The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov

by

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov: Part 1: Book 3, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Fyodor’s house is far from the center of town but not on the outskirts. It’s a nice one-storied home, painted gray and with “a red iron roof,” but “rather decrepit.” There are rats, too, but Fyodor isn’t angry about them. The servants’ cottage—a “spacious and solid” edifice—is in the yard, and Fyodor has decided to have his kitchen there, though there’s a working kitchen in the main house. Fyodor’s house is for a large family but, at the moment, only he and Ivan are living there. Three servants live in the cottage: the elderly Grigory, his wife Marfa, and Smerdyakov, who is a young man.
The location of Fyodor’s home reveals something about his class. He is not as noble as Madame Khokhlakov or Katerina Ivanovna, whose centralized homes parallel their central social positions, but he has enough money to live within the town limits. The “decrepit” state of the house also reflects with how Fyodor chooses to spend his money—on alcohol and women, as opposed to upkeep.
Themes
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Grigory made the decision to stay with Fyodor after the liberation of the serfs due to his “unquestionable influence over his master.” Grigory has also come to his master’s rescue in instances in which Fyodor was “beaten badly.” Outwardly, Grigory is cold, pompous, and a man of few words. His wife, Marfa, is more intelligent than her husband but submits to him and has done so without complaint since “the very beginning of their married life.” They speak very little to each other and only about the most necessary things. He beat her only once, and “slightly,” after she performed the “Russian dance” in the master’s yard in the special manner that she had learned when she worked for the wealthy Miusovs. She had been taught by a dancing master invited from Moscow. After Grigory pulled her hair for this display, she gave up dancing completely.
Grigory is a servant but also, in a way, a member of Fyodor’s family. He has served as a surrogate father to all of Fyodor’s children, particularly Smerdyakov. Grigory’s outward manner contrasts with Fyodor’s fervor and sensuality. Grigory’s attitude toward his wife comes out of envy for both her greater intelligence (he may resent her more for suppressing it for his benefit) and her more refined manners. By pulling her hair, he tried to remind her that she was in his possession and that her prior occupation in grander houses shouldn’t give her airs. His insistence on staying with Fyodor after emancipation reveals complacency with his station.
Themes
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Grigory and Marfa had only one baby, and it died. Grigory loves children and doesn’t conceal this sentiment. He fussed over all three of the Karamazov boys when he looked after them. His own son was born with six fingers, which “mortified” Grigory. On the day of his baptism, Grigory declared that the boy wouldn’t be baptized at all because Grigory thought he was “a dragon”—the result of a “confusion of natures.” This prompted laughter and the baby was baptized that day. Still, this didn’t change Grigory’s opinion about his newborn son.
Grigory’s superstition about his own son’s polydactyly comes from ignorance and superstition, which would have been common at the time regarding this condition. His comparison of the boy to a “dragon” expresses how he regards the characteristic as something fantastic and unbelievable. Though others see the defect as harmless, Grigory’s conviction harms his ability to bond with his son.
Themes
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Two weeks after his baptism, Grigory and Marfa’s son died of thrush. For many years afterward, Grigory never mentioned his child, and Marfa doesn’t mention the boy in Grigory’s presence. When she does talk to someone about the baby, she speaks in a whisper, even when her husband isn’t present. Marfa observes how, since their son’s death, her husband has started reading the Lives of the Saints, “mostly silently and by himself.”
Thrush in babies is common and, usually, shows up as diaper rash. Grigory probably doesn’t talk about his son after his death because the memory of such a loss is painful. His superstition about the polydactyly and his choice of reading material also suggests that he thinks the boy’s birth and death may have had religious significance.
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On the day that they buried their son, Marfa awoke during the night and listened to what sounded like a woman groaning. She woke Grigory. He got up and went out into the warm May night. He opened the door to the bathhouse and found the local “holy fool,” known as “Stinking Lizaveta.” She had gotten into the house, where she gave birth to an infant. She didn’t say anything, simply because she was unable to speak.
The appearance of Stinking Lizaveta on the day of their son’s death seems like a sign that Grigory and Marfa should take charge of Smerdyakov. Lizaveta is a symbol of suffering in the novel due to her poverty and itinerant lifestyle as well as her possible madness.
Themes
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