The Brothers Karamazov: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. "The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself." (Book II, Chapter 2)
    Zosima's advice to Fyodor Pavlovich is an accurate analysis of Fyodor Pavlovich's life and, to a less extreme degree, of many of the suffering characters in the novel.
  2. "All this exile to hard labor, and formerly with floggings, does not reform anyone, and above all does not even frighten almost any criminal, and the number of crimes not only does not diminish but increases all the more. Surely you will admit that. And it turns out that society, thus, is not protected at all, for although the harmful member is mechanically cut off and sent away far out of sight, another criminal appears at once to take his place, perhaps even two others. If anything protects society even in our time, and even reforms the criminal himself and transforms him into a different person, again it is Christ's law alone, which manifests itself in the acknowledgement of one's own conscience." (Book II, Chapter 5)
    Zosima and Ivan are discussing reform of the criminal justice system. Zosima believes that no sentence passed by a court can genuinely reform a criminal. The only power able to do this is the criminal's own conscience. He is more likely to undergo reform if he is loved by society, rather than if he is punished; to this end, Zosima believes that merciful sentences are more effective than harsh ones.
  3. "You're a Karamazov, too! In your family sensuality is carried to the point of fever. So these three sensualists are now eyeing each other with knives in their boots. The thereof them are at loggerheads, and maybe you're the fourth." (Book II, Chapter 7)
    Rakitin, speaking to Alyosha, condemns the entire Karamazov family as degenerate sensualists who are bound to destroy each other. He suggests that Alyosha is not exempt from the family taint. That Alyosha finally redeems the Karamazov family through active love discredits Rakitin's cynical and fatalistic view.
  4. ". . . I'm a Karamazov. . . . when I fall into the abyss, I go straight into it, head down and heels up, and I'm even pleased that I'm falling in such a humiliating position, and for me I find it beautiful. And so in that very shame I suddenly begin a hymn. Let me be cursed, let me be base and vile, but let me also kiss the hem of that garment in which my God is clothed; let me be following the devil at the same time, but still I am also your son, Lord, and I love you, and I feel a joy without which the world cannot stand and be." (Book III, Chapter 3)
    Dmitri tells Alyosha that he has fallen in love with a "low woman" (Grushenka). The image shows Dmitri's complex nature. He is driven by sensuality, plunging into situations without thought or reflection. In this respect, he is like his father, Fyodor Pavlovich. He differs from Fyodor Pavlovich, however, in that he has a conscience and truly loves God. The image also foreshadows Dmitri's eventual fate: he is brought low and suffers greatly, but is sustained and redeemed by his love for, and faith in, God.
  5. "Viper will eat viper, and it would serve them both right!" (Book III, Chapter 9)
    Ivan says this to Alyosha about their brother Dmitri's attack on their father. Ivan is disgusted by Dmitri and their father, and he believes that each will inevitably destroy the other. His prediction is consistent with his fatalistic philosophy and lack of trust in his fellow man.
  6. "My friends, ask gladness from God. Be glad as children, as birds in the sky. And let man's sin not disturb you in your efforts, do not fear that it will dampen your endeavor and keep it from being fulfilled, do not say, 'Sin is strong, impiety is strong, the bad environment is strong, and we are lonely and powerless, the bad environment will dampen us and keep our good endeavor from being fulfilled.' Flee from such despondency, my children! There is only one salvation for you: take yourself up, and make yourself responsible for all the sins of men. For indeed it is so, my friend, and the moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see at once that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all. Whereas by shifting your own laziness and powerlessness onto others, you will end by sharing in Satan's pride and murmuring against God." (Book VI, Chapter 3)
    Zosima's message to all who hear him is reflected in the novel as a whole. Those who take responsibility for their fellow human beings (Zosima, Alyosha) enhance life; those who reject it (Ivan, Fyodor Pavlovich) spread suffering.
  7. ". . . 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)
    In Dmitri's interrogation, it becomes clear that he is believed guilty of the murder of his father. He falls asleep and dreams about starving, cold peasants. He feels a wave of tenderness and wants to do something for them, so that there will be no more suffering. Then, he hears Grushenka vowing to be with him forever and this vision of his own redemption comes to him. It is no accident that her words follow Dmitri's heartfelt wave of love for suffering humanity and a desire to help. Giving love, he receives love (from Grushenka) and is set upon a path leading to the light of God. This vision is followed by a speech in which Dmitri embraces his punishment in spite of the fact that he did not commit the murder, because he accepts his guilt for many sins and wants to be purified by suffering.
  8. "Everything is permitted . . ." (Book XI, Chapter 8)
    Smerdyakov quotes Ivan's words back at him in justification (as he thinks) for murdering Fyodor Pavlovich. Ivan realizes the true extent of his own guilt for the murder in passing on his amoral, irreligious philosophy to Smerdyakov.
  9. "Just know one thing, Rakitka, I may be wicked, but still I gave an onion." (Book VII, Chapter 3)
    Grushenka tells Rakitkin and Alyosha the fable of the onion: a wicked woman dies and is thrown into the lake of fire in hell by devils. Her guardian angel tries to think of one good deed of hers to tell God and save her from hell, and recalls that once she pulled up an onion and gave it to a beggar. God answers that the angel should take that same onion and offer it to her. If she takes hold of it and the angel can pull her out with it, she can go to paradise, but if the onion breaks, she must stay in the lake of fire. The angel offers the onion, the woman grabs it and he pulls carefully. Just as she is about to be pulled out completely, the other sinners in the lake hold onto her so as to be pulled out with her. The woman kicks them away, telling them that it is her onion, not theirs. The onion breaks and the woman falls back into the lake, where she remains.
    Grushenka's point is that she is a wicked woman but that she has the seed of goodness in her. This is borne out by events in the novel. The story of the onion also shows the generosity of grace - God's forgiveness of, and love for, someone who has sinned in spite of their meager deserving ability. The wicked woman in the lake only does one good thing in her life, yet she is offered eternal bliss for that one thing. It is only her own selfishness that prevents her from claiming her heavenly reward. Dostoevsky repeatedly shows that a person who has done wrong only needs to take one small step in the direction of goodness to be rewarded with a cascade of love and forgiveness in their lives. This may come from God or one's fellow human beings: in Dostoevsky's view, human beings who love God express His qualities, including love and forgiveness.
  10. ". . . I know that heart, it is a wild but noble heart . . . It will bow down before your deed, it thirsts for a great act of love, it will catch fire and resurrect forever. There are souls that in their narrowness blame the whole world. But overwhelm such a soul with mercy, give it love, and it will curse what it has done, for there are so many germs of good in it. The soul will expand and behold how merciful God is, and how beautiful and just people are. He will be horrified, he will be overwhelmed with repentance and the countless debt he must henceforth repay. And then he will not say, 'I am quits,' but will say, 'I am guilty before all people and am the least worthy of all people.'" (Book XII, Chapter 13)
    Fetyukovich, the defense lawyer, tells the jury that they should acquit Dmitri even if they think he is guilty. This is because showing love to a criminal is the best way to ensure true repentance. Fetyukovich echoes Zosima's view that the only effective punishment is the acknowledgement of one's own conscience.

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