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1. The Brothers Karamazov places
a great deal of emphasis on the idea of free will—the idea that
faith has meaning because each person is free to choose between
faith and doubt. But though many of the novel’s major characters
struggle with doubt, Alyosha, the protagonist, often seems to have
such an instinctive faith that he could never choose to
be faithful because he simply is. Does the concept of free will
apply to a character such as Alyosha? Why or why not?
2. Think about the many mysterious
symbolic gestures made by religious figures throughout the novel—Christ
kissing the Grand Inquisitor, for instance, or Zosima bowing before Dmitri.
Do these profound gestures, meant to articulate ineffable aspects
of religious belief, represent a logical argument against the philosophy
of doubt, or do they constitute a different order of expression
3. Compare and contrast the novel’s
principal female characters, Grushenka and Katerina. In what way
does the concept of redemption apply to each of them, and how do
they each go about finding the redemption that they seek? How different are
their situations—morally, socially, psychologically—from those of
the other main characters, simply by virtue of their being women?
4. Explain the idea of moral
legacies within the novel—the notion that a system of moral teachings
can be passed down from one person to the next, as Zosima passes
his beliefs to Alyosha. Within this context, what is the significance
of Alyosha’s relationship with the schoolboys in Book X and the Epilogue?
5. What are Smerdyakov’s traits
as a character? What are his apparent philosophical beliefs? Does
he really believe the lessons he claims to have learned from Ivan,
or does he merely use Ivan’s philosophy to justify his own murderous
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Brothers Karamazov!