The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How are the three Karamazov brothers like or unlike their father?

    Possible Answer:

    Dmitri is very much like his father. He is ruled by his emotions and is hot-tempered. But his guilt and faith in God are unlike his father’s shamelessness and atheism. Ivan’s pessimism and atheism make him very much like his father. But his social conscience contrasts with his father’s selfishness. Alyosha is not like his father. He is loving and sensitive, and he tries to do right by others. He has very little in common with his nihilistic father.

  2. 2

    Who is the hero of the novel?

    Possible Answers:

    The obvious answer is Alyosha. He is the center of much of the action, and he participates in most of the discussions and intrigues throughout the novel. Dmitri is another possible answer, for he actually drives the action of the novel. He is very conflicted, so he embodies the collision of ideas, feelings, and morals in the novel. He does not simply personify one side of an argument; he reflects an argument's complexity.

  3. 3

    Is the novel a love story?

    Possible Answer:

    There are many love triangles and romances in the novel, so a case could be made that romantic love is at the heart of the novel. But much in the novel suggests that it is more a philosophical work, since religion, morality, and suffering play such important roles. Also, the novel centers around a murder of a father, and though there are romantic relationships involved, one could argue that the intra-family dynamic is the focus of the novel. If the novel is a love story, it includes family love and spiritual love as much as romantic love.

  4. 4

    Does the novel have a happy ending?

    Possible Answer:

    There is turmoil at the end of the novel. Fyodor, Smerdyakov, and Father Zossima are dead. Dmitri is in jail, and Ivan is very sick. Still, there is hope in the ending, for the children listen to Alyosha’s teachings and applaud them. Also, Dmitri has a renewed faith in life. The world that is to come promises to be better than the present one.

  5. 5

    Father Zossima asks Alyosha to go into the world to try to do good in it. Does Alyosha succeed?

    Possible Answer:

    Alyosha is very loving and compassionate, and he gives of himself to everyone. He cannot prevent the murder of his father, the suicide of Smerdyakov, Dmitri’s imprisonment, or Ivan’s illness. Alyosha provides love despite hard times, but for them his love is not enough. With the children, however, he has found success.

  6. 6

    Compare Fyodor with Father Zossima.

    Possible Answer:

    These two "fathers" differ greatly. Fyodor’s neglect and acerbic nature contrast with Father Zossima’s loving attentiveness. They both die, and their deaths create crises among the Karamazov sons. In the material world, their lives are at the moral extremes.

  7. 7

    Ivan and Alyosha have the same mother. How are they similar?

    Possible Answer:

    Both brothers want to do good, and both brothers are burdened by the idea of responsibility. Alyosha goes into the world to embrace humanity, feeling that he has work to do that cannot be done in the monastery. Ivan is infuriated by the idea of suffering in the world, especially among children, and when Fyodor is murdered, he is tormented by the idea that he has shared in the responsibility of such an atrocious act.

  8. 8

    Is Smerdyakov the villain of the novel?

    Possible Answer:

    At the outset of the novel, the reader expects the poor, pathetic, epileptic servant to be completely harmless. When he turns out to be the murderer, however, we see him as a manipulative, mean-spirited killer. Yet, maybe he is simply exacting a sort of roundabout justice upon a man who cruelly raped his mother and treated a son like a servant. Also, he could be seen as simply a suggestible pawn who responds to Ivan’s ideas and acts on them because of his admiration and hero-worship of Ivan. Besides, Fyodor is rather villainous himself, and from a spiritual point of view, an athiest like Ivan, despite his good intentions in the world, could be seen as a villain.

  9. 9

    Who is guilty of Fyodor’s murder?

    Possible Answer:

    Though Smerdyakov actually murders Fyodor, the concept of shared responsibility leads the reader to consider everyone in the novel as a potential accomplice. This means that even loving, compassionate characters such as Father Zossima and Alyosha could share the guilt. In a sense, a murder is a failure of the family and the community. Indeed, many characters feel guilt over the murder, if only because of their inaction or their feelings, in addition to their actions and words.

  10. 10

    Is it likely that Dmitri will change once he is free?

    Possible Answer:

    Dmitri is often governed by his emotions, so for him to change his nature and restrain these emotions will be difficult. But Dostoevsky implies that through suffering, one can gain knowledge and strength. Dmitri’s suffering in prison should change his outlook on life, but we do not know how these changes will play out once he is free--still outside the circle of his family and Russian society.