The envelope initially occurs to the reader as a symbol of greed, but it crystallizes into a symbol of pursuit of truth. The three thousand roubles that it contained is the supposed motive for Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov’s murder. However, no one has ever seen the inscribed and pink-beribboned envelope that he promised to Grushenka, and Ivan Fyodorovich has only heard about it. It’s an elusive and vaguely understood object that remains fundamental to understanding what led to Fyodor’s murder. Fyodor’s son, Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov, coveted the three thousand roubles. It was well-known that Dmitri was always broke, that he felt cheated out of his inheritance by his father. He also needed exactly three thousand to pay back money that he had stolen from his fiancée Katerina Ivanovna, so that he could break off their engagement with honor and run away with Grushenka. Three thousand rubles is the key, it seems, in facilitating Dmitri’s escape from his hometown and his unhappy family life, and in allowing him to create the life that he wants. For Katerina, giving Dmitri the money was a test to reveal his true character—would he be so dishonorable as to take money from her to go be with his mistress? According to Alexei Fyodorovich, the money was a point of obsession for Dmitri, a reminder of how their father had “cheated” him, and evidence, it seems, of a lack of paternal love.
However, it was Smerdyakov, not Dmitri, who took the money out of the envelope. Instead of running away with it, as planned, the former “lackey” and illegitimate son gives it to Ivan. By committing suicide, Smerdyakov ensures that he’ll never be discovered as Fyodor’s true murderer. He’ll never send “evidence from the other world […] in an envelope.” Without Smerdyakov to testify, Ivan’s crazed courtroom confession has no credibility and is further undermined by the contents of other envelopes—the three thousand roubles that Katerina entrusted to Dmitri, and Dmitri’s letter to Katerina, which declares his desire to kill his father. Ivan characterized the letter as “mathematical proof” of his brother’s guilt, and it stands as such because the truth about what occurred is not visible to the public and is too far-fetched to be believed. Dmitri, therefore, goes to prison for his father’s murder, condemned by a public that believes he murdered his father out of greed and lust for a woman of ill-repute. The three thousand roubles that Alexei, Katerina, and Ivan paid for his defense are not enough, in this instance, to free him. The truth about Fyodor’s murder remains as hidden and mysterious as the envelope holding the three thousand roubles.
The Envelope and the Three Thousand Roubles Quotes in The Brothers Karamazov
“He ran there, went up to the window […] ‘Grushenka,’ he called, ‘Grushenka, are you here?’ He called her, but he didn’t want to lean out the window, he didn’t want to move away from me […] because he was very afraid of me [….] ‘But there she is,’ I said (I went up to the window and leaned all the way out), ‘there she is in the bushes, smiling to you, see?’ He suddenly believed it, he just started shaking, because he really was very much in love with her, sir, and he leaned all the way out the window. Then I grabbed that same cast-iron paperweight, the one on his desk […] and I swung and hit him from behind on the top of the head with the corner of it.”
“‘The thing is that I am precisely in my right mind...my vile mind, the same as you, and all these m-mugs!’ he suddenly turned to the public. ‘A murdered father, and they pretend to be frightened,’ he growled with fierce contempt. ‘They pull faces to each other. Liars! Everyone wants his father dead. Viper devours viper…If there were no parricide, they’d all get angry and go home in a foul temper…Circuses! ‘Bread and circuses!’ […] Calm yourselves, I’m not mad, I’m simply a murderer! […] I have no witnesses. That dog Smerdyakov won’t send you evidence from the other world…in an envelope. You keep asking for envelopes, as if one wasn’t enough. I have no witnesses…except one, perhaps [….] He’s got a tail, Your Honor, you’d find him inadmissible! Le diable n’existe point!”