitya frequently humiliating inquisition into the affairs of the case that immediately follows his arrest is what finally breaks him and causes him to sink almost into despair. His life, his world, which had seemed to reached their greatest pinnacle just a few hours before, had all come crashing down in that brief span of time and lay in a ruins at his feet. The great crisis of the book's plot has at last stopped its hero in his tracks, giving him time to finally sit and think about his life for a time. Mitya's fall is complete; the crucial evaluation period now begins on that same night.
Once again, as in the case of Alyosha, Dmitri's redemption is greatly facilitated by an onion and a vision. Having just endured the emotionally draining preliminary investigation, the accused lays down on a large chest and "instantly falls asleep." In the dream that ensues he finds himself being driven by a peasant in a cart "through snow and sleet . . . early in November." They pass through a small village filled with black huts, half of which have been burned down, and he sees a tall, bony woman carrying a little baby who is crying incessantly from hunger, exhaustion, and exposure to the bitter cold. The "foolish" Mitya, never having paid much attention to the peasants' plight and the daily hardships of their lives outside of the riotous parties which he occasionally throws, fails to comprehend the reality of the situation and persists in asking, "But why is [the babe] weeping? . . . [W]hy are its little arms bare? Why don't they wrap it up?" And further on, "Why are people poor? . . . Why is the steppe barren? Why don't they hug each other and kiss? Why don't they sing songs of joy?" (Karamazov 478-9)
For the first time Dmitri, in his darkest hour,
feels the suffering of the Russian people which have surrounded him every
day of his life, and, like the destitute Lear who finally notices and sympathizes
with the "poor naked wretches . . . That bide the pelting of this pitiless
storm" in his former kingdom (King Lear III.iv.28-9), Mitya too
is moved with a feeling of intense compassion for the peasants, a feeling
which is enough to instill in him the desire for a new life on a much higher
Dmitri starts awake from this defining dream,
and notices that while he had been asleep someone had placed a pillow under
his head. The unfortunate man is virtually ecstatic with gratitude over
this small kindness; that one simple act practically restores his faith
in humanity and serves the symbolic role of the "onion" that was so crucial
to the spiritual reviving of Alyosha. The vision and the onion combine
to give Mitya a new sense of hope and a firm determination to reconstruct
his life over a Christ-laid foundation. Meaning in the sufferings already
experienced that night and the many yet to come in the weeks and years
ahead is discovered through the words of Dmitri himself, who exclaims to
his captors, just before he is led off to prison, that
Once again, and almost as clearly as in the case of Alyosha, the harshness of the fall and subsequent suffering endured by the oldest Karamazov son is vindicated by the long-term, spiritual progression which could well be enjoyed. But in Dmitri's case, much moreso than in the case of Alyosha, the reader is sharply reminded of the complexity and difficulties inherent in achieving a long-term, permanent conversion. Indeed, no sooner has Dmitri uttered the above statement than his buffettings and trials begin in the form of rude and contemptuous treatment at the hands of those who are conveying him away to prison, most of whom had been posing as loyal "friends" just a few hours before when he had been tossing rubles about freely. And these trials are certainly nothing in comparison to those that await him in his upcoming years and perhaps decades in prison. The reader could with good reason wonder if the upcoming trials to be endured might break the unstable young man's spirit. But Dmitri remains bound to his promise at least to the end of this novel, and as an epilogue to our relation of his story we might appeal again to an example from Dostoevsky's own life.
For the author, too, it will be remembered, was sentenced to hard labor in Siberia shortly after enduring an ordeal of transcendent spiritual significance (the mock execution at Semenovsky Square). We have already quoted from the letter he wrote to his brother just hours later in which he rejoices in his newfound lease on life despite the gloomy prospects of the years ahead. Like Dmitri, he even expresses in it a desire to embrace his suffering: "But my heart is left me, and the same flesh and blood which likewise can love and suffer and desire and remember, and this is, after all, life" (Mochulsky 141). But we also mentioned the complexity of his conversion; the author would go on to experience inconceivable hardships in the following years, doubt would overshadow the light of faith which immersed him when he emerged from the mines at Omsk, and the struggle with unbelief would continue through the rest of his life. Yet through all of the peaks and valleys he would, late in life as he wrote his Diary of a Writer, still look back on that initial conversion experience as one of the defining moments of his life, the time of the "regeneration of [his] convictions." Hence in the parallel case of Dmitri, while we dare not suppose that his desire for suffering and purification will instantly turn him into a perfect individual who will not stumble a couple or perhaps many times in the future, yet he will like Dostoevsky be able to look back upon this fall and resurrection as the single defining moment in which he cast his lot on the side of faith once and for all.
The two opposing answers to this question are presented in the book by the two extremes on the spectrum of belief-represented on the side of skepticism by the second-oldest Karamazov, Ivan, and on the other side by the pious elder Zosima. The central role that the articulation of these two views plays in the development of the novel is made explicit by Dostoevsky in his correspondence from the summer of 1879. The author in separate letters to his editor during this period refers to both the fifth and sixth books, which respectively present the opposing arguments of Ivan and Father Zosima, as "the culminating point of the novel" ("Letters" 757, 759). Through these two books Dostoevsky sought to further solidify his theodicy such that it would be capable of withstanding any possible attack from any adversary, by first formulating the most powerful argument ever invented against Christianity, and then showing how Christ withstands all such attacks through his subsequent response. The author later writes in his notebook with a great deal of confidence that he had achieved his first objective: "Those blockheads have never even conceived so powerful a rejection of God as exists in the Inquisitor and the preceding chapter, to which the whole book will serve as answer. . . . Throughout Europe there has not been and does not exist so powerful an expression from the aesthetic point of view as mine" (769-70).
In the book, Ivan's powerful argument, like that of Father Zosima, derives from his metaphysical reality. Although throughout the novel he debates back and forth in his mind whether or not God exists and what His nature would be if He did, Ivan's real god is justice. Specifically, his own justice. It is the all-important, overriding issue for him among all others in life. The need for justice in this world obsesses him. "I must have retribution, or I will destroy myself. And not retribution in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth, and that I could see myself" (Karamazov 225).
But justice clearly does not prevail in this world. Hence there remain, in Ivan's view, only two possibilities. The first is that God, in the traditional sense of an all-powerful being that created the world and oversees its inhabitants, does not exist. In this scenario, since there is no God but only cold, unfeeling Nature, there is no hope for justice nor, for that matter, any reason for existence. Without any purpose for our existence on this earth, life becomes a cruel joke, a platform for torture and suffering, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (Macbeth, V.v.26-8). Suicide is the only option remaining.
Ivan's rational side convinces himself of this, but there remains his
Karamazov side. "'God frets' Ivan; his consciousness is torn between faith
and disbelief. . . . Ivan will be saved by the 'earthly Karamazov force'
which he inherits from his father" (Mochulsky 782-3). The "Karamazov strength
. . . of baseness" (783) gives him a sensuality and a love for life that
eventually saves him from suicide and leads him to contemplate other possibilities.
And the second possibility for him is that God does, in fact, exist. But
this leads to even more problems. Because even if an all-powerful God exists,
justice still does not, and, in Ivan's view, cannot exist, if only because
of the suffering of children. In the chapter appropriately titled "Rebellion,"
Ivan gives several appalling examples of how innocent children have been
abused, tortured, and killed by sadistic adults. Here he delivers a truly
stunning blow to the believer by first granting the existence of God and
then giving examples which seemingly contradict any notion that He could
possibly be a just God. Ivan fully recognizes the argument given in John
12:24, but simply does not accept that any potential gains made could be
worth the suffering of the little children:
Hence in Ivan's view, justice has been irreparably breached, whether God exists or not. So even if He does exist, he must be an unjust and unwise God. As it is impossible to have faith in such an absurd God, Ivan continually vacillates between belief and disbelief. "God frets" Ivan.
To complete his argument against God and His plan, Ivan fully realizes that he must still deal with the Gospel of Christ, which does purport to satisfactorily expiate seemingly senseless suffering through His Atonement. Alyosha for a brief moment naïvely believes that Ivan has forgotten about the powerful image of Jesus Christ, who for so many believers across the world lends meaning to an incomprehensible world through His perfect example and sacrifice. "But there is a Being," the young novice exclaims, "and He can forgive everything, all and for all, because He gave His innocent blood for all and everything. You have forgotten Him . . ." (Karamazov 227). But Ivan has not forgotten Him. And to combat His work the "metaphysical rebel" switches gears dramatically, introducing the potent and, to some, terrifying figure of the Grand Inquisitor. It is through him that Ivan will attempt to prove to Alyosha and the larger Christian community the complete inefficacy and even harmfulness of their Leader's plan, while simultaneously submitting an alternative plan to minimize the existing suffering and, most importantly, breaches of justice.
"The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor," a "poem in prose" composed by Ivan and delivered to Alyosha in the rather incongruous setting of the back room of a tavern, takes place in sixteenth century Spain, "in the most terrible time of the Inquisition." Christ returns to earth, is admired and worshiped, and performs miracles, even raising one from the dead, before the Grand Inquisitor appears on the scene and takes Him away and locks Him in a prison cell. That night the old man returns and, in the ensuing monologue during which Christ does not utter a single word, delivers his accusation. Basing his attack on the example Christ gave when he resisted the three temptations from "the wise and dread spirit" in the wilderness, the Inquisitor upbraids Christ for committing a colossal blunder during his earthly ministry when, rather than ensuring that man's three basic needs-miracle, mystery, and authority-would be met, He instead increased their freedom, a burden which "weak and vile" man is utterly unable to support. "Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering" (Karamazov 235). The catastrophic course of history bears out the Inquisitor's thesis: "Look round and judge; fifteen centuries have passed, look upon them. Whom hast Thou raised up to Thyself? I swear, man is weaker and baser by nature than Thou hast believed him!" (236-7)
The Grand Inquisitor does readily acknowledge
the salvation of some few elect who have risen above the world and freely
chosen to follow the Lord, but what of the rest?
Under this banner of love for mankind in general
the Inquisitor proposes his own alternative plan for its happiness; or,
more accurately, for minimizing its suffering. Socialism, modern man's
Tower of Babel, will eventually fail and "end, of course, in cannibalism,"
at which point man will "crawl, fawning" back to the Inquisitor and his
Church, which will then plan the universal happiness of man. Having already
taken up the sword of Caesar, they will assume complete control by relieving
man of his terrible burden of freedom and providing instead for those most
basic needs. "We have corrected Thy work and have founded it upon miracle,
mystery, and authority" (Karamazov 237-8). The result:
Christ, silent throughout the monologue, responds only with a kiss on the Inquisitor's lips after it is over. "The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea" (Karamazov 243). Though a powerful response in and of itself, it is nonetheless left to the rest of the book to provide an explicit answer to Ivan's terrible rebellion and accusation.
It may be well imagined that the formulation of a suitable response to such a formidable attack is not, to say the least, a trivial task. Dostoevsky's responses to letters from readers such as K. P. Pobedonostsev during the period immediately after the publication of Book Five make it clear that Ivan's argument was enough to cause not a little bit of trepidation among followers of the novel, who worried that the author may have dug himself into a hole he would be unable to get out of. Dostoevsky reassures them that "my hero's blasphemy will be triumphantly refuted in the next issue, on which I am now working with fear, trembling, and veneration, since I consider my task . . . a civic deed" ("Letters" 758). But the author does not sound so confident, especially compared with the aforementioned pride with which he viewed the publication of Ivan's rebellion, in letters written some months later after submitting Book Six: "I don't know whether I succeeded. I reckon myself that I wasn't able to express one tenth of what I wanted. . . . I tremble for it in this sense: will it be answer enough? . . . I wrote it with a great deal of love" (760-62).
Indeed, the force of the combination punch delivered
by Ivan in this pair of chapters is enough to weaken the knees of the staunchest
believer. In raising the issue of the suffering of children, the young
intellectual rebel has hit upon an existing injustice which is virtually
unanswerable from a rational point of view. By the end of his tirade Ivan's
inexorable logic has even forced Alyosha to admit that he would not consent
to the creation of "a fabric of human destiny with the object of making
men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was
essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature . .
. and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears" (Karamazov 226)-essentially
God's plan of salvation. But "in fact, Alyosha could not have answered
differently." If he had, "at that very moment he would have lost his image
of God and ceased to be a man" (Mochulsky 616). The one and only possible
response, of course, lies in the image and gospel of Jesus Christ, but
Ivan's Grand Inquisitor curtly dismisses this argument as clearly-even
self-evidently-against the best interests of the vast majority of mankind.
Ivan's two-pronged attack backs the believer into a corner with no apparent
recourse. Small wonder that D. H. Lawrence writes that in these chapters
he "hear[s] the final and unanswerable criticism of Christ . . . unanswerable
because borne out by the long experience of humanity," and rather hastily
concludes that "we cannot doubt that the Inquisitor speaks Dostoevsky's
own final opinion about Jesus" (829-30). Edward Wasiolek more thoughtfully
summarizes a critical consensus with regards to this section:
Paradoxically, it is in the very strength of this powerful objection to God and Christianity that the extraordinary strength of Dostoevsky's theodicy lies. An idea is only as strong as the most powerful argument it has overcome. For this reason Dostoevsky plays the role of devil's advocate as well as possible, but he certainly does not consider the argument to be "unanswerable." We recall his statement upon leaving the prison at Omsk, that he would "remain with Christ, even if Christ were proven to be outside the truth." Dostoevsky fully recognized the virtual impossibility of a logical refutation of Ivan's blasphemy, so rather than launch a direct, head-on assault, he employs in the novel a different strategy altogether. The author writes that his response "is not a direct point for point answer to the propositions previously expressed . . . but an oblique one. . . . so to speak in artistic form" ("Letters" 762). The forcefulness of Ivan's argument and the indirect response thereof imply that, even if successful, this will not be a quick, overwhelming, and crushing defeat of the forces of evil but a perilously close battle whose outcome may even be subject to debate to this day. "The power of Dostoevsky spiritually to move and exalt lies, in part, in the extreme narrowness of the victory of good over evil in his art. The margin for hope is vaporously thin, but it is pure and distinct" (Jackson 97). Dostoevsky's formulation mirrors real life; in both the forces of good and evil continually strive, slowly approaching a resolution whose outcome is not readily apparent to any casual observer.
The response, the other side of the argument of whether the existence of suffering for the purpose of the ill-defined "spiritual progress" of man is justified, is explicitly voiced by the aging Father Zosima in his final words to Alyosha and the other members of the monastery. Like Ivan's, it develops naturally from the elder's own metaphysical reality, so it is not surprising that someone whose argument turns out to be the polar opposite of Ivan's should have a completely different notion of God as well. Father Zosima's God is, in fact, kind and just. He is embodied in Christ, whose sinless life set the example for everyone. "The Word is for all. All creation and all creatures, every leaf is striving to the Word, singing glory to God, weeping to Christ, unconsciously accomplishing this by the mystery of their sinless life" (Karamazov 274). Father Zosima's belief in such a God is stated even more strongly, though implicitly, through his actions. He is loved and respected by all who are close to him, and his own kindness and humility is illustrated clearly by his interactions with the peasant women of the town (38-51).
Of course the same question of suffering still remains for the elder
to answer. But starting from different premises, Zosima's response will
head in a completely different direction. Since God is kind and just, the
suffering which takes place must be the fault of man. But since the lives
of all are so tightly interwoven, it is impossible to pick out just one
or a handful and put the blame on them. "[A]ll is like an ocean, all is
flowing and blending; a touch in one place sets up movement at the other
end of the earth" (Karamazov 299).
Hence everyone shares the guilt, all are to blame for each others' transgressions.
Here Zosima takes a completely different view of justice. Rather than demanding justice from some outward source, he looks inwardly to the individual. Rather than asserting that "none are guilty," he claims that "all are responsible." The focus is removed from justice altogether and it is left to God to mete it out as He sees fit, while each person does what he can to lessen his own blame.
Zosima also has a thing or two to say about the pain of the suffering
itself, though this is not the main thrust of his argument. By way of response
to the seemingly irreparable breaches of justice that so plague Ivan, he
tells the story of Job. Zosima, too, recognizes the arguments from the
other side, the objections of how God could smite his servant "for no object
except to boast to the devil" (Karamazov 271).
But he also recognizes the strength of the human spirit and its ability
to overcome unfathomable trials, and contends that it all eventually passes
As promised, Zosima's response is not so much a direct parry of Ivan's thrust but a shift in focus. Justice itself is hardly discussed; rather it is left to God. The question of whether the promised eternal gains are "worth it" does not even arise. Even the most terrible suffering will pass into "quiet tender joy," and in the meantime the existence of evil in the world provides the individual with ample opportunity for self-scrutiny and improvement.
Such is the explicit response to Ivan's argument. But Dostoevsky claimed that "the whole rest of the book" would serve as a response as well, and indeed, it does; it is the implicit response to the second son's rebellion. As talented and experienced as the Russian author was in the craft of polemical writing, he was even more effective at proving his point "so to speak in artistic form." The real genius of Dostoevsky lies in his ability to create characters with certain viewpoints and passions and then show through the events of the novel the true nature of their being, and the natural outcome of their philosophies. This he does with particular effectiveness in The Brothers Karamazov.
A revealing though indirect commentary on the arguments given by Ivan Karamazov and Father Zosima, for example, is found through examination of their respective characters. Here Dostoevsky, playing the part of the counsel for the defense, uses a similar tactic "to that employed by Fetyukovich, Dmitry's defender [in the trial in the final book]: every attack on religion is ultimately refuted by identifying its perpetrator as a cohort or dupe of the devil, much as Fetyukovich discredits those who testify against his client by exposing their own moral flaws" (Terras 50). Ivan's argument against God and Christ rests on his assuming the role as the true and better lover of mankind. Yet he admits to Alyosha at the very beginning of his "Rebellion" that "I could never understand how one can love one's neighbors" (Karamazov 217), and later in the book proceeds to demonstrate the chilling extent of that incomprehension when he knocks a drunken peasant into the snow to freeze to death. "'He will freeze,' thought Ivan, and he went on his way" (588).
Most condemning of all is the guilt that the would-be benefactor of humanity carries for the murder of his father. In an "obscure" conversation with Smerdyakov the day before Fyodor Pavlovich is killed, Ivan essentially consents to the murder's taking place by agreeing to go to Chermashnya the next day, thereby clearing the way for Smerdyakov to take care of the business. Ivan inwardly denies these blatant contradictions between his philosophies and his character, just as he denies responsibility for his father's death. But in the end when Smerdyakov finally tells him point blank that "it was you who murdered him" (Karamazov 590), Ivan is at last forced to face the truth, both concerning the murder and concerning his own self-positioning as lover of mankind, which leads to his humiliating encounter with the petty devil. These factors combine to topple Ivan's worldview and ultimately lead to his own fall, accompanied by fever and a mental breakdown. The details of his potential conversion and resurrection are not given to us. At book's end the young intellectual still lies gravely ill, but Dmitri expresses confidently that "brother Ivan is superior to all of us. He ought to live, not us. He will recover" (722).
The image of the elder Zosima, on the other hand, cuts a completely different figure in the novel than that of Ivan. Though like all disciples of Christ he has his enemies who are blinded by jealousy and hatred, for the most part the elder is known and beloved by the monks of the monastery and, significantly, the peasants of the nearby village. The love and veneration with which the peasant women greet him when he takes time to meet with and console them and the long distances people are willing to travel to see him (one that day had come "two hundred miles") testify of the high esteem in which he is held by the commoners. Zosima is always willing to take time to meet with those who come and to attempt to console and alleviate the sufferings and burdens they may carry with them, and "Alyosha almost always noticed that many, almost all, went in to the elder for the first time with apprehension and uneasiness, but almost always came out with bright and happy faces" (Karamazov 23). Alyosha himself for these and other reasons becomes an almost fanatical follower of the elder, which fanaticism, of course, eventually causes his fall, as discussed above. Even Ivan, that disciple of human reasoning, has deep respect for Father Zosima after meeting with him and solemnly "receive[s] his blessing, [and] kisse[s] his hand" (61).
In addition, the philosophies which Zosima expounds, particularly those given in his response to Ivan's argument, are proven to reflect real-life experience time and again in the book. The elder's assertion that "all is like an ocean," in that each person exerts a constant influence on those around him with simple, everyday acts, is perhaps most potently realized in the aforementioned symbol of an onion. Trivial, almost insignificant acts which have powerful, long-term consequences occur continually throughout the novel. We have already mentioned the important role that such onions play in the conversions of Alyosha and Dmitri. Other examples from the book include the cheerfulness and faith with which Zosima's older brother faced his premature death, which was remembered by the youthful Zosima more than a decade later and led to his own permanent conversion; Zosima's bowing to his servant while serving in the cadet corps, which eventually led to a memorable, intimate and brotherly bond between the two, rather than as master and servant; the pound of nuts, bought by Dr. Herzenstube for the child Dmitri "without boots on his feet," remembered by the latter 23 years later, "for no one else ever bought me a pound of nuts; you are the only one that ever did" (Karamazov 641). All of these small acts lingered in the mind through a lifetime and eventually became so integrated into the recipient's character that they came to help virtually define him.
Raskolnikov reminded us that the knife cuts both ways, of course; even small malevolent acts can spark a chain reaction that eventually comes to lay a heavy amount of guilt on the instigator. Ivan's consenting to and even listening for his father's death, as mentioned, clears the way for the murder. Dmitri's pulling of the captain's beard, which leads to Ilyushka's biting of Alyosha's finger, and Smerdyakov's suggestion to the children of putting a pin in a roll to torture a dog, which arguably leads to Ilyushka's death, are other examples. "All is like an ocean."
Dostoevsky's final commentary on the argument between Ivan and Father Zosima comes in Dmitri's trial, in which is shown the fall of the human justice that is Ivan's god. The last book of The Brothers Karamazov, entitled "A Miscarriage of Justice," shows explicitly the imperfection of human justice. The pile of evidence that has been heaped up against Dmitri is impressive indeed. To the objective, human eye there would appear to be no other possible explanation than that of Dmitri's guilt, and so he is convicted. Yet despite all the logic, despite all the evidence to the contrary, Dmitri is not guilty of the crime he is sent to prison for. As Fetyukovich points out in his closing arguments, there really are so many possibilities given the evidence that the jury has to mull over that it is impossible for a human to really be able to say what happened. In fact, it turns out to be impossible to explicitly specify guilt even in a moral sense, and even having all the facts, as we the readers do. For the real guilt for Fyodor Pavlovich's death is certainly shared at the very least among Smerdyakov, Ivan, and Dmitri. Who knows how far beyond them the guilt further extends-to their parents, their friends, their guardians, their associates? It becomes impossible to stop at this point; eventually the guilt must reach every other character in the book. As Zosima prophesied, all, in fact, share guilt for Fyodor's death, yet man's temple of justice succeeds in assigning blame to just one man, who didn't even do it in the strict sense of the law. Clearly is it shown that not only is man incapable of meting out justice, he is not even in a position of being able to say what is just and what is not. Ivan's cry for justice, then, is a futile cry, because he cannot know what is just and what is not, either.
The jury of Russian peasants weighed the opposing arguments between Ippolit Kirillovich and Fetyukovich and returned a judgment unfavorable to the cause of truth, but another jury remains out today as we ponder the even more important opposing arguments between Ivan Karamazov and Father Zosima. Ivan stands accused this time of murdering his heavenly father, but, like Raskolnikov, he defends his act out of love for mankind, in abolishing the terrible suffering permitted by God here on earth which runs so counter to man's best interest. Zosima on his side defends the existence of such suffering for the ultimate good of man. The arguments have been presented; who is right?
Of course, no jury is completely unbiased, and like the arguments which have been set forth, the determination of which is right and which is wrong follows directly from the worldview of the evaluator. "The success or failure of Dostoevsky's theodicy depends on the reader's acceptance of Dostoevsky's metaphysical anthropology" (Terras 48). What of the reader with an LDS worldview? Do the metaphysical beliefs which follow from basic Restored Gospel doctrine imply an acceptance or rejection of the theodicy outlined herein?
Our first clue in determining the answer to this last question is found by examining the view of man and his potential held by Ivan and his Grand Inquisitor as opposed to that held by Father Zosima and Christ. The Latter-day Saint worldview on this subject is largely guided by Lorenzo Snow's oft-quoted summary of Joseph Smith's King Follet discourse: "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become" (Snow 46). But the view of man held by Ivan and his Inquisitor is decidedly less grandiose. In the Grand Inquisitor's eye, man is a "weak, impotent rebel" completely incapable of handling the gift of freedom that has been given him. Evil and suffering are inevitable, but can at least be minimized. The highest aim to which man can possibly aspire, then, is a simple existence in which his bread is handed to him and his other fundamental spiritual needs-miracle, mystery, and authority-are similarly taken care of for him. Hence the society which the Inquisitor proposes as the best possible for man in his current condition is one in which he is treated as essentially cattle, little removed from the rest of the animal kingdom which he ostensibly controls.
But the God and Christ that Father Zosima has faith in have a much higher view of man. The fall and rise of Dmitri, Alyosha, and potentially Ivan shows the heights to which a man can attain if left to himself and allowed the freedom to explore and discover for himself. Zosima's meek acceptance of the existence of suffering in the world, particularly as evidenced by his approbation of Job's God, implies his acceptance as well of the miracle of man's spiritual progression as a purposeful and even essential part of his earthly existence. Evil and suffering are necessary but not overpowering elements of this life; if man wills, he can overcome these and reach toward godhood. "Paradise . . . lies hidden within all of us-here it lies hidden in me now, and if I will it, it will be revealed to me tomorrow and for all time" (Karamazov 282). To the abundant outward evidence which reveals man as an iniquitous, gluttonous, self-indulgent creature, Zosima replies that in this behavior, "men distort their own nature" as children of an omnipotent and righteous Father (293). In his proposal of the exceedingly high law that all should consider themselves as "guilty for all," there seems to be no limit in Zosima's vision of the potential of man. He who considers himself guilty for all transgression and evil in the world, and seeks to correct his behavior based on such observations, is certainly on the road to perfection and to "becoming as God is," placing Zosima's instruction on a par with that left by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48).
Intimately linked with the respective views which the opposing sides of The Brothers Karamazov have of man is their notion of the value of the gift of freedom given him. Ivan's Inquisitor views the masses of humanity as "helpless children" and so denies them the responsibility of freedom as a parent withholds responsibility from her child. Freedom is simply the unfortunate idea of man's unwise Creator, a gift "which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand, which they fear and dread-for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom" (Karamazov 233). Happiness can only be attained through the "total renunciation" of this freedom (Rahv 253).
But examples from the novel abound which demonstrate the careful preservation of the freedom of choice between good and evil. The symbolic role of the onion, especially as a catalyst for conversion, has already been mentioned. Its significance, in fact, lies in the very smallness of the act which may have such a long-reaching effect. Hence, the emphasis remains on the agent and how he chooses to respond, rather than on the act itself.
Consider also the role that miracles play in the book. Father Zosima consistently sharply censures his followers' tendency to seek faith from the externally miraculous, beginning with his downplaying of the role of the miraculous in the improving physical condition of Madame Khokhlakov's daughter Lise, which the former is only too anxious to characterize as a sign from heaven. Later, when a peasant woman receives word from her son who was feared dead, in fulfillment of what Zosima had told her, Mdme. Khokhlakov's overeagerness to spread the news of this "miracle" to the rest of the town lends an almost comical air to the event and effectively trivializes the whole episode. Even in death, Zosima's determination to avoid the external, miraculous signs sought by so many remains firm, as witnessed by his body's premature decomposition-which reveals Alyosha's own sandy foundation. All of these, of course, are references to the second temptation-Christ's refusal to cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple-as related in the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor. The minimization of the effectiveness of these would-be miracles achieves the important objective of consistently preserving the book's characters' freedom of choice. The actions of none are compelled by overpowering external evidences; on the contrary, it is the "onions," the small, seemingly insignificant deeds of others, which move the characters one way or the other. Each remains responsible for his own actions.
Miracles do play an important role in the novel, but only when they "spring from faith." The miracle of spiritual resurrection plays a crucial role in the development of Alyosha and Dmitri, as we have outlined. In the great conversion scene of Alyosha in particular, the physical resurrection of Father Zosima and Christ's first miracle at Cana of Galilee are prominent. And Christ does perform miracles in the Legend, but only after the local townspeople have recognized Him and expressed their love for Him (Karamazov 229-30).
Perhaps the most powerful defense of freedom lies in the very Legend which so effectively attacks it. Alyosha after listening to the Legend cries that "Your poem is in praise of Jesus, not in blame of Him-as you meant it to be" (Karamazov 241), and indeed the passage does very effectively outline some of the most important tenets of Christianity, especially the role of freedom therein. Even in spite of the negative light in which the Inquisitor casts His teachings, the beauty and truth of Christ's mission here on earth shines through: "Thou didst desire man's free love, that he should follow Thee freely. . . . In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide" (235). Christ has freed man from the imprisonment of the confining ancient laws to allow him to roam freely where he will. The great responsibility of free agency entrusted to man by Jesus exalts him from his status of beast to that of god. No longer held to the earth by the grounding rigidity of strict physical law, man at last lifts up his eyes and sees nothing but the boundless heavens above. His potential is limitless.
Implicit in this responsibility of freedom is
the existence of opposition to man's upward strivings, as the skeptical
Inquisitor realizes, which leads him to formulate the great question of
man's earthly sojourn. "Is the nature of men such, that they can reject
miracle, and at the great moments of their life, the moments of their deepest,
most agonizing spiritual difficulties, cling only to the free verdict of
the heart?" (Karamazov 236) Philip Rahv effectively summarizes the
underlying defense of Christianity which lies latent in the Legend:
Dostoevsky, of course, is here only echoing what Joseph Smith had taught 35 years earlier. Into a Christian world obsessed with the denigration of man as a hopeless sinner and to a populace dwelling in fear of hellfire and damnation the Prophet brought a radically different-and, indeed, blasphemous to many-view of man as a "god in embryo." "God, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself"-and hence was born the Plan of Salvation (Smith 354). So essential is the principle of freedom of choice to this Plan that Lucifer and all his followers were cast from heaven because of his desire to "destroy that agency" (Moses 4:3). Later, Lehi would instruct his son Jacob concerning that principle: "Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh. . . . And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil" (2 Ne. 2:27).
This same chapter in the Book of Mormon delivers to us with marvelous concision the entire purpose behind the existence of this freedom, its attendant opposition and suffering, and indeed the whole of the Plan of Salvation, in verse 25: "Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy." "Happiness is the object and design of our existence," added the Prophet, "and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it" (Smith 255). This eschatological principle did not elude the author of the theodicy we have been examining in this paper.
Nor did the enthusiasm with which Dostoevsky
read Schiller as a youth desert him late in life. As the capstone to the
theodicy which was a lifetime in the building, Dostoevsky effectively says,
"Men are, that they might have joy." The Russian author who endured so
much tribulation himself, and so mercilessly and penetratingly portrayed
in his writings the suffering and agony that humanity is subjected to,
also knew the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, of the intense joy
and happiness that the human spirit is capable of feeling, too; and having
drunk from both cups, he chooses to ask for more. Through the philosopher
of the tale told by Ivan's devil, who enters the gates of Paradise after
serving his sentence of walking a quadrillion kilometers, Dostoevsky declares
that the first two seconds in such a state are worth "walking not a quadrillion
kilometers but a quadrillion of quadrillions, raised to the quadrillionth
power!" (Karamazov 611) And the "hosannah" sang by said philosopher
will undoubtedly sound similar to that lifted by Dostoevsky as well, who
in the end declared that "It is clear that I do not believe in Christ and
preach Him like a child, but my hosannah has passed through a great
furnace of doubt . . ." ("From The Notebooks" 770).
Dmitri's declamation of Schiller's Hymn to Joy (p. 96) pays eloquent
tribute to this "object and design of our existence," and of our trials
and sufferings, too:
At bounteous nature's breast,
All things that breathe drink Joy,
All creatures, all nations,
She draws in her wake.
Her gifts to man are friends in need,
The wreath, the foaming must,
To angels-vision of God's throne,
To insects-sensual lust.
But perhaps the greatest strength of Dostoevsky's theodicy, the aspect which best shows the author's deep understanding of the problem, is, as Jackson says, the "extreme narrowness" of the victory of good over evil. The suffering believer who experiences a deep crisis of faith will hardly be convinced by one who tells him that the terrible battle in the which he finds himself engaged in a fierce skirmish, is not in fact the excruciating struggle he perceives it to be but actually a glorious rout. As any realist knows, however, there is nothing glorious about life's day-to-day struggles. Dostoevsky considered the world of his seemingly fantastic novels to be more real than that of the so-called realists ("Letters" 751), and herein we see why. The stark realities of everyday mundane life cover all in a thick film of mud and filth, but lurking beneath is the potential for a spiritual cleansing and purification, and an eventual ascent to divinity that is fantastic, and yet is made real through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Hence the path has been provided for us, a path which, most importantly, leads to happiness. But Dostoevsky knew as well that absolutely inseparable from the experience of traversing this path is the necessity of experiencing trial and suffering also. "Without suffering you will not find happiness," he wrote. "The ideal passes through suffering as gold through fire" (quoted in Jackson 89). In the end, after a life full of the "dialectical hovering" of which Kierkegaard speaks, Dostoevsky was finally able to embrace, not suffering itself, but the necessity of its existence in a world designed for man's attainment of joy. And in so doing, he was able to embrace as well the Creator of the plan and of the world, with whose divine wisdom he had so long struggled to reconcile himself.
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