The Brothers Karamazov

Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Brothers Karamazov

author  Fyodor Dostoevsky

type of work  Novel

genre  Realist novel; novel of ideas; symbolic novel; dynastic novel

language  Russian

time and place written 1879-1880; Russia, primarily St. Petersburg

date of first publication 1879–1880

publisher  The Russian Messenger began publishing the novel serially in 1879.

narrator  An unnamed, first-person narrator who acts as a storyteller, relating events in which he plays no part. The narrator frequently refers to himself as “I,” and his erratic voice leaves a noticeable sardonic mark on an otherwise serious novel.

point of view  The point of view shifts between characters, including Alyosha, Ivan, Dmitri, and the narrator himself.

tone  The narrator’s tone is one of serious comedy. He takes his story seriously and comprehends the importance of the questions it raises, but nevertheless writes with a warm linguistic inventiveness that sometimes masks the coldness of his subject.

tense  Past

setting (time)  Mid-nineteenth century

setting (place)  A town in Russia

protagonist  Alyosha Karamazov

major conflict  Dmitri and Fyodor Pavlovich’s rivalry over Grushenka, Ivan’s inner turmoil, and Alyosha’s good-hearted attempts to help those he loves find happiness dramatize the philosophical conflict between religious faith and doubt.

rising action  Fyodor Pavlovich and Dmitri begin to fight over the family inheritance just before Alyosha’s faith is shaken by the death of Zosima. Ivan expresses his philosophical viewpoint through the story of the Grand Inquisitor, and Dmitri becomes increasingly desperate to win Grushenka.

climax  Ivan’s nervous breakdown in Book XI after the revelation that Smerdyakov is the murderer represents the final collapse of the psychology of doubt and the moment at which the position of faith seems inarguably superior, at least within the logic of the novel.

falling action  Dmitri is wrongly convicted of murdering his father, and Dmitri and Katerina reconcile their differences. Alyosha’s final speech to the schoolboys at the funeral of Ilyusha illustrates that he has taken on the role of Zosima.

themes  The conflict between faith and doubt; the pervasiveness of moral responsibility; the burden of free will

motifs  Crime and justice; the profound gesture; redemption through suffering

symbols  Characters who represent ideas, as Ivan represents doubt; Zosima’s corpse

foreshadowing  The narrator’s many leading comments; Zosima’s prediction that Dmitri will suffer greatly; the anecdote of the murderer in Zosima’s deathbed speech; Smerdyakov’s subtle clues that he intends either to have Dmitri murder Fyodor Pavlovich or to murder Fyodor Pavlovich himself.