A Note on the Names
To English-speaking readers, the names of the
characters in The Brothers Karamazov can be confusing.
Characters are often referred to formally, with both their first
and middle names: “Fyodor Pavlovich” or “Dmitri Fyodorovich.” In
these cases, the middle names are almost always based on the name
of the character’s father. As a result, the Karamazov brothers all
have the middle name “Fyodorovich,” meaning literally, “son of Fyodor.”
We learn very little about the father of Karamazov’s first wife,
Adelaida Ivanovna, but from her middle name, we know that his name
was Ivan. Keeping this device in mind can be a helpful way to distinguish
the characters early in the novel when a character’s father also
takes part in the story.
When characters are not referred to in the formal manner,
they are often referred to by informal nicknames, which may seem
to bear little resemblance to their real names: Alexei Karamazov
is called “Alyosha” throughout the novel, and Dmitri Karamazov is frequently
called “Mitka.” Many characters have multiple nicknames. In the
list that follows, each character’s most common nicknames are given
in parentheses after the character’s full name. If the character
is frequently called by one of many nicknames, the frequently used
name is italicized.
Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov
Alyoshechka, Alxeichick, Lyosha, Lyoshenka) The protagonist, the
third son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, and the younger brother
of Dmitri and Ivan. Kind, gentle, loving, and wise, Alyosha is the
opposite of his coarse and vulgar father. He possesses a natural,
simple faith in God that translates into a genuine love for mankind.
Around twenty years old at the start of the novel, Alyosha is affiliated
with the monastery, where he is a student of the elder Zosima.
Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov
Mitya, Mitenka, Mitri Fyodorovich)
The oldest son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. Dmitri is passionate
and intemperate, easily swept away by emotions and enthusiasms,
as he demonstrates when he loses interest in his fiancée Katerina
and falls madly in love with Grushenka. Cursed with a violent temper,
Dmitri is plagued with the burden of sin and struggles throughout
the novel to overcome his own flawed nature and to attain spiritual redemption.
Ivan Fyodorovich Karamazov
(Vanya, Vanka, Vanechka) The second son of Fyodor
Pavlovich Karamazov, and the middle brother between Dmitri and Alyosha.
A brilliant student, Ivan has an acutely logical mind and demands
a rational explanation for everything that happens in the universe.
As a result of his inability to reconcile the idea of unjust suffering
with the idea of a loving God, Ivan is plagued by religious doubt,
and he oscillates between outright atheism and belief in a malevolent
God. His forceful arguments about God’s cruelty toward mankind are
compelling, but after they lead to the murder of his father, they
drive him into madness.
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov
The wealthy patriarch of the Karamazov dynasty,
the father of Alyosha, Dmitri, and Ivan, and almost certainly the
father of Smerdyakov. Coarse, vulgar, greedy, and lustful, Fyodor
Pavlovich lives a life devoted exclusively to the satisfaction of
his senses, with no thought for those whom he betrays or hurts.
Completely lacking in dignity despite his wealth, Fyodor Pavlovich
is loathed by almost everyone who knows him. He has no affection
for his children, and even forgets which of them belongs to which
mother. His only goal in life is to have money and seduce young women
such as Grushenka, whom he lusts after for much of the novel. Fyodor
Pavlovich is eventually murdered by Smerdyakov.
Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlov
Grusha, Grushka) A
beautiful young woman who is brought to the town by Samsonov after
a lover betrays her. Proud, fiery, and headstrong, Grushenka is
an almost universal object of desire among the men in the town and
is the source of much of the antagonism between Fyodor Pavlovich
and Dmitri. She is reputed to be sexually promiscuous, but in reality,
she is much too proud to give herself to lovers. She devotes herself
instead to increasing her wealth by making shrewd investments, but
after she meets Alyosha, a hidden vein of gentleness and love begins
to emerge in her character.
Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov
The son of Lizaveta and Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov,
Smerdyakov is raised by Grigory and his wife Marfa and is made to
work in Fyodor Pavlovich’s house as a servant. Cursed with epilepsy,
Smerdyakov also has a mean temperament, sometimes exhibiting outright
malice and sometimes hiding behind a mask of groveling servitude.
He is particularly interested in discussing philosophy with Ivan,
whose advocacy of an antireligious amorality paves the way for Smerdyakov
to murder Fyodor Pavlovich.
wise elder at the monastery who acts as Alyosha’s mentor and teacher
before his death in Book VI. Extremely intelligent and filled with
an ardent and sincere religious faith, Zosima preaches a message
of actively loving mankind, forgiving the sins of others, and cherishing
God’s creation. The clarity of Zosima’s faith gives him extraordinary
insight into the minds of the people he meets.
Katerina Ivanovna Verkhovtsev
Katka, Katenka) Dmitri’s
fiancée, whom he abandons after falling in love with Grushenka.
The proud and sensitive daughter of a military captain, Katerina
anguishes over her ill treatment by Dmitri, which leads her to adopt
an attitude of martyrdom toward those around her. She insists on
humiliating herself with an unfailing loyalty to the people who
hurt her, and though she loves Ivan, she is unable to act on her
love until the end of the novel.
Katerina Ospovna Khokhlakov
) A wealthy gentlewoman
in the town, an acquaintance of the Karamazovs and a friend of Katerina.
A relatively harmless presence, she is somewhat shallow and self-centered,
and tends to obsess over the misbehaviors of her daughter Lise.
) Madame Khokhlakov’s daughter,
a mischievous and capricious young girl who is briefly engaged to
Alyosha. At least as shallow and self-centered as her mother, Lise
has a hard time taking things seriously and finally lapses into
a kind of self-destructive despair, in which she pathetically crushes her
fingernail in a door in an attempt to punish herself for wickedness.
Mikhail Osipovich Rakitin
A young seminary student whom Alyosha considers
a friend, but who secretly despises him. Cynical and sarcastic,
Rakitin is too sophisticated to have real religious faith, so he
satisfies himself with adopting various fashionable philosophical
theories. He quotes Nietzsche and claims to be a socialist. Deeply
threatened by Alyosha’s apparently genuine moral purity, Rakitin
secretly longs to see Alyosha become corrupted. As a result, he
tries very hard to introduce Alyosha to Grushenka, whom he believes will
shake Alyosha’s faith.
Pyotr Alexandrovich Miusov
A wealthy landowner, the cousin of Fyodor Pavlovich
Karamazov’s first wife, and briefly the guardian of the young Dmitri.
Considering himself a political intellectual, Miusov utterly despises
Pyotr Ilyich Perkhotin
A friend of Dmitri’s, a young official who snoops
around after Dmitri on the night of Fyodor Pavlovich’s murder.
Kuzma Kuzmich Samsonov
The old merchant who brings Grushenka to the town
after her former lover
A young retarded girl who lives as the village idiot.
She dies giving birth to Smerdyakov, leading most people to suspect
that Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov either seduced or raped her.
famous defense attorney from Moscow who represents Dmitri at the
The prosecuting attorney at Dmitri’s trial.
A severe and ascetic monk who hates Zosima.
Nikolai Ivanov Krasotkin
) A bold, intelligent young
boy who befriends Alyosha after Ilyusha becomes ill.
(Ilyushechka, Ilyushka) The son of a military captain,
who once saw his father beaten up by Dmitri. Proud and unwilling
to be cowed by the larger boys who pick on him, Ilyusha befriends
Alyosha, but becomes ill and dies toward the end of the novel.
Grigory Kutuzov Vasilievich
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov’s servant, who, along
with his wife Marfa, raises Smerdyakov from birth.