The Brothers Karamazov

by: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Book IV: Strains, Chapters 1–7

Whereas Alyosha and Zosima love humankind because of their faith, the doubt that Ivan and Katerina feel makes them fatalistic. They see human nature as unchangeable, and therefore view people’s lives as predetermined. Ivan sees Katerina’s need to humiliate herself before Dmitri as a necessary part of her personality, and with that knowledge, he is paralyzed to act on his love for her, which he pridefully scorns as irrelevant. Katerina, who has been deeply hurt by Dmitri, has a corresponding sense that other people will disappoint her and cause her pain, and this sense manifests itself in her haughty desire to be made a martyr by the inevitable betrayals of those around her. She is unable to accept happiness as a possible outcome in her life, and as a result, she embraces humiliation and pain. Thus, she is just as paralyzed as Ivan, similarly unable to act on her feelings. In both of their cases, Dostoevsky shows how a kernel of doubt can spread through a person’s character, transforming itself into a defensive pride that renders the person unable to be honest, happy, or capable of pursuing happiness.