The Brothers Karamazov Thesis Statements & Quotes
Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostcan be used as essay starters. All four incorporate at least one of the themes found in Flowers for Algernon and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “Flowers for Algernon” in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Topic #1 A Family of Males
The 19th-century Russian novel, The Brothers Karamazov, is first and foremost about a family—four brothers, Dmitri, Ivan, Alyosha, their supposed half-brother Smerdyakov, and their father Fyodor. Female characters are present, namely the sensuous, manipulative Grushenka, Dmitri’s fiancée Katerina, who in the end begins a spiritual awakening, and last but not least, the present in spirit, if not in body, Smerdyakova the servant with whom Fyodor bore his son, Smerdyakov. However, one major character is missing in the story—Karamazova—the mother. Elements typically associated with greed, lust, and atheism pervade the story. Nevertheless, two major characters embody things of the spirit, the love of God, goodness, and kindness to others. These, of course, are Alyosha, the youngest brother, and Father Zosima, the saintly spiritual leader of the community—Alyosha’s mentor. Choose one portion of the story or scene from the book and explain how one or both of the characters brings a feminine element, redemption, to the setting and especially to the Karamazov family.
Topic #2 The Grand Inquisitor
Ivan, the second brother, an atheist, narrates what is certainly the most famous chapter of the book that is titled “The Grand Inquisitor.” In the long piece an old cardinal, a Spanish Inquisitor of the 16th century, has a conversation with Jesus who has come back from heaven and has gathered the people doing miracles. But the people stop, however, when the Inquisitor makes Jesus his prisoner. As Jesus silently listens, the Inquisitor explains how Christ made the mistake of giving people too much freedom, too much free choice, and that what they really crave is the boundaries, the rules, the lack of freedom that the Catholic Church has given them. The Inquisitor threatens to burn him at the stake, but then in the end releases him and tells him never to return. Though Dostoevsky is clearly criticizing the Catholic Church, he seems to be making a psychological point on a different level as well. In what way is the Inquisitor right? Using examples from the chapter and examples from the narrative, explore why real freedom is so difficult for humans to bear.
Topic #3 A Web of Opposites
About The Brothers Karamazov, it is too simple to say that particular characters are foils. Nevertheless, in some cases characters reach extremes in morality and virtue behavior. Others represent opposite poles in spirituality and intellectual atheism or immorality. Two of these pairings are first, Fyodor Dostoevsky (the father) and Alyosha, his youngest son. Fyodor is nothing less than a scoundrel, a seemingly amoral man who man who lives only for sensual pleasures, such as money and sex. His third son, Alyosha, who follows in the footsteps of his saintly mentor Father Zosima, is himself almost the embodiment of love and forgiveness. Choose an episode or episode from the novel that illustrates how this father and son are almost symbols.
Topic #4 Obstacles to Redemption
Fyodor Dostoevsky has a not very well concealed agenda in this novel, which is paths to redemption through the Russian Orthodox faith. Each of the brothers, however, has his own path with its own obstacles that he must travel alone. While for Aloysha the direct path to God seems so natural, Dmitri and Ivan’s personalities, their innate character, make the road tough to follow. Dmitri, for example, struggles with controlling his impulses and reigning in his anger. Dostoevsky, on the other hand, created Ivan as almost the epitome of intellect, making it hard for him to imagine a God at all, much less a benevolent God. Choose Dmitri or Ivan and explain some of the obstacles he struggles with to reach inner peace.
The Brothers Karamazov Quotes
“The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”
In many ways the book The Brothers Karamazov is, like the heart, a battlefield between God and the devil. Alyosha, for example, fights naturally for God’s side. It’s his nature. Father Zosima finds a natural follower in him. His faith is gentle, innate, not something that seems to have been struggled for. Fyodor, on the other hand, seems to be naturally wicked. The things that concern him are sensuality and money. These qualities seem to spring deep within his soul unbidden. Ivan, on the other hand, is a good man, and he has a deep philosophical understanding of the nature of man’s heart and soul as we can tell from the Grand Inquisitor chapter, and he has at least a theoretical idea of what he sees as God’s role in it—even though he is an atheist.
“Listen: if everyone must suffer, in order to buy eternal harmony with their suffering, pray tell me what have children got to do with it? It’s quite incomprehensible why they should have to suffer, and why they should buy harmony with their suffering.”
In these words of Ivan, he gives voice to one of the main reasons that he remains an atheist. In his world view, suffering in the world is one thing, but the suffering of young children who have done no wrong, who have not brought chaos into the world, is another. How can a benevolent God allow such a thing to happen? To imagine no God at all, to see the world as random, is preferable to imaging an evil one.
“Very different is the monastic way. Obedience, fasting, and prayer are laughed at, yet they alone constitute the way to real and true freedom: I cut away my superfluous and unnecessary needs, through obedience I humble and chasten my vain and proud will, and thereby, with God’s help, attain freedom of spirit, and with that, spiritual rejoicing!”
In these words of Father Zosima, he challenges the ideas of Ivan’s imagined Grand Inquisitor. While the Inquisitor believes that people have turned to the Church for bread, for order, and for rules—and not free choice—only therein being content and happy, Zosima sees free choice as the answer, not the problem. Man must through “obedience,” ‘fasting” and “prayer” learn to subdue his proud spirit in order to achieve real freedom that will then lead to spiritual joyousness.
“My brothers are destroying themselves,” (Alyosha) went on, “my father, too. And they're destroying others with them. This is the 'earthy force of the Karamazovs,' as Father Paissy put it the other day – earthy and violent, raw. […] Maybe I don't even believe in God.” (5.1.76)
This quote by Alyosha expresses the essence of part of the brute nature found in Fyodorov’s sons that seems to be inherent in their personalities. Even this gentle, pure character’s beliefs are challenged by the destruction of his family.
“. . . his whole heart blazed up and turned towards some kind of light, and he wanted to live and live, to go on and on along some path, towards the new, beckoning light, and to hurry, hurry, right now, at once!” (Book IX, Chapter 8)
Here the narrator describes Dmitri when he realizes his “guilt,” not his guilt for the false accusation of killing his father Fyodor. Rather he realizes his inherit, sinful nature, the taint of original sin. Grushenka’s love for him is part of what brings him to this realization. Rather than causing grief, the realization of his sinful nature makes Dmitri want to live to move to the path to redemption.
“’But,' I (Dmitri Karamazov) asked, 'how will man be after that? Without God and the future life? It means everything is permitted now, one can do anything?' 'Didn't you know?' he said. And he laughed. 'Everything is permitted to the intelligent man,' he said.”
These words echo the nineteenth-century nihilistic ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche that were then popular among many European intellectuals. They are diametrically opposed to the dominant ideas of Dostoevsky’s novels, but he interestingly puts them in the mouth of Ivan Karamazov—the character who represents intellect—one who is nevertheless admired.
“[The Grand Inquisitor] lays it to his and his colleagues' credit that they have finally overcome freedom, and have done so in order to make people happy. […] Man was made a rebel; can rebels be happy? ” (5.5.5)
In Ivan’s long poem, The Grand Inquisitor, he describes the Inquisitor as proud of the job he and his fellow churchmen have done—relieve man of his freedom, create boundaries against which man can rebel but cannot break. His pride is in stark contrast with the gentle Christ figure who appears before him. Though Ivan claims the poem is just a fantasy, not important, it is one of the most famous pieces in literature and the most famous part of the book.
Fyodor Pavlovitch was all his life fond of acting, of suddenly playing an
unexpected part, sometimes without any motive for doing so, and even to
his own direct disadvantage, as, for instance, in the present case.
This quote gives insight into Fyodor Pavlovich’s character, the histrionic aspect in which he establishes debaucheries in his household after his first wife leaves him while at the same time running all over town decrying his misery at being left alone. This character trait occurs over and over in the novel such as when he throws himself into an inappropriate love affair with the younger woman Grushenka whom his eldest son, Dmitri also pursues. His method of earning his fortune, attaching himself like a toady to wealthier men, is also an aspect of his histrionic character.
“[D]o not weep, life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we do not want to know it, and if we did want to know it, tomorrow there would be paradise the world over.”
Unlike Eastern religions like Buddhism that teach that desire is the source of pain and that life is inherently painful, in the world of Dostoevsky’s Russian Orthodoxy, it is desirable and possible to not just find happiness but to be in heaven on earth. But from his viewpoint, man cannot achieve this because he willfully will not believe. Man himself is the source of his own misery.
And he also feels a tenderness such as he has never known before urging up in his heart, he wants to weep, he wants to do something for them all, so that the wee one will no longer cry. […] And his whole heart blazed up and turned toward some sort of light, and he wanted to live and live.
Dmitri, spurred on by his shame, has a life-changing redeeming vision that causes him to love all others. Even a character who has lied, cheated, and stolen is redeemable in Dostoevsky’s world, as almost all the characters find a relationship with God by the end of the story.