At twenty years old (Ivan is twenty-four and Dmitri is almost twenty-eight), Alexei, or Alyosha, is not a fanatic or even a mystic, but simply a lover of mankind. He throws himself “into the monastery path” as a result of his becoming attached to the famous elder Zosima. His earliest memories of his mother are of a “frenzied, but beautiful” woman. However, he seldom shares this memory with anyone.
Alexei’s faith is actually rooted in earthly concerns, which is why Zosima later encourages him to “sojourn in the world,” where his gift of selflessness will be put to better use. For Alexei, suffering is initially inseparable from faith, due to his early images of his mother—his first model for religious devotion.
During his childhood, Alexei wasn’t very talkative due to “some inner preoccupation.” He accepts everything “without the least condemnation.” When Fyodor’s antics are too much to bear, he simply retires quietly from his presence, never expressing contempt. Initially, Fyodor is suspicious of Alexei, but then comes “to love him sincerely and deeply.”
Fyodor’s suspicion of Alexei comes from his mistrust of and inability to read those who, unlike him, are not overtly expressive. He initially suspects that Alexei is judging him, but when he realizes that the boy merely accepts his father as he is, this generates love within Fyodor—one of the few examples of Fyodor truly loving anyone other than himself.
Everyone loves Alexei. When he lives in Yefim Petrovich’s house, he attaches himself to the family so well that they consider him their own child. He succeeds in awakening special love for himself at school, too. Though he is seldom playful or merry, he never shows off and never holds on to an offense. His schoolmates tease him, though not out of malice, for his “frantic modesty and chastity.” Alexei can’t stand to hear certain words or conversations about women. Seeing that he puts his fingers in his ears when his classmates speak of such things, they crowd around him, pull his hands from his ears, and shout foul things at him until he slips to the floor, lies down, and covers his head. He never says a word but silently bears the offense. In his studies, he is among the best but never first.
Alexei’s warmth of spirit and aversion to judgment make people feel comfortable and welcome in his presence. This, like Ivan’s intellectual talents, saves him from becoming an angry or covetous person—consequences of his poor upbringing. His modesty in regard to sex and women will remain with him throughout his life. Instead of running away from his classmates or asking them to leave him alone, he bears the offense as though he must suffer their vulgarity with a Christlike kind of meekness and submissiveness. His approach to his studies reflects his wish not to stand out, neither as a success nor a failure.
After Yefim Petrovich dies, Alexei spends two more years at the local secondary school. He then ends up in the house of two women he’d never seen before, distant relations of Yefim Petrovich. Alexei, however, never worries about who’s supporting him. He has no awareness of the value of money and is the sort who, if he were to come into a fortune, would give it all away. Pyotr Alexandrovich jokes that Alexei will never need to worry about poverty, for he’s the only man in the world who could be left completely alone in a large unknown city and would manage to find someone to care for him.
Alexei’s attitude toward money contrasts with that of Dmitri and his father. Alexei’s lack of concern about money, however, is partly fostered by the fact that he’s never really lived in poverty. This doesn’t make him a hypocrite; however, it does make him someone who doesn’t really know what it’s like to be desperately poor. He has always existed in higher-class social circles and would likely find someone among them to care for him.
Alexei doesn’t complete his studies at school. He has one more year to go before he decides that had to see his father. He is also looking for his mother’s grave. Fyodor, however, is unable to show Alexei his mother’s grave because he never visited it after she was buried. He also forgot where it was. Several years after Sofia Ivanovna died, Fyodor ends up in Odessa. At this time, he develops the skill of “knocking money together” and “knocking it out of other people.” He arrives back in his hometown three years before Alexei’s arrival.
Alexei’s disinterest in school probably comes partly from his disinterest in making a career. His desire to find his mother’s grave may come from a wish to reconnect with a part of himself, or his childhood, from which he had distanced himself. Meanwhile, Fyodor has reestablished his old habit of cheating people out of money to fatten his own pockets. His behavior contrasts with Alexei’s sincere search for meaning.
Soon after finding his mother’s grave, Alexei announces that he wanted to enter the monastery and says that the monks are ready to accept him as a novice. Alexei asks for Fyodor’s consent, and he agrees. Fyodor says that Alexei can pray for sinners like him. Fyodor figures that, when he dies, devils will drag him into hell with their hooks—then again, he isn’t not sure where they’ll get the hooks from, what they’ll be made of, and how he’ll be suspended from them. In any case, Fyodor is sure that his son—the only person in the world who hasn’t condemned him—will return after he is “cured.” Fyodor will be waiting.
Even when Alexei announces his decision, Fyodor uses the occasion to talk about himself. Fyodor is a depraved man but also one who worries about the fate of his soul. His suffering, which he masks with drunkenness and role-play, comes from being too selfish to be good while also sensing that he will one day pay a price for his selfishness. His story about being dragged to hell on hooks is an attempt at comic levity that also probably masks his genuine concern for his fate.