Despite the wealth in which most of the main characters in The Brothers Karamazov live, they are too obsessed by feelings of jealousy, anger, and greed to enjoy their privileges. On the other hand, the characters who would evoke the most sympathy—Alexei Fyodorovich, his mother Sofia Ivanovna, “Stinking Lizaveta,” and Lise—seem to embrace suffering as a way of life. In the world that Dostoevsky has created for his characters, suffering is inevitable, either as a result of the choices people make, or due to the circumstances in which they were born. However, by using the suffering of Dmitri Fyodorovich and Alexei, the author demonstrates how suffering can also be transcendent.
During most of the novel, Dmitri suffers over money. He quarrels with his father, Fyodor Pavlovich, over it, and he attempts foolish business deals to acquire the three thousand roubles that he believes will free him from any obligation to his fiancée, Katerina Ivanovna, so that he can begin anew with Grushenka. Dmitri’s obsession with money is rooted in a belief that, once he acquires it, he will be happy, though he is oblivious to the ways in which his obsession with money actually makes him deeply unhappy.
Dmitri goes to Kuzma Kuzmich Samsonov, Grushenka’s patron, and offers him the possibility of taking over claims on the land that his mother, Adelaida Ivanovna, supposedly left to him, in exchange for three thousand roubles. The narrator interjects in this scene and points out what a “stupid” decision this is; if the land does, in fact, belong to Dmitri (his indebtedness to his father may have caused him to unknowingly forfeit any claims), it would be worth far more than the small sum that he demands. His willingness to sell it for so little reveals how his single-minded obsession with this sum—the supposed key to his freedom from the social obligations that restrict him, in favor a life with a woman who has been shunned from polite society—reveals how much he wishes to escape from the life into which he was born, in favor of creating one to his own standards.
In the end, Dmitri’s obsessive pursuit of the three thousand roubles lands him in prison, as a jury believes that money, and resentment toward his father for not giving it to him, compelled Dmitri to kill Fyodor. Though Dmitri is sentenced for a crime that he didn’t commit and succumbs to nervous fever, his inability to acquire the money is, ironically, what helps him to repair his relationship with Katerina and to secure Grushenka’s love. Katerina appears to Dmitri “in the doorway” of his room in the town hospital’s section for convicts. They “[prattle] to each other,” talking frantically and, perhaps “not even [truthfully]” of their love for each other. The talk is an outpouring of sympathy from both sides, an acknowledgement of how each has made the other suffer.
Alexei’s suffering, in contrast, is an effort to attain a closer relationship to God. His suffering involves enduring others’ problems, which often includes relaying their messages and running their errands. Otherwise, Alexei sequesters himself in the monastery, withdrawn from the world. In the end, he realizes that his enforced martyrdom doesn’t validate his existence but distances him from its fuller purpose. Alexei joins the monastery to relieve himself from darkness. In this regard, he perpetuates his mother’s commitment to the Orthodox Church, due to her inability to find comfort and love in the home of General Vorokhov’s widow—Sofia’s “benefactress, mistress, and tormentress.” Fyodor tells his son how much he looks like his mother—“the shrieker,” whose nickname comes from the sounds that she would make in her religious ecstasies. Alexei’s commitment to the Church seems to be both an internalization of his father’s association of his youngest son with his mother, whose commitment to suffering seems nobler than his father’s licentiousness, and a morbid fixation with his memory of a frenzied but beautiful woman. Alexei’s memory of his mother, however, is connected to his suffering. During his boyhood, his schoolmates teased him for his “frantic modesty and chastity,” leading him to become so embarrassed that he would cover his ears and slip down to the floor. Alexei’s attitude toward women sharply contrasts with his father’s expressed desire for them and willingness to sexually exploit them. Furthermore, for Alexei, the body isn’t a source of pleasure but of suffering. He disassociates himself from women both to attain communion with God and, perhaps, because he cannot disconnect them from his lingering memory of his suffering mother.
Alexei’s decision to “sojourn in the world” helps him to relinquish his ideations, which, initially, hindered his ability to engage fully with humanity and with the world as it is. Meanwhile, Dmitri’s transcendence comes from realizing that he never really needed money to get Grushenka to love him, and that an honest confession of his feelings and intentions meant far more to Katerina than the money he took from her. Both men find that their respective obsessions—money and religion—did not yield the rewards they expected. However, their deep suffering as a result of these obsessions helps them realize that their values were misplaced.
Suffering Quotes in The Brothers Karamazov
“‘To insects—sensuality!’ I am that very insect, brother, and those words are precisely about me. And all of us Karamazovs are like that, and in you, angel, the same insect lives and stirs up storms in your blood. Storms, because sensuality is a storm, more than a storm! […] Too many riddles oppress man on earth. Solve them if you can without getting your feet wet.”
“You see, my dear, there was in the eighteenth century an old sinner who stated that if God did not exist, he would have to be invented […] And man has, indeed, invented God. And the strange thing, the wonder is that such a notion—the notion of the necessity of God—could creep into the head of such a wild and wicked animal as man […] As for me, I long ago decided not to think about whether man created God or God created man […] I have a Euclidean mind, an earthly mind, and therefore it is not for us to resolve things that are not of this world […] All such questions are unsuitable to a mind created with a concept of only three dimensions. And so, I accept God […] It’s not God that I do not accept, you understand, it is this world of God’s […] that I do not accept and cannot agree to accept.”
“In my opinion, Christ’s love for people is in its kind a miracle impossible on earth. True, he was God. But we are not gods. Let’s say that I, for example, am capable of profound suffering, but another man will never be able to know the degree of my suffering, because he is another and not me, and besides, a man is rarely willing to acknowledge someone else as a sufferer […] And why won’t he acknowledge it, do you think? Because I, for example, have a bad smell, or a foolish face, or once stepped on his foot […] Beggars, especially noble beggars, should never show themselves in the street; they should ask for alms through the newspapers. It’s still possible to love one’s neighbor abstractly, and even occasionally from a distance, but hardly ever up close.”
“You know, with us it’s beating, the birch and the lash, that’s our national way […] I know for certain that there are floggers who get more excited with every stroke, to the point of sensuality, literal sensuality […] I’ve collected a great, great deal about Russian children, Alyosha. A little girl, five years old is hated by her mother and father, ‘most honorable and official people, educated, and well-bred.’ You see, once again I positively maintain that this peculiar quality exists in much of mankind—this love of torturing children, but only children [….] These educated parents subjected the poor five-year-old girl to every possible torture. They beat her, flogged her, kicked her, not knowing why themselves, until her whole body was nothing but bruises […] they locked her all night in the outhouse, because she wouldn’t ask to get up and go in the middle of the night […] for that they smeared her face with her excrement and made her eat the excrement […]”
“My action is set in Spain, in Seville, in the most horrible time of the Inquisition, when fires blazed every day to the glory of God, and ‘In the splendid auto-da-fé / Evil heretics were burnt.’ Oh, of course, this was not that coming in which he will appear, according to his promise, at the end of time, in all his heavenly glory, and which will be sudden ‘as the lightening that shineth out of the east unto the west.’ No, he desired to visit his children if only for a moment, and precisely where the fires of the heretics had begun to crackle. In his infinite mercy, he walked once again among men, in the same human image in which he had walked for three years among men fifteen centuries earlier.”
“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 […]’”
“Freedom, free reason, and science will lead them into such a maze, and confront them with such miracles and insoluble mysteries, that some of them, unruly and ferocious, will exterminate themselves; others, unruly but feeble, will exterminate each other; and the remaining third, feeble and wretched, will crawl to our feet and cry out to us: ‘Yes, you were right, you alone possess his mystery, and we are coming back to you—save us from ourselves’ [….] But the flock will gather again, and again submit, and this time once and for all.”
Oh, we will allow them to sin, too; they are weak and powerless, and they will love us like children for allowing them to sin. We will tell them that every sin will be redeemed if it is committed with our permission; and that we allow them to sin because we love them, and as for the punishment for these sins, very well, we take it upon ourselves [….] And they will have no secrets from us. We will allow them or forbid them to live with their wives and mistresses, to have or not to have children—all depending on their obedience—and they will submit to us gladly and joyfully. The most tormenting secrets of their conscience—all, they will bring to us, and we will decide all things, and they will joyfully believe our decision […] Peacefully they will die, peacefully they will expire in your name, and beyond the grave they will find only death.”
The people are festering with drink and cannot leave off. And what cruelty toward their families, their wives, and even their children, all from drunkenness! […] But God will save Russia, for though the simple man is depraved, and can no longer refrain from rank sin, still he knows that his rank sin is cursed by God and that he does badly in sinning. So our people still believe tirelessly in truth, acknowledge God, weep tenderly. Not so their betters. These, following science, want to make a just order for themselves by reason alone, but without Christ now, not as before, and they have already proclaimed that there is no crime, there is no sin. And in their own terms, that is correct: for if you have no God, what crime is there to speak of?
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 [….]”
“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.”
“I am perhaps the only man in all of nature who loves the truth and sincerely desires good. I was there when the Word died on the cross and was ascending into heaven, carrying on his bosom the soul of the thief who was crucified to the right of him, I heard the joyful shrieks of the cherubim singing and shouting ‘Hosannah,’ and the thundering shout of rapture from the seraphim, which made heaven and all creation shake. And, I swear by all that’s holy, I wanted to join the chorus and shout ‘Hosannah’ with everyone else. It was right on my lips, it was already bursting from my breast…you know, I’m very sensitive and artistically susceptible. But common sense—oh, it’s the most unfortunate quality of my nature—kept me within due bounds even then, and I missed the moment!”
“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…”
“‘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!”
“I visited Smerdyakov [….] His health was weak […] but his character, his heart—oh, no, he was not at all such a weak man as the prosecution has made him out to be. I especially did not find any timidity in him [….] As for guilelessness, there was nothing of the sort […] I found a terrible mistrustfulness in him, behind a mask of naivety, and a mind capable of contemplating quite a lot.”
“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.”
“This is what I’ve thought up and decided: if I do run away [...] and even to America, I still take heart from the thought that I will not be running to any joy or happiness, but truly to another penal servitude, maybe no better than this one! […] This America, devil take it, I hate it already! So Grusha will be with me, but look at her: is she an American woman? She’s Russian, every little bone of her is Russian, she’ll pine for her native land, and I’ll see all the time that she’s pining away for my sake […] And I, will I be able to stand the local rabble […] I hate this America even now! And maybe every last one of them is some sort of boundless machinist or whatever—but, devil take them, they’re not my people, not of my soul! I love Russia, Alexei, I love the Russian God, though I myself am a scoundrel!”
“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.