The Brothers Karamazov

Major characters

Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov

Fyodor Pavlovich, a 55-year-old "sponger" and buffoon, is the father of three sons—Dmitri, Ivan and Alexei—from two marriages. He is rumored to have also fathered an illegitimate son, Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov, whom he employs as his servant. Fyodor Pavlovich takes no interest in any of his sons, who are, as a result, raised apart from each other and their father. The relationship between Fyodor and his adult sons drives much of the plot in the novel.

Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov

Dmitri Fyodorovich (a.k.a. Mitya, Mitka, Mitenka, Mitri) is Fyodor Karamazov's eldest son and the only offspring of his first marriage, with Adelaida Ivanovna Miusov. Dmitri is considered to be a sensualist, like his father, and regularly indulges in nights of champagne-drinking and whatever entertainment and stimulation money can buy. Dmitri is brought into contact with his family when he finds himself in need of his inheritance, which he believes is being withheld by his father. He was engaged to be married to Katerina Ivanovna, but breaks that off after falling in love with Grushenka. Dmitri's relationship with his father is the most volatile of the brothers, escalating to violence as he and his father begin fighting over his inheritance and Grushenka. While he maintains a relationship with Ivan, he is closest to his younger brother Alyosha, referring to him as his "cherub".

Ivan Fyodorovich Karamazov

Ivan Fyodorovich (a.k.a. Vanya, Vanka, Vanechka) is the 24-year-old middle son, and the first from Fyodor Pavlovich's second marriage. Ivan is sullen and isolated, but also intellectually brilliant. He is disturbed by the unspeakable cruelty and senseless suffering in the world. In the chapter "Rebellion" (Bk. 5, Ch. 4), he says to Alyosha: "It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket." Ivan's relationship with his father and brothers is rather superficial in the beginning. He finds his father repulsive, and has no positive affection towards Dmitri. While he doesn't dislike Alexei, he seems not to have any deep affection for him either. Ivan falls in love with Katerina Ivanovna, who was Dmitri's betrothed, but she doesn't start to return his feelings until the end. Fyodor Pavlovich tells Alyosha that he fears Ivan more than he fears Dmitri. Some of the most memorable and acclaimed passages of the novel involve Ivan, including the chapter "Rebellion", his "poem" "The Grand Inquisitor" immediately following, the three conversations with Smerdyakov, and his nightmare of the devil (Bk. 11, Ch. 9).

Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov

Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov (a.k.a. Alyosha, Alyoshka, Alyoshenka, Alyoshechka, Alexeichik, Lyosha, Lyoshenka) at age 20 is the youngest of the Karamazov brothers, the youngest child by Karamazov's second wife and thus Ivan's full brother. The narrator identifies him as the hero of the novel in the opening chapter, as does the author in the preface. He is described as immensely likable. At the outset of the events, Alyosha is a novice in the local Russian Orthodox monastery. His faith is in contrast to his brother Ivan's atheism. His Elder, Father Zosima, who is a father figure to Alyosha throughout the book, sends him into the world, where he becomes involved in the sordid affairs of his family. In a secondary plotline, Alyosha befriends a group of school boys, whose fate adds a hopeful message to the conclusion of the novel.

Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov

Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov is the son of "Reeking Lizaveta", a mute woman of the street who died in childbirth. His name, Smerdyakov, means "son of the reeking one". He is rumored to be the illegitimate son of Fyodor Pavlovich. He was brought up by Fyodor Pavlovich's trusted servant Grigory Vasilievich Kutuzov and his wife Marfa. He is shown to have been intellectually precocious as a child, having engaged in open and often irreverent discussion with Grigory, his erstwhile tutor, about the nature and existence of God, which led to a mutual dislike between the two. Smerdyakov becomes part of the Karamazov household as a servant, working as Fyodor Pavlovich's lackey and cook. He is morose, haughty and sullen, and suffers from epilepsy. The narrator notes that as a child, Smerdyakov collected stray cats in order to hang and bury them. Generally aloof, Smerdyakov admires Ivan and shares his atheism. Despite his evident shrewdness, he is widely mistaken by the other characters as being of subpar intelligence.

Character names
Russian and romanization
First name, nickname Patronymic Family name
ФёдорFyódor Па́вловичPávlovich Карама́зовKaramázov
Дми́трий, Ми́тяDmítry, Mítya ФёдоровичFyódorovich
Ива́н, Ва́няIván, Ványa
Алексе́й, АлёшаAlekséy, Alyósha
Па́велPável Смердяко́вSmerdyakóv
Аграфе́на, Гру́шенькаAgraféna, Grúshenka Алекса́ндровнаAleksándrovna Светло́ваSvetlóva
Катери́на, Ка́тяKaterína, Kátya Ива́новнаIvánovna Верхо́вцеваVerkhóvtseva
Илья́, Илю́шаIlyá, Ilyúsha Никола́евичNikoláyevich СнегирёвSnegiryóv
ста́рец Зо́симаstárets Zósima
An acute accent marks the stressed syllable.

Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlova

Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlova (a.k.a. Grushenka, Grusha, Grushka) is a beautiful and fiery 22-year-old woman with an uncanny charm for men. In her youth she was jilted by a Polish officer and subsequently came under the protection of a tyrannical miser. The episode leaves Grushenka with an urge for independence and control of her life. Grushenka inspires complete admiration and lust in both Fyodor and Dmitri Karamazov. Their rivalry for her affection is one of the most damaging factors in their relationship. Grushenka seeks to torment and deride both Dmitri and Fyodor as an amusement, a way to inflict upon others the pain she has felt at the hands of her "former and indisputable one". However, as a result of her growing friendship with Alyosha, she begins to tread a path of spiritual redemption, and hidden qualities of gentleness and generosity emerge, though her fiery temper and pride are ever present.

Katerina Ivanovna Verkhovtseva

Katerina Ivanovna Verkhovtseva (a.k.a. Katya, Katka, Katenka) is Dmitri's beautiful fiancée, despite his open forays with Grushenka. Her engagement to Dmitri is chiefly a matter of pride on both their parts, Dmitri having bailed her father out of a debt. Katerina is extremely proud and seeks to act as a noble martyr, suffering as a stark reminder of everyone's guilt. Because of this, she cannot bring herself to act on her love for Ivan, and constantly creates moral barriers between him and herself. By the end of the novel, she too, begins a real and sincere spiritual redemption, as seen in the epilogue, when she asks Mitya and Grushenka to forgive her.

Father Zosima, the Elder

Father Zosima is an Elder and spiritual advisor (starets) in the town monastery and Alyosha's teacher. He is something of a celebrity among the townspeople for his reputed prophetic and healing abilities. His spiritual status inspires both admiration and jealousy among his fellow monks. Zosima provides a refutation to Ivan's atheistic arguments and helps to explain Alyosha's character. Zosima's teachings shape the way Alyosha deals with the young boys he meets in the Ilyusha storyline.

The character of Father Zosima was to some extent inspired by that of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk.[8]


Ilyusha (a.k.a. Ilyushechka, or simply Ilusha in some translations) is one of the local schoolboys, and the central figure of a crucial subplot in the novel. His father, Captain Snegiryov, is an impoverished officer who is insulted by Dmitri after Fyodor Pavlovich hires him to threaten the latter over his debts, and the Snegiryov family is brought to shame as a result. The reader is led to believe that it is partly because of this that Ilyusha falls ill, possibly to illustrate the theme that even minor actions can touch heavily on the lives of others, and that we are "all responsible for one another".

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