The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov

by

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Themes and Colors
Faith vs. Reason Theme Icon
Innocence and Guilt Theme Icon
Jealousy and Envy Theme Icon
Morality and Modernization Theme Icon
Suffering Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Brothers Karamazov, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Jealousy and Envy Theme Icon

In The Brothers Karamazov, jealousy serves as a major motivating factor for some of the main characters’ actions. Only Alexei, who has rejected sensuality in favor of communion with God, eludes this fatal weakness. Jealously partly explains Dmitri’s hatred of his father, Fyodor Pavlovich, who is his rival for Grushenka’s affections. Jealousy also causes Katerina Ivanovna’s resentment of Grushenka, due to Dmitri’s willingness to betray her in favor of the notorious woman. Throughout the novel, Dostoevsky characterizes jealousy as a petty emotion that causes characters to behave rashly, both out of fear of losing a beloved’s affection to someone deemed less worthy, and out of envy for a romantic rival’s perceived advantages.

Dmitri assumes, quite rightly, that money is the source of Grushenka’s supposed  interest in Fyodor, just as it is the cause of Dmitri’s contention with his father. Fyodor knows the advantage of his wealth and the power that it gives him over both Dmitri and Grushenka. Therefore, Fyodor uses this leverage to make the case that Dmitri, a younger and more attractive man, is an unworthy suitor. Envy of Dmitri’s youth, and jealousy over Grushenka’s preference for him, cause Fyodor to forget all paternal duties in his effort to humiliate his son, thereby revealing the corrosive effects of envy and jealousy on familial bonds. For instance, during a meeting with the elder monk, Zosima, Fyodor uses the occasion to humiliate his son, Dmitri, for his carelessness with money. Fyodor claims that he has it “on paper” that Dmitri owes him “several thousand.” Worse, Dmitri has won the love of “one of the noblest girls” (Katerina) but continues “visiting one of the local seductresses” (Grushenka). Fyodor speaks to the monk as though he’s seeking a witness to his son’s faults. If he can win the holy man over, then he wins an important ally against Dmitri, who comes off as a self-indulgent fornicator.

Dmitri counters that his father is jealous of his relationship with Grushenka and became so desperate to get him out of the way that he threatened to have Dmitri jailed for his outstanding debts to his father. Using the impoverished Captain Snegiryov as his emissary, Fyodor sends the old captain to Grushenka, offering that she take over Dmitri’s promissory notes, which are in Fyodor’s possession. She could then sue for the money owed and have Dmitri jailed for his inability to pay. Here, Fyodor’s scheming works well on three counts—it preys on Grushenka’s notorious greed, it ensures that Dmitri can no longer bother Fyodor about his supposed land inheritance, and it gets Fyodor’s romantic rival permanently out of his way. In these instances, Fyodor’s jealousy causes him to encourage others to be the worst versions of themselves. His drive to humiliate his son facilitates Grushenka’s greed and pushes the captain to dishonor his position in exchange for much-needed income.

Meanwhile, Katerina, who is Dmitri’s fiancée and Grushenka’s rival for his affections, is jealous of Dmitri’s willingness to do anything, even steal from her, to be with Grushenka. At the same time, Grushenka envies Katerina’s social class and position of respectability. Their rivalry, however, is less about Dmitri than about each woman using her relationship with him to discredit the other. Katerina’s attempt to charm Grushenka into breaking up with Dmitri by telling him that she loves another man backfires when Grushenka refuses to kiss Katerina’s hand after the noblewoman deigned to kiss Grushenka’s. This refusal of mutual respect, in addition to Grushenka’s reminder that Katerina also once offered her body to a man in exchange for money, undermines Katerina’s social power and equalizes the women. Despite Katerina’s wealth and nobility, Grushenka makes the point of demonstrating that they are no different in their occasional reliance on men for money. Grushenka’s petty action exposes her envy for Katerina’s social prestige. Furthermore, Grushenka’s willingness to exploit Katerina’s jealousy over her relationship with Dmitri has less to do with asserting her affections for Dmitri than in trying to expose Katerina’s noble social airs as false. Katerina, however, refuses to acknowledge any parity with Grushenka, whom she refers to as “that creature.” She gives Dmitri three thousand roubles, supposedly for him to send to her sister, as a moral test. She wants to see if he would be so depraved as to steal her money and go off with Grushenka, which he does. Even after Katerina realizes that it isn’t Dmitri that she loves, but Ivan, her pride is offended by the realization that Dmitri was willing to betray her trust so easily and for a woman of such ill-repute. She is, therefore, not jealous of Dmitri’s greater affection for Grushenka but of the other woman’s power to get him to disregard his obligations to Katerina.

None of these petty, jealous rivalries results in a winner. Fyodor Pavlovich’s competition with his son results in his murder and the jailing of Dmitri for that murder. Dmitri wins Grushenka, but it remains uncertain if he will escape from prison, as planned, and fulfill his dream of starting anew with her in the American West. Katerina succeeds in using a damning letter against Dmitri in court, which seems to confess his guilt, but she is now tasked with ensuring his escape to release him from punishment for a crime that he didn’t commit. Dostoevsky spins a cautionary tale in which he offers these characters as various warnings of what can happen when base jealousy overrides one’s better senses.

Related Themes from Other Texts
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Jealousy and Envy ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Jealousy and Envy appears in each chapter of The Brothers Karamazov. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Jealousy and Envy Quotes in The Brothers Karamazov

Below you will find the important quotes in The Brothers Karamazov related to the theme of Jealousy and Envy.
Part 2: Book 5, Chapter 5 Quotes

“In the deep darkness, the iron door of the prison suddenly opens, and the Grand Inquisitor himself slowly enters carrying a lamp. He is alone, the door is immediately locked behind him. He stands in the entrance and for a long time, for a minute or two, gazes into his face. At last he quietly approaches […] ‘Is it you? You?’ […] ‘Why, then, have you come to interfere with us? […] I do not know who you are, and I do not want to know whether it is you, or only his likeness; but tomorrow I shall condemn you and burn you at the stake as the most evil of heretics, and the very people who today kissed your feet, tomorrow, at a nod from me, will rush to heap the coals up around your stake […]’”

Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Book 6, Chapter 3 Quotes

In Europe, the people are rising up against the rich with force, and popular leaders everywhere are leading them to bloodshed and teaching them that their wrath is righteous [….] Yet the Lord will save Russia, as he has saved her many times before. Salvation will come from the people, from their faith and their humility [….] I have been struck by the true and gracious dignity in our great people […] I can testify to it myself, I have seen it and marveled at it, seen it even in spite of the rank sins and beggarly appearance of our people. They are not servile, and that after two centuries of serfdom. They are free in appearance and manner, yet without any offense. And not vengeful, not envious. “You are noble, you are rich, you are intelligent and talented, very well, God bless you. I honor you, but I know that I, too, am a man [….]”

Page Number: 315-316
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4: Book 11, Chapter 8 Quotes

“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.”

Page Number: 629
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4: Book 11, Chapter 9 Quotes

“Someone takes all the honor of the good for himself and only leaves me the nasty tricks. But I don’t covet the honor of living as a moocher, I’m not ambitious. Why, of all beings in the world, am I alone condemned to be cursed by all decent people, and even to be kicked with boots [….] There’s a secret here, I know, but they won’t reveal this secret to me for anything, because then, having learned what it’s all about, I might just roar ‘Hosannah,’ and the necessary minus would immediately disappear and sensibleness would set in all over the world [….] No, until the secret is revealed, two truths exist for me: one is theirs, from there, and so far completely unknown to me; the other is mine. And who knows which is preferable…”

Related Characters: The Gentleman (speaker), Ivan Fyodorovich Karamazov
Page Number: 647-648
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4: Book 12, Chapter 12 Quotes

“I gathered some information: he hated his origin, was ashamed of it, and gnashed his teeth when he recalled that he was ‘descended from Stinking Lizaveta.’ He was irreverent towards the servant Grigory and his wife, who had been his childhood benefactors. He cursed Russia and laughed at her. He dreamed of going to France and remaking himself as a Frenchman. He used to talk about it often and said that he only lacked the means to do so. It seems to me that he loved no one but himself, and his respect for himself was peculiarly high [….] Considering himself (and there are facts to support it) the illegitimate son of Fyodor Pavlovich, he might very well detest his position as compared with that of his master’s legitimate children: everything goes to them […] to them all the rights, to them the inheritance, while he is just a cook.”

Page Number: 738
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue, Chapter 2 Quotes

“Love is gone, Mitya!” Katya began again, “but what is gone is painfully dear to me. Know that, for all eternity. But now, for one minute, let it be as it might have been,” she prattled with a twisted smile, again looking joyfully into his eyes. “You now love another, I love another, but still I shall love you eternally, and you me, did you know that? Love me, do you hear, love me all your life!” she exclaimed with some sort of almost threatening tremor in her voice.

Thus they prattled to each other, and their talk was frantic, almost senseless, and perhaps also not even truthful, but at that moment everything was truth, and they both utterly believed what they were saying. “Katya,” Mitya suddenly exclaimed, “do you believe I killed him? I know you don’t believe it now, but then…when you were testifying…Did you, did you really believe it!” “I did not believe it then either! I never believed it! I hated you, and suddenly persuaded myself, for that moment…While I was testifying…I persuaded myself and believed it…and as soon as I finished testifying, I stopped believing it again. You must know all that. I forgot that I came here to punish myself!” she said with some suddenly quite new expression, quite like her prattling of love just a moment before.

Page Number: 766
Explanation and Analysis: