Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Characters as Symbols

Because The Brothers Karamazov is both a realistic novel and a philosophical novel, Dostoevsky’s characterizations tend to yield fully drawn, believable individuals who also represent certain qualities and ideas bearing on the larger philosophical argument. The drama acted out between the characters becomes the drama of the larger ideas in conflict with one another. Most of the important symbols in the novel, then, are characters. Almost every major character in the novel embodies a concept: Alyosha represents faith, Ivan represents doubt, and Fyodor Pavlovich represents selfishness and physical appetite. Some characters have more specific designations. Smerdyakov, for instance, works primarily as a living symbol of Fyodor Pavlovich’s wickedness.

Zosima’s Corpse

The monks, including Alyosha, all expect Zosima’s death to be followed by a great miracle that will commemorate his extraordinary wisdom and virtue in life. They even expect that he will prove to be a saint. In monastic lore, one of the ways in which a saint can be detected after death is that his corpse, rather than emitting the stench of decay, is instead suffused with a pleasant smell. After Zosima’s death, however, no miracle occurs. Moreover, Zosima’s corpse begins to stink very quickly, exuding a particularly strong and putrid odor, which is taken by his enemies in the monastery as proof of his inner corruption. For Alyosha, who craves a miracle, the indignity visited upon Zosima’s corpse exemplifies the lack of validation with which the world often rewards religious faith. The fate of Zosima’s corpse suggests that faith is not justified by miracles. Rather, the person who chooses faith must do so in defiance of the many reasons to doubt.


In The Brothers Karamazov, money is a recurring image that plays a huge role in the lives of the novel’s characters. In many instances, money symbolizes pride and the ways in which an individual’s pride can lead to poor or immoral decisions. For example, Fyodor’s entire sense of being revolves around his money. Fyodor’s wealth is his pride and joy and the one thing he covets above all else. The pride he feels for his money prompts Fyodor to treat others as mere tools to stretch his wealth, often cruelly. 

In the case of Katerina, her having to borrow money from Dmitri in order to help her father is a great source of injury to her pride. Instead of acknowledging the circumstance, Katerina ignores it in order to salvage her pride and becomes stubbornly devoted to Dmitri. At the end of the novel, Katerina finally lets go of her pride by funding Dmitri’s escape to America. In this way, letting go of the money symbolizes Katerina letting go of her pride. 

Another instance illustrating the significance of money as it relates to pride comes when Alyosha offers money to a local captain who was humiliated by Dmitri. At first, the captain accepts the money because he believes it’s from someone other than the Karamazovs. However, after Alyosha explains that it’s his own money, the captain pridefully throws the money on the ground. To the captain, if he accepts financial assistance from the same family that humiliated him, then he is no better than Dmitri. The captain’s pride leads him to make an unreasonable decision, as the money could have greatly helped his ill son.