There are certain questions that surface in Dostoevsky’s works. Fundamental to it is “Does Truth and goodness have any intellectual basis to it”. Is it through intellect does one arrive at goodness or through faith one arrive at it. With the idea of atheism and nihilism that swept through the end of 19th century all our Europe, it is natural that Dostoevsky was deeply moved and affected by this question. With the decadence of the organised church on one side and rampant poverty stricken industrial revolution on the other side, Dostoevsky constantly searched for a spiritual basis to live. It is this brilliant debate that is captured in the book Brothers Karamazov with great detail. The major characters in the novel capture this essence with their different natures.
The father Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a self confessed buffoon who has no sense of morality lives the lowest life of filth and decadence a human being can think about. As observed by the elder Zossima he continues to lie to himself and is constantly playing the buffoon. It is the murder of this man and the ensuing investigation that we understand the other sons of him.
Eldest of the Karamazov brothers is Dimitry who is born of the first marriage of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov to Adelaida. Dimitry is sensual like his father and involved in multitude of relationships. He is earnest compared to his father , compared to Fyodor he still has honesty left in him. He is constantly in need of money, insults people especially he drags Ilyusha’s father from a tavern. But he still repents wants to be a better human being unlike his father who is always pretentious always.
Ivan the second of the brothers is intellectual , doubting and a loner seems to be a great mind tormented by doubt. This is one of the fundamental issues that Dostoevsky handles, the Ivan is an intellectual who is bordering on atheism he questions the idea of Christ giving free will to human beings in the chapter “The Grand Inquistor“. He had to suffer a tremendous amount of guilt and torture at the end as he feels he is wrongly the reason for the murder of his father. It is his intellect that has sinned. You can see similar thread in Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment.
On one side you see the sensualist Dimitry the other side you have the Rational atheist Ivan. Their sufferings and the torture they suffer seems to be the central point of the novel.
The youngest of the brothers is Aloysha the central hero of the novel as per the narrator. He is pure and pristine and rarely seems to judge anyone , practices the idea of forgiveness etc. But I think there is a curious aspect of Aloysha that is worth noting. He is so anxious in many occasions he himself seems to be in doubt over forgiveness, love and immortality the very ideas he seems to be preaching. He is still evolving over the novel. Especially when there is a family meting with the elder he is so nervous about things might go wrong. As the elder says in interacting with the lady “Love in reality is lot of hard work and labor”. That seems to have been said to Aloysha. He is waiting for a miracle to happen to believe and attain the faith. But it is through faith that one arrives at miracle.
The central point of the novel is the killing of Fyodor Karamazov , Dimitry is charged with the murder. There is an underlying mystery surrounding the novel. All the central characters are doubted with the murder , like Dimitry , Ivan and Smerdyakov (illegetimate son of Fyodor). Every one suffers due to the murder, Ivan feels tremendous guilt over influencing Smerdyakov over his atheism which he fears might have lead to the murder.
The suffering brings in tremendous faith and love in Ivan and Dimitry. It shows the greatness of Love and belief over doubt to Aloysha. This is the central theme of this work.