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.
(Alyosha, Alyoshka, Alyoshenka, 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.
(Mitka, 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.
(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.
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.
(Grushenka, 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.
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.
The 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.
(Katya, 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.
(Madame 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.
(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.
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.
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 Fyodor Pavlovich.
A friend of Dmitri’s, a young official who snoops around after Dmitri on the night of Fyodor Pavlovich’s murder.
The old merchant who brings Grushenka to the town after her former lover betrays her.
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.
A famous defense attorney from Moscow who represents Dmitri at the trial.
The prosecuting attorney at Dmitri’s trial.
A severe and ascetic monk who hates Zosima.
(Kolya) 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.
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov’s servant, who, along with his wife Marfa, raises Smerdyakov from birth.