The Brothers Karamazov: Metaphor Analysis
The Karamazov family members
While all the members of the Karamazov family are characters in their own right, they are also symbolic of a philosophy, world view or aspect of man. At one extreme, Fyodor Pavolovich is a sensualist, living only for money and the gratification of his appetites. He rejects God and religion, and mistrusts his fellow man. At the opposite extreme, Alyosha represents religious faith and spirituality. He loves God and mankind, is pure, loving, and altruistic, and lives to do good in the world. Ivan represents intellectualism and religious doubt. He rejects God, has a cold attitude to mankind, and lives for logic and ideas. Though Ivan dislikes Fyodor Pavlovich and Smerdyakov, he has in common with both the amoral belief that as there is no God or afterlife, "everything is permitted.?Ivan even doubts the truth of this, however, as he doubts everything, leaving an emptiness at the core of his being that finally drives him to despair.
Dmitri represents the passions. Impetuous and with a foul temper, he lives a wild life, giving little consideration to the effects of his actions on others. However, Dmitri also has some characteristics of the other Karamazovs. He has his father's selfish sensualism, Alyosha's love of God, and some of Smerdyakov's malice: while Smerdyakov actually murders their father, Dmitri has done the deed in his mind many times.
In terms of representing an aspect of 'everyman,?Alyosha is the soul, Ivan the intellect, and Dmitri the passions. The psychic incompleteness of each man is his weakness and leads to the special challenges he must overcome.
As a family, the Karamazovs at the beginning of the novel are painted as a symbol of unregenerate sensualism, as Rakitin points out. But by the end of the novel, Fyodor Pavlovich and Smerdyakov are dead, Dmitri has undergone a spiritual redemption, and Ivan looks likely either to die or to change fundamentally. We are left with the image of Alyosha rallying a crowd of boys to the cause of love and kindness. The Karamazov family now symbolizes a more positive and humane vision of humanity.
The Brothers Karamazov relies heavily on spoken dialogue to create the characters and drive the plot, but sometimes, Dostoevsky has a character make a symbolic gesture that makes words redundant. This is often because it refers to a spiritual reality that lies beyond the reach of words. An example is Zosima's deep bow to Dmitri, which creates consternation and wonder in various characters as to its meaning. Only later does Zosima explain that he bowed in acknowledgement of the deep suffering that Dmitri would endure. Meaning is only one aspect of the gesture, however. The effect is also important. Zosima's gesture comes in the middle of a violent argument between Fyodor Pavlovich and Dmitri. It has the effect of instantly plunging everyone into silence. Subsequently, they all begin to feel ashamed of their behavior. Without a word, Zosima has shifted everyone's awareness onto another level: they have moved from violence to repentance.
Another symbolic gesture with profound effects is Christ's wordlessly kissing the Grand Inquisitor on the lips. He does not attempt to counter the Inquisitor's logical arguments with logic, and perhaps his gesture acknowledges that they cannot be answered thus. The gesture is one of love and forgiveness, which is the essence of Christ's message. The effect is that the Inquisitor abandons his intention of burning Christ as a heretic and sets him free, on condition that he stays away from Earth. We are told that though the Inquisitor holds to his former ideas, "the kiss burns in his heart,?suggesting that a spiritual transformation has begun in him.
Other symbolic gestures are Alyosha's kissing Ivan on the lips after hearing his poem, "The Grand Inquisitor? Zosima's bow to the orderly whom he struck before he became a monk; Zosima's kissing and embracing the earth as he dies; Dmitri's repeated message to Katerina that he bows to her; and Alyosha's falling to the earth and kissing it after he visits Grushenka and is pulled out of his despair by the realization of the love that she expresses.
Left hand side
The left hand side is traditionally the side occupied by the devil (the Latin for left is sinister). Dostoevsky uses this symbolism to alert us to the potential of evil. In line with Dostoevsky's theme of free will, it is always clear that the character being haunted by the devil has a choice of whether to align himself with good or evil.
In Book V, Chapter 6, Ivan notes how Smerdyakov's "slightly squinting left eye winked and smirked as if to say: 'What's the hurry? You won't pass me by. You know that we two intelligent men have something to talk over.'" This occurs at a time when Smerdyakov has convinced himself that Ivan wishes his father dead, and has deluded himself that it is his own role to act as Ivan's agent, and kill Fyodor Pavlovich. He believes that there is an unspoken compact between him and Ivan. Ivan later admits that there is truth in Smerdyakov's perception, and goes mad as a result of this realization. Smerdyakov is portrayed here as an evil eminence of Ivan's darkest intentions, with symbolic links to the devil.
In Book VIII, Chapter 6, Dmitri is on his way to Mokroye, intending to see Grushenka for one last time before shooting himself. Grushenka's maid has just begged Dmitri not to harm her mistress, or anyone else. Dmitri asks the coachman if he, Dmitri, will go to hell. Then Dmitri orders him to "whip up?the left-hand side horse. This is a symbolic warning that Dmitri is so enflamed with passion that he may commit an act that would damn his soul.
Insects: In Book III, Chapter 3, Dmitri describes himself and the rest of his family as "insects.?He says that even Alyosha has an insect that "lives and stirs up storms in your blood.?Dmitri is using insects as a symbol of sensuality and of an unredeemed base nature that is only concerned with satisfaction of gross appetites. There is also an element of fatalism in the image: insects cannot help but act as insects and cannot rise above their own nature. In Chapter 4, Dmitri relates the "insect?in his soul to cruelty, as he has thoughtlessly used women to gratify his appetites. The insect symbol is implied in Chapter 8, when Fyodor Pavlovich describes his seduction technique with Alyosha's mother, "crawling on my knees, kissing her feet.?It is noteworthy that while Dmitri acknowledges his insect nature (acknowledging one's faults is, Zosima teaches, a step towards overcoming them), Fyodor Pavlovich shows no awareness or remorse.
The novel raises the question of how mankind can rise above its insect nature. It also provides some answers: religious faith and love for mankind.
Snakes: In Book III, Chapter 9, after Dmitri beats up Fyodor Pavlovich in a jealous rage, Dmitri comments dismissively about his brother and father, "Viper will eat viper, and it would serve them both right!?The image shares with that of insects the qualities of unredeemed base animal instincts and appetites, with an added flavor of destructiveness, since the viper is a poisonous snake. There is also a connotation of the devil, of which the snake is a traditional symbol.
The Brothers Karamazov Study GuideChoose to Continue
- The Brothers Karamazov
- Novel Summary
- Author Note and Part I Book I - A Nice Little Family (Chapters 1-5)
- Part I Book II - An Inappropriate Gathering (Chapters 1-4)
- Part I Book II - An Inappropriate Gathering (Chapters 5-8)
- Part I Book III - The Sensualists (Chapters 1-11)
- Part II Book IV - Strains (Chapters 1-7)
- Part II Book V - Pro and Contra (Chapters 1-4)
- Part II Book V - Pro and Contra (Chapter 5)
- Part II Book V - Pro and Contra (Chapters 6-7)
- Part II Book VI - The Russian Monk (Chapters 1-3)
- Part III Book VII - Alyosha (Chapters 1-4)
- Part III Book VIII - Mitya (Chapters 1-8)
- Part III Book IX - The Preliminary Investigation (Chapters 1-9)
- Part IV Book X - Boys (Chapters 1-7)
- Part IV Book XI - Brother Ivan Fyodorovich (Chapters 1-10)
- Part IV Book XII - A Judicial Error (Chapters 1-14)
- Epilogue (Chapters 1-3)
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Essay Q&A