The Brothers Karamazov is a novel that follows a protagonist family rather than a single protagonist character. Although many could argue, and Dostoevsky himself has stated, that Alyosha is the “hero” of the novel, each brother is allotted enough narrative significance that one must analyze the plot through all three of their perspectives. Dmitri is a man ruled by passion. He wants more than anything to be accepted and loved by the object of his desire, Grushenka. Ivan is the brother ruled by logic and curiosity. His journey is one powered by the need to understand human nature’s place in a society influenced by faith. Ivan wants to reconcile his qualms with religion with his love for humanity. Alyosha, unlike Ivan, is ruled by his Christian faith. Alyosha wants to serve God as efficiently and maximally as possible. His primary approach to doing so is by being a reliable member of the monastery. 

The opening chapters of the novel provide setting, character introductions, and history in order to establish the fraught relationship between the Karamazov brothers and their father. The inciting incident comes after these introductions as the three brothers move back to the town where their father lives, each for their own reason. This reunion between the three brothers and their father opens up the opportunity for their tumultuous relationships to transform into dangerous interactions. Fyodor’s inability to be a caring father, or a caring man in general, comprises much of the conflict throughout the rest of the novel. 

The rising action and conflict of the novel both take the form of each brother’s own war against other characters, or their own ideas or desires. Dmitri is at war with his father, primarily due to their romantic rivalry as they both seek the favor of Grushenka, but also due to Fyodor’s attempt to cheat Dmitri out of his inheritance. This rivalry comes to a head when the brothers and their father attend a meeting with Father Zosima. Dmitri and his father fail to civilly participate in the meeting, leading to an argument full of hateful remarks and threats. Dmitri continues through the novel brashly, on many occasions stating his wish for his father’s death as he pursues Grushenka and a source of money. 

As Dmitri struggles to manage his romantic life and his relationship with his father, Ivan finds conflict in the form of his father’s servant and (potentially) bastard son, Smerdyakov. Smerdyakov consistently challenges Ivan’s beliefs and expresses on many occasions the desire to murder Fyodor. Simultaneously, Alyosha faces his own trials of faith as he struggles to deal with the death of his mentor, Father Zosima, the devious influence of his unknown rival, Rakitin, and the question of how to best serve God. 

The majority of the conflict stems from the brothers’ father. Fyodor is the direct rival to Dmitri, the reason for both Smerdyakov’s presence in Ivan’s life and also his hatred for the Karamazov family, and the primary distraction keeping Alyosha from practicing his faith in the way he feels compelled. This conflict reaches its apex at the climax of the novel, which comes in the form of Fyodor’s murder. The death of their father increases the challenge each brother faces. Dmitri is now the primary suspect for the crime, Ivan grapples with humanity’s moral nature, and Alyosha becomes further disconnected from the monastery, where he feels called to stay. 

Whereas the inciting incident, rising action, and climax of the novel culminate in each brother’s own specific trials, the falling action and resolution of the novel seek to answer the question of whether each brother successfully overcomes these trials. For Dmitri and Ivan, the answer is ambiguous, as both brothers experience much harsher consequences as a result of the mishandling of their dilemmas. Despite Smerdyakov’s eventual confession, Dmitri finds himself sentenced to exile in Siberia as punishment for the assumed murder of his father. No one believes Ivan’s claim that Smerdyakov is the true murderer, as the servant hangs himself the day before the trial. The novel closes on Dmitri’s story with only the hopeful promise of a potential escape from prison. Ivan ends the novel in a hysterical state of unconsciousness, with only Katerina to nurse him back to health. Alyosha, on the other hand, unambiguously overcomes the trials presented to him, as he ends the novel with a hopeful speech at the funeral of a young friend, where he expresses the importance of shared kindness. Here, the reader sees Alyosha finally understand his place as a Christian separated from the monastery.