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Thread: my college paper: The Devil

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    my college paper: The Devil

    The Brothers Karamazov presents two worldviews: Ivan’s and Zosima’s. Or, that which is satanic and Devil-like, and that which is God-revering and Christian-like. Or, if one takes into consideration that Dostoevsky himself went through a period, if not of atheism, then of “doubt”, one may reasonably entertain the possibility that the two worldviews are respectively that of a younger Dostoevsky, and that of the reformed Dostoevsky. Of the first part of this hypothesis—that Ivan’s doubts were once Dostoevsky’s doubts—I cannot, without an intimate knowledge of Dostoevsky’s life, claim with absolute certainty (though I would certainly encourage the reader to entertain such a possibility). But of the latter—that Zosima’s worldview is Dostoevsky’s worldview—it is all but too obvious and clear. One needs only read the novel itself to realize that Dostoevsky is voicing his ideas through Zosima and Alyosha, that these two can even be considered as mouthpieces for the author. And what we have in this expansive, sensual, licentious, Karamazovian tale, are people who embody the full spectrum between these two opposing worldviews.

    On the extreme left of the spectrum, we have Smerdyakov and Ivan Fyodorovich:

    “For some reason he suddenly noticed that his brother Ivan somehow swayed as he walked, and that his right shoulder, seen from behind, appeared lower than his left.” (264)

    “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.’” (267)

    “Smerdyakov’s eyes flashed maliciously, his left eye began winking, and at once, though, as was his custom, with measure and reserve, he gave his answer—as if to say, ‘You want us to come clean, here’s some cleanness for you.’” (613)

    It is Ivan who voices most loudly the idea that “everything is permitted,” but it is Smerdyakov who believes in this idea the most confidently and the least scrupulously, and lives up to this idea the most steadfastly. If Ivan is the Devil’s instrument and vocal piece, Smerdyakov is the Devil himself. This necessarily implies that Smerdyakov is the one who prompts, the one who provokes, while Ivan is the one who is being led, the one who is being swayed—perhaps a direct contradiction to a possible impression left upon the readers that it is the other way around, that it is Ivan who influenced Smerdyakov, that it is the master who instructed the lackey on ideas, on principles, and on that action. But who gave us that impression (if indeed we do have such an impression)? And who would allow himself to be impressed with such? But it is Smerdyakov himself who, somehow dominating over the narrator’s voice and Ivan’s thoughts, gives us precisely such an impression! And it is vain, gullible men such as Ippolit who are most ready to swallow such an impression!

    “Still you are guilty of everything, sir, and, knowing everything, you left. Therefore I want to prove it to your face tonight that in all this the chief murderer is you alone, sir, and I’m just not the real chief one, though I did kill him. It’s you who are the most lawful murderer!” (627) “If you stayed, then nothing would happen, I’d simply know, sir, that you didn’t want this business, and I wouldn’t undertake anything. But since you did go, it meant you were assuring me that you wouldn’t dare turn me over to the court and would forgive me the three thousand. And you wouldn’t be able to persecute me at all afterwards, because in that case I’d tell everything in court, sir, that is, not that I stole or killed—I wouldn’t say that—but that it was you who put me up to stealing and killing, only I didn’t agree. That’s why I needed your consent then, so that you couldn’t corner me with anything afterwards, sir, because where would you get any proof of that, but I could always corner you, sir, by revealing how much you desired your parent’s death…You undoubtedly did (desire your father’s death), sir, and by your consent then you silently allowed me that business, sir.” (628) “I did have such a dream, sir, and even more so as ‘everything is permitted.’ It was true what you taught me, sir, because you told me a lot about that then: because if there’s no infinite God, then there’s no virtue either, and no need of it at all. It was true. That’s how I reasoned…With your guidance, sir.” (632)

    But it isn’t only Ippolit who is deceived, and not only out of gullibility and naivete either. Consider: Fyodor Pavlovich believes in Smerdyakov’s honesty, Mitya in his cowardliness, Ippolit in his innocence, and Ivan in his stupidity. Perhaps most importantly, it is one’s pride, and one’s vanity, that allows the Devil to so easily deceive us. As the Devil himself revealed to Ivan, “It was your pride made you think I was stupid.” (633) No, Smerdyakov is not the weakling that he feigns to be. He deserves much more credit, for his intelligence, for his resolution, for his ambition, and above all, for his independence of thought and feeling. We simply cannot believe that such a devious, scheming and deceiving character, and moreover, one who is proud, proud to the point of selfishness and egoism, can allow himself to be influenced, led, and taught by someone whom he considers his inferior (and he considers everyone, Ivan included, to be his inferior). His “You taught me, sir…with your guidance, sir” is but a mockery, a taunt.

    That is not to say that Smerdyakov’s claim on Ivan’s guilt is groundless. But even if we were to accept Smerdyakov’s claim in full, even if Ivan had instructed Smerdyakov to murder Fyodor Karamazov with the exact, explicit words, “Smerdyakov, go kill father tomorrow,” Ivan would still not have been the mastermind behind the parricide. Ivan may command Smerdyakov to perform the act, but it is the latter who plants the seed of the thought into the former’s mind. Smerdyakov is the artist, and Ivan the puppet. Smerdyakov is Ivan’s source of suffering and torment. This is the reason why Ivan hates the lackey with such intensity and fierceness. After giving voice to his idea of the Grand Inquisitor (and the timing is important here), on parting Aylosha and going home, “strangely, an unbearable anguish suddenly came over (Ivan), and, moreover, the closer he came to home, the worse it grew with every step. The strangeness lay not in the anguish itself, but in the fact that Ivan Fyodorovich simply could not define what the anguish consisted of…and suddenly, glancing at the gate from about fifty paces away, he at once realized what was tormenting and worrying him so…and Ivan Fyodorovich realized at the first sight of him that the lackey Smerdyakov was also sitting in his soul, and that it was precisely this man that his soul could not bear.” (265-266)

    If “Smerdyakov is sitting in his soul,” then Smerdyakov can also be the Devil who appears in Ivan’s hallucinations. At least, even if they are not the same in person, they are the same in idea. Again, the timing is important: the Devil appears to Ivan precisely after the latter’s last visit to Smerdyakov, and coincides with the time when the latter’s spirit would have left the body and perhaps flown to visit someone “intelligent.” Lastly, both Smerdyakov and Ivan’s Devil clad themselves in cheap, ridiculously colorful, and offensively unorthodox clothing:

    He was sitting in a gaily colored quilted dressing gown, which, however, was rather worn and quite ragged. On his nose he had a pair of spectacles, which Ivan Fyodorovich had never seen on him before. (613)

    The visitor’s checkered trousers fitted perfectly, but again they were too light and somehow too narrow, of a style no one wore any longer, as was the soft, downy white hat the visitor had brought with him, though it was entirely the wrong season. In short, he gave the appearance of decency on rather slender means. (635)

    Parallel to Ivan and Smerdyakov’s relationship—that of a suffering man and his temptation—is Alyosha and Rakitin’s. Finding Alyosha suffering from disillusionment at Zosima’s odor, Rakitin tempts him with sausage and vodka; and when Alyosha takes the sausage and vodka all too promptly, Rakitin seizes the opportunity to take him to Grushenka. And “it was not at all to make Grushenka glad that he was leading Alyosha to her; he was a serious man and never undertook anything without the aim of profiting from it. His aim this time was twofold: first, a revengeful one—that is, to see “the disgrace of the righteous man,” the probable “fall” of Alyosha “from the saints to the sinners,” which he was already savoring in anticipation.” (343) He even held Alyosha firmly by the arm, lest the latter should change his mind. But instead of “eating him up,” Grushenka actually ends up saving Alyosha:

    “I came here looking for a wicked soul—I was drawn to that, because I was low and wicked myself, but I found a true sister, I found a treasure—a loving soul…She spared me just now…I’m speaking of you, Agrafena Alexandrovna. You restored my soul just now.” (351)

    While Grushenka may have saved Alyosha’s soul, she also tormented others—namely Fyodor and Ivan Karamazov. And here we have another parallel of a suffering man and his tormentor. Grushenka herself sums this up aptly:
    “It’s me, me, the cursed one, I am guilty!” she cried in a heartrending howl, all in tears, stretching her arms out to everyone, “it’s because of me that he killed him…! I tormented him and drove him to it! I tormented that poor old dead man, too, out of spite, and drove things to this! I am the guilty one, first and most of all, I am the guilty one!” (457)

    And it is because Mitya’s and Ivan’s giving in to their temptations—Mitya in passion and Ivan in thought—that the parricide took place. If Mitya hadn’t been led to his father’s on that fatal night by his passion, and Ivan “gone to Chermashnya” at Smerdyakov’s prompting, Smerdyakov wouldn’t have had the opportunity to perform the murder. Everything fell in place for Smerdyakov to carry out his grand act. Other minor references to the Devil are Father Ferapont’s vision of the Devil and Lize’s fantasy of her eating pineapple compote in front of a crucified four-year-old.

    Even though all these characters are influenced by the Devil, Dostoevsky draws a distinction between those who suffers, and those who don’t. More specifically, the distinction is suggested by the way Alyosha treats each character. Rakitin and Smerdyakov, whom Alyosha treats with indifference, don’t suffer—they can be offended, but they don’t suffer. They are not tormented by remorse, by guilt, and most importantly, by the least shred of self-doubt, because they are cold, calculating Man-Gods. Conversely, Grushenka and the brothers Karamazov all suffer. Even Ivan has moments of self-doubt and questions the legitimacy of his worldview. As mentioned, Alyosha and Mitya are tormented respectively by Zosima’s death and jealousy for Grushenka. Moreover, Mitya is also tormented by his guilt in front of Katya. Even Grushenka, who is a tormentor of others herself, suffers greatly for her former one. These sinners who suffered all come around in the end: Alyosha is saved almost no later than he “fell”, Ivan carries a peasant he had just knocked down earlier to a shelter so he wouldn’t freeze to death, Mitya dreams of the “wee one,” and Grushenka accepts her guilt and offers to go to Siberia with Mitya. In contrast to how he treats Rakitin and Smerdyakov, Alyosha forgives these characters—he calls Grushenka his “sister,” tells Ivan that “he did not kill father,” and treats Mitya kindly and with compassion. Moreover, Dostoevsky seems to suggest it is worse to sin in thought than it is to sin in passion. Ivan is associated with the Devil for his thoughts, while Mitya is portrayed as very human for his passions.

    So what specifically are these thoughts that Dostoevsky associates with the Devil? First and most obviously, the unbelief of men in God as embodied by Smerdyakov and Ivan, and that consequently “everything is permitted.” Second, the championing of exact science, logical reasoning and psychological analysis. In using exact reasoning to clear Smerdyakov and place the guilt on Mitya, Ippolit is arguing for the Devil:

    “Of course, in the highly talented speech for the prosecution, we have all heard a strict analysis of the defendant’s character and actions, a strictly critical attitude towards the case; and, above all, such psychological depths were demonstrated to explain the essence of the matter.” (726)

    The use of psychology is further mocked by Dostoevsky by having three doctors give three diagnoses on which direction a psychologically sound man would look at when entering the court. Lastly, the rising of the peasants is also criticized. The false conviction of Mitya is described by the author as the “peasants standing up,” an idea so absurd, so improper, so unbecoming, so much a threat to social order and orthodox propriety as is Smerdyakov and the Devil’s colorful clothing. In fact, Smerdyakov turns the whole world upside down. A lackey, an offspring of Stinking Lizaveta, a result of a hideous joke by Fyodor Karamazov and nature, yet Smerdyakov is more intelligent than his masters and insults them accordingly:

    “Though (Fyodor Pavlovich) is a madman, he and all his children, miss…And how is (Dmitri) better than me? Because he’s a lot stupider than me.” (225)

    The image of Smerdyakov the peasant-usurper is completed by his and his
    father’s names, respectively: Pavel Fyodorovich and Fyodor Pavlovich.

  2. #2
    Rima rima's Avatar
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    Dostoevsky was gifted by God

    I think Dostoevsky treated the subject of *Devil*through a Human experience like indulging all kinds of vices:gamble,carousal,passion,all to the darkest sin to be committed-murder.There is no Devil appearance in a separated form or character as we see in Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita.
    For Dostoevsky all begin in man ,he explores evils deep inside of one's Soul and body,with possibility to get to refinement and be enlightened.Certainly, Dostoevsky himself succeeded.
    Believe ,Dostoevsky was gifted by God /to be really his son/for ability to recognize man's dark sides of soul and at the same time to rise the same man with all Love he bore and felt for Human.
    I write Abstracts&Reviews on favorite Masterpieces.The main theme is quest for grail of eternal Youth.I won old age.
    Visit my blog
    stay young,secret grail,self improvement,long live witches,how to stay young,
    I am owner of all the writings on name is Slavica Todorovic.

  3. #3
    Registered User Rodya's Avatar
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    Interesting analysis. Is this the actual essay,unabridged,that you handed in?
    Everything is permitted...

  4. #4
    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by drunkenKOALA View Post
    One needs only read the novel itself to realize that Dostoevsky is voicing his ideas through Zosima and Alyosha, that these two can even be considered as mouthpieces for the author. And what we have in this expansive, sensual, licentious, Karamazovian tale, are people who embody the full spectrum between these two opposing worldviews.

    On the extreme left of the spectrum, we have Smerdyakov and Ivan Fyodorovich
    I too enjoyed your paper, having read the novel long ago.

    More recently I read Crime and Punishment. A striking parallel exists between the two novels, with Sonia and Lizaveta on the extreme right and Svidrigailov and Raskolnikov on the left. The dreadful Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov has much in common with Smerdyakov: “everything is permitted”.

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