The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov


Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Left Side Symbol Analysis

The Left Side Symbol Icon

Several times throughout The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky mentions left-handedness or the left side: schoolboys pick on Ilyusha for his left-handedness, Lyagavy strokes his beard with his left hand before preparing to cheat someone in business, and Grigory Vasilievich imagines that the door leading to the garden, which is on the left side of Fyodor Pavlovich’s house, was opened by Dmitri Fyodorovich, thereby providing further testimony that Fyodor’s eldest son murdered him in a fit of rage. Historically, the left side is a symbol of evil. The superstition that left-handedness connotes wickedness comes from the Bible. In Matthew 25:41, Christ sits on the throne of his glory and separates the righteous, who are on his right hand, from those who shunned him in life, who are on his left hand. He tells the latter to depart from him and sends them to hell, while the righteous go to paradise.

In The Brothers Karamazov, however, Dostoevsky undermines this left-side superstition and uses it to symbolize the human impulse to condemn others on arbitrary grounds. For instance, the author reveals how Kolya Krasotkin manipulated Ilyusha during their friendship, thereby providing a context for his stabbing Kolya with a penknife. Smerdyakov later tells Ivan Fyodorovich that the door to the garden was never open, and that Grigory is too stubborn to rethink his testimony against Dmitri. Finally, it’s ironic that Fyodor Pavlovich characterizes Lyagavy as a “scoundrel” and a cheat, given his own history of miserliness and crude behavior. Dostoevsky ultimately suggests that the tendency to explain away evil with something as arbitrary as left-handedness gives those who don’t share the trait an excuse to condemn others without examining their own behavior.

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The Left Side Symbol Timeline in The Brothers Karamazov

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Left Side appears in The Brothers Karamazov. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2: Book 4, Chapter 3: He Gets Involved with Schoolboys
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Alexei asks the boy if they know each other. The boy cries out to be left alone. Alexei agrees, but then the boy follows him and teases him. The boy then... (full context)
Part 2: Book 5, Chapter 7: “It’s Always Interesting to Talk with an Intelligent Man”
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...when he talks, then he’s telling the truth. If he strokes his beard with his left hand and chuckles, he’s lying. He says that Ivan should never look into the man’s... (full context)
Part 4: Book 11, Chapter 8: The Third and Last Meeting with Smerdyakov
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Ivan goes cold and begins shivering. He asks if Smerdyakov killed Fyodor. Smerdyakov pulls his left leg up and rolls up the trouser leg. Underneath, he’s wearing a long white stocking.... (full context)
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Jealousy and Envy Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon bed, waiting. Then, he went to Fyodor’s window and took a step to the left to see if his master was still alive. Fyodor called out to him, saying Dmitri... (full context)
Part 4: Book 12, Chapter 1: The Fatal Day
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon the right of the judges, and the defendant and his attorney sit on the left side. In the center is all of the material evidence, including the brass pestle, Fyodor’s... (full context)