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Zusammenfassung von The Brothers Karamazov

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A Tragic Murder Mystery on the Burden of Free Will and Morality

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23 Min.

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"The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a classic novel about the complicated relationships between three brothers and their father, which culminates in a murder trial that questions the existence of God and the nature of morality.


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    It’s a family affair

    Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov is a foul and gluttonous man. He spent his youth drinking, womanizing, and cheating his way to a small fortune. He is deliberately vulgar, insulting, and takes a twisted delight in riling up those around him. 

    From this misspent youth came four sons from three different women: the brothers Karamazov.

    Dmitri is the eldest. A 28-year-old soldier, Dmitri has inherited some negative tendencies from his father. Although he’s a hedonist who enjoys long, champagne-fueled drinking bouts, he also has a moral compass. He would never take part in the depraved orgies his father enjoys so much, and his burning hatred toward him is equaled only by his unconditional love for his brothers. At the start of the novel, Dmitri has just returned to his father’s home to claim an inheritance left to him by his mother – this is the event that sparks the plot into life, and will eventually grow into an inferno.

    The intellectual Ivan is next. Ivan has a brilliant, radiant mind – but he’s also cold, aloof, and overly logical. A determined and impassioned atheist, he will lecture anyone prepared to listen on how God doesn’t exist, “right” and “wrong” are human constructions, and the philosophical system he has devised to explain all of this.

    The third brother is Alyosha. A deeply religious man, Alyosha contains within him a pure heart overflowing with genuine love for the world and everything in it. Guided by the teachings of his spiritual mentor, Father Zosima, Alyosha would never speak ill of someone or treat them unkindly – not even his reprobate father.

    Finally, there’s Smerdyakov. When his mother, who was mentally ill, became pregnant with him, all the townsfolk agreed that Fyodor Pavlovich was the only man depraved enough to seduce this vulnerable girl. Fyodor never treated Smerdyakov as a son; instead, he had him raised by the butler and employed him as a lowly servant. Perhaps because of this rejection and abuse, Smerdyakov develops a vicious and poisonous personality.


    One of the most important things to remember about The Brothers Karamazov is that it’s a philosophical novel. That means Dostoyevsky is using the book to explore rich and absorbing ideas, and there’s even an argument to be made that the plot and its characters become secondary in importance to the high-blown themes the author is attempting to explore.

    Unquestionably, the most important philosophical clash here is the contrast between religion and atheism, spirituality and logic. What’s better – a world guided by faith or scientific skepticism? Can the bonds of community hold together without God? Which system would allow human happiness to flourish more greatly? These are the questions Dostoyevsky is asking – and answering – in The Brothers Karamazov.

    One of the author’s principal techniques is to make his characters stand as symbols for the differing viewpoints. By turning Ivan into a vehicle for logical atheism and Alyosha into a vehicle for spiritual faith, Dostoyevsky not only embeds these ideas within a storyline for us to follow – he also allows the most unbiased argument to be put forward for each side. To be sure, Dostoyevsky had his own personal viewpoint. But he realized that if he offered the strongest possible case for the side he didn’t agree with, it would feel comprehensive when he ultimately refuted it.

    Fyodor, Dmitri, and Smerdyakov also have their roles to play as symbols – in wonderful, complicated ways which make you truly marvel at Dostoyevsky’s genius. We’ll explore their characters more soon.

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    Worum geht es in The Brothers Karamazov?

    The Brothers Karamazov (1879) follows the events, machinations, and tragedies of the Karamazov family over the course of four critical days in an unnamed town in Russia. As tensions within the household simmer and seeth into a stunning climax, we are treated to one of the most penetrating explorations of religion, faith, and doubt in all of world literature. 

    Wer The Brothers Karamazov lesen sollte

    • Anyone interested in deep themes like philosophy and religion
    • Agnostics looking for spiritual guidance
    • People who don’t have time to read a 900-page novel

    Über den Autor

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a nineteenth-century Russian author. A political activist in his youth, he was arrested by the Tsar and sentenced to execution, only to have his sentence commuted at the last minute as he stood before the firing squad. His novels are often considered deep psychological explorations of the human mind; aside from The Brothers Karamazov, he’s known for Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Idiot.

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