Slow-Read Sunday: The Brothers Karamazov, Part IV and Epilogue

Discuss the three previous parts here: Part OnePart Two and Part Three. I recommend these sites for more information on The Brothers KaramazovDartmouth Resources for The Brothers KaramazovMiddlebury Study Guide.

The major plot event of Part IV is Dmitri’s trial, but in Part IV and the Epilogue we see Dostoevsky give his novel’s closing argument, too. Here are a few areas where you could focus your attention:

1. Alyosha and the children.

At the start of Part IV we see Alyosha interacting with children again. Can you see any evidence that the themes of the novel repeat themselves during the opening of Part IV? Is Kolya like Ivan in some ways?  In Kolya like Dmitri in some ways?

2. Has Alyosha changed since we’ve seen him last?

We see some of the ways he’s changed explicitly mentioned on p. 533. Can you find other ways that Alyosha has changed?

3. Similarities to the Book of Job.

I see the similarities to the Book of Job most clearly on p. 562 when we see the captain scream about “not wanting another boy.” If you’re familiar with the Book of Job, can you see parallels between this section and that book of the Bible?

4. Does a devil visit Ivan?

In Book IX, Ivan hallucinates and becomes ill. Do you see evidence that Dostoevsky is striving for medical accuracy? Do you see evidence that Ivan has been visited by a devil? Is Smerkyadov a devil or someone upon whom the devil has acted?

What would be the purpose of the devil’s visit?

5. Do the closing arguments of the trial work to sum-up the major themes of the novel?

What parts of the closing arguments of the novel are fact? p. 692. What parts are inference? Are there any parts that are sheer fantasy?

Do you get the impression that Dostoevsky is making a point by having the evidence stacked against Dmitri?

6. What is the significance of having Alyosha surrounded by children in the Epilogue?

Alyosha gives a spontaneous speech to the children. p. 775. Many of the themes of the novel are again summed-up. What do you think Dostoevsky intended to leave as our last impression of the novel? Is the final message overtly Christian? Is the final message universally true? Is the final message based in life or in theory?

My closing thoughts on the book:

This is my third time reading The Brothers Karamazov. I’ve never studied it as formally as I have over the past month, and even then, not so formally. In the past I’ve spent more time analyzing “The Grand Inquisitor” than on any other part of the novel. To read “The Grand Inquisitor” as the major message of the novel is a mistake, though. It was a mistake I made the first time I read the novel.

Dostoevsky, above everything, was trying to take us back to the core message of Christianity. Whether you’re a Christian or not (I’m not going to get into my personal beliefs) there seems to be something universal at the heart of this novel which is similar to the message Jesus espoused, or that the authors of the various books of the Bible espoused using Jesus as their hero. If Dostoevsky had not gone out of his way to remind us that Alyosha was the novel’s hero we might have found our hero in Ivan, but Dostoevsky announces his intention on numerous occasions. The intent, therefore, was not to tear things down by revealing the negative aspects of the Church, alone. Dostoevsky tried to work, through Alyosha, to build a new way to live.

Do you think Dostoevsky ultimately succeeded or does the novel read as only the beginning of Alyosha’s journey?

I’m always open to hearing your thoughts on the book. Even if you didn’t make it through in February and find yourself reading the book many months or years down the road I’d love to hear your comments.

In March, for Slow-Read Sunday, I’ll be going through Hamlet. If you’d like to follow along I’ll be referring to this edition, but I think there are many free editions that will work. Next Sunday I’ll put up some thoughts about Acts 1 and 2. You’ll find Hamlet much less intense in terms of the number of pages you’ll need to read each week. If you can find the time to listen to the audiobook, watch the play, or watch a cinematic take on the play, I think you’ll get much more out of it.

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