The Brothers Karamazov
Smog is polluting the air and the lungs of miners. Children are dropping out of school to be sent to work. It is the age of the Industrial Revolution and there is a great change in the way in which society functioned as the fight between capitalism and socialism created a deep moral split in Russian society. In the Brothers Karamazov, multiple characters give way to moments of passion in ways that reveal their connection to their spiritual self because each character is a depiction of the human struggle between a secular and sacred way of life which was prominent in the late 19th century. Many people gained a more materialistic sense of life with the introduction of a more consumeristic culture that at times created a conflict between one’s spiritual being. Dostoevsky uses complex character depiction in order to show the complexity of the effects that the Industrial Revolution was having on the 19th century people. The three brothers Karamazov are each meant to represent a different part of this internal conflict happening in Russia: Alyosha was the depiction of spiritual love, Ivan was the depiction of an atheistic academic philosophy, and Dimitri a depiction of secular passions. Despite the fact that each of the three brothers both interact with the world differently, they all undergo the core struggle of industrial revolutionary contemporaries.
Passion in it’s very basic definition is having a strong feeling about something. The Brothers Karamazov in many ways is a novel about strong feelings and the way in which they become jumbled up with each other. There is natural energy or movement in the novel that fuels all sources of action, what many called the “Karamazov spirit.” This spirit stems from the passionate burst that becomes a trait to the Karamazov family and takes on different characteristics depending on which Karamazov it was. In the original perpetrator of these passionate tirades, Fyodor Pavlovich, the father and murder victim, was known as a fool throughout the town of Skotoprigonyevsk. In the Chapter “The Old Buffon” the saintly elder Zoisma tells Fyodor to be himself to which he comments, “You mean in my natural state? Oh, that is much, too much… when I walk into a room, that I’m lower than anyone else. And that everyone takes me for a buffoon so ‘Why not, indeed, play the buffoon, I’m not afraid of your opinions…” (34). He is indicating a sort of lack of restraint on Fyodor’s part in masking the trueness of his character. There is a lack of control and freedom in the Karamazov character. In Charles Taylor’s article “The Buffered vs the Porous Self”, the porous self is when the mind and the enchanted/spiritual world are connected and influenced by each other; “the porousness of the boundary emerges in … various kinds of ‘possession’” (2). For the Karamazov family that spirit that travels down through generations and is similar to the very idea “porousness of the self” which comes from a lack of divide from the spiritual world into the real one. They are who they are and do not pretend to be anything different. The only exception of any signs of restraint of that spirit that guides them comes from the intellectual Ivan. Since the Karamazov’s act according to their characters, there is no masked-ness that keeps them from connecting to something beyond themselves. This connectivity with their spiritual energy however comes at the price of falling into states of passion at multiple points throughout the novel.
The first fit of passion that will be talked about in this paper will be in relation to the blessed Alyosha. Throughout the novel, he is presented as this sweet saintly companion to all, who listen and meditates on the happenings of the world. It’s almost as if he plays as a moral compass for all that come across him. Despite all of the positive qualities that he held he too gave way to moments of great feeling, because in a Dostoevsky’s world, all characters underwent the similar tribulations and fights despite the social circumstances that were given to any particular person (Palat 20). In the case of Alyosha, he is the least secular of the three brothers, having spent much time at the monastery he has become this image of active love in the novel because of his attachment to all things good, his moment of feeling takes on a positive role in his life. After the death of Elder Zoisma, Alyosha is at a loss of what to do with himself and is running around as if in a trance, ready to renounce all things that had to do with God, because even the holy have moments of relapse sometimes. During this time, he finds himself wandering in the forest;
“The silence of the earth seemed to merge with the silence of the heavens, the mystery of the earth touched the mystery of the saints…. Alyosha stood gazing and suddenly, as if he had been cut down, threw himself to the earth…he was kissing it… and he vowed ecstatically to love it….” (Dostoevsky 362).
In some way, the time that Alyosha has spent detached from the rest of society has lead him to be able to receive the love and light of God and give it to those who need it. In this time of chaos, he did not know why he hugged the earth and vowed to love it but he was giving in to his spiritual needs and feelings. This secluded area in the woods, within the natural world is what allowed Alyosha’s resurrection of self. In Tatakēs “Christian Philosophy in the Patristic and Byzantine Tradition, he mentions that with the resignation from worldly things, one can surpass the secular world inside of someone and “he is resurrected into the theoretical life” (114). There is a mystic love that surrounds the very presence of Alyosha that allows him to find connect with not only nature but with other people. In fact after this moment in the woods, Alyosha more at peace and ready to take on the earthly world that keeps calling him away from the monastery life, he is needed more than ever before as a moral guide to those around him. Despite Alyosha’s affinity for monkhood, he takes the lessons of peace from the monastery and shares it with the secular society in which Alyosha finds himself so steadily tied.
In contrast to the way in which Ivan’s passions take over his mind. From the beginning, Ivan and Alyosha have different connections with the world in which they preside. As stated above Alyosha has a spiritual connection with an older spiritual sense of self that is deeply rooted in a more natural world. The mystic and spiritual self that Dostoevsky often depicts in his novel do not only associate themselves with the summit of spiritual transformation and consciousness, but also with the lowest moral and spiritual degradation (Stoeber 250). Ivan is an academic man who sticks to the books he has studied. He struggles to reject the spiritual world, of the Karamazov spirit to the outside world order to maintain a certain rank in society. For Ivan, his image is and intelligence is what he values most of all. “Ivan exemplifies [the] opposite of…. Christian Orthodox [ideals]…. Through his individualist focus on freedom and rational intelligence…” (Stoeber 255). In the beginning of the novel, Ivan comes off as calculated and rational, but as the story continues the reader soon begins to see that Ivan does experience those strong feeling that is present in every other Karamazov. The feelings that he holds become especially present after every conversation with Smerdyakov, Ivan Fyodor usually becomes violent. “[Ivan] suddenly stopped and turned to Smerdyakov. Something strange happened… Ivan bit his lip, clenched his fists, and in another moment, would certainly have thrown himself on Smerdyakov…” (Dostoevsky 274). This is one of the first indication of the Karamazov spirit that is fighting to find freedom in Ivan.
The Karamazov spirit is a sort of passion that though it may be tainted with frivolousness and earthly passionate overall it is led by simple-heartedness, but because Ivan represses all of it deep within himself, instead of the spirit leading him to a positive conscious realization about himself and the world, it begins to poison his mind. By the end of the novel, the ‘rational’ Ivan with all his repressed internal passion, a certain mystic presence begins to take hold of him. In the chapter “The Devil: Ivan Fyodorovich’s nightmare”, he finally succumbs to a horrid state of mental illness that was long in coming which leaves him doubting the reality in which he sets himself. Ivan’s ignored feelings formed a Satanic mysticism that is contradictory to Alyosha’s divine-ness. Thus, even though Ivan was ignoring the Karamazov passion that burned at his core, it found its way out into the real world in the only way that Ivan could recognize it, in hallucination. The hallucination is reflected as the devil because of Ivan’s ceaseless desire to stay in the realm of realism and his continuous critique of the religious world; the demon says to Ivan “Because, like you, I myself suffer from the fantastic, and that is why I love your earthly realism. Here you have it all outline…” (Dostoevsky 638). Despite Ivan previously coming across as a believer of the non-spiritual world, through his hallucinations he is forced to encounter it. Much like the Freudian slips that people in the real world have, Ivan has a superstitious slip of spirit with the creation of the devil in his hallucination. “The devil is both symbol of the source of [Ivan’s] new found self-will and insightful voice of [his] consciousness [stemmed from his religious skepticism]” (Stoeber 255). Ivan’s internal compulsion to follow a more capitalistic view of society rejects the old natural world however that view comes at a cost. Ivan who was the most city-dweller out of all of the three brothers hardly ever interacts with the natural world. There was only one moment in the novel, where Ivan fully interacts with the environment which was on the walk to the final meeting with Smerdyakov. The weather took his inner turmoil as his mind slowly disintegrated into his madness. By this point of the novel, there is only one person who is able to take him out of his mental state and that is Alyosha. For as his instincts told him, he provides a certain amount of light into Ivan’s world that could be found in no one else in the novel. Even though he is by no means the only holy character in the novel, he does use the spirit given to him by his genetics to be used for good, for active love, whereas Ivan let his take over even that which he values above all.
Lastly, the eldest brother Karamazov, who is symbolic for a sort of gluttonous and passionate way of living life. Dimitri Karamazov is one who loves to live in the earthly world. He lusts after women and drinks excessively. At the beginning one assumes Dimitri to be most like his father, for he lets the Karamazov flee excessively into his worldly passions, however he does not ever fully renounce the spiritual world. “He exemplifies a peculiarly Orthodox view – called ‘apophaticism’ according to which the knowledge of truth transcends rational expression” (Flath 586). Dimitri was the most dramatic example of the battle in 19th modern people’s desire for both a spiritual nature world and yet getting caught in the industrial one. For mouths needed to be feed and the industrial revolution and consumer culture allowed for them to have food on the table. In the chapter Delirium, after Grushenka finally choses Dimitri as her most precious love, and they indulge in their earthly desires. “[The party that ensued] was almost an orgy, a feast of feasts… In a word, something disorderly and absurd began, but Mitya was in his natural element… and the most absurd it all became the more his spirits rose” (432). The money spent was not his but belonged to his betrothed Katerina. He became a thief in his quest for physical luxurious of life.
Despite the inclination of Dimitri to simply follow the Karamazov spirit completely he does show some restraint. It could be that because Dimitri interacts with the natural world, perhaps more than the reader sees. In the Confession chapters, Dimitri reveals to Alyosha the whole reasoning behind the madness and strong feelings between himself and his father which up until that point had been mysterious to both Alyosha and the readers. Dimitri leads Alyosha into a little garden, when one first comes into it, one can be enchanted by the trees that surround the fence, or the wide meadow in the center of it or the fruits and vegetable gardens, however Dimitri leads Alyosha near “… a thicket of lindens and old currant…something that looked like the ruins of an ancient green gazebo… blackened and lopsided” (103). Even though the garden is beautifully laid out, he chooses to spend time near these old and blackened bushes. It is like the metaphor for his character and action in the novel. Dimitri Karamazov though seemingly “guileless “and “irrational”, there is something deeper to him; in fact, “…Dimitri’s goodness and grace are present from the very beginning” (Flath 588). The area of the garden in which Dimitri chooses to occupy at that time though deformed is still belonging of God’s natural world, and is a part of the whole beauty of that space. The garden provides Dimitri with a space in order to go to and reflect, as well as a place to let all the passionate feelings find some sort of solace. Even though, this Karamazov is far from being a monk, he lets his good spirit guide him which saves him from ever committing an act such as killing his father. The right for Dimitri to choose the deformed natural world his is prerogative and shows Dostoevsky’s belief in free will. Some people may try to believe that God will save humankind from undergoing earthly ruin by global warming, each man can do as his own spiritual guide informs him. During Dimitri’s long confession he tells Alyosha, “Oh, to hell with it, it’s all the same, whatever it is. Strong spirit, weak spirit, woman’s spirit – whatever it is! Let us praise nature: see how the sun shine, how clear the sky is, the leaves are all green…. So, calm…” (104). Though Dimitri is not denying this spirit he carries and feels so greatly, without proper care and understanding about the intention of all that passionate energy in a similar fashion ends up blowing up. Due to Dimitri’s obsession with the earthly world, he misdirects the energy given to him, much like his father, which lead to imprisonment on his part despite the fact that he was innocent of murder.
The passions that are depicted in The Brothers Karamazov are like the human fingerprint, they are all different from each other, not a single one alike. Even though their passions and feelings take on various forms, they all have a sort of mystic power which surrounds the Karamazov family. There are other powers and feeling at work that move society forward. Ivan is caught up in his belief in the modern progress of an industrial society but because of his hard criticism of the possibility of religious life and a place outside of that consumer society he has to reject the very power that wants to lead him. With the rejection of what for the most part Dostoevsky intends to be positive in origins and with the rejection of love for the natural world in his push for a more ‘modern’ society, a certain madness and diabolical mysticism over takes Ivan’s life. This contrast very much from the sort of connectedness that Alyosha allows himself to feel in relation to other living things and even though he is not perfect by any means, he is sent down to modern society as a guide, as a way to lead people with faltering faith back into the conversation about the meaning of active love and a meaningful life. There is a certain divine mysticism that shrouds Alyosha’s being, for everyone loves and respects Alyosha’s intentions. Then with Dimitri lies in the middle of the fight between his spiritual self and the earthly luxuries. He is representative of everyone’s right to choose their own path in the new society being formed, but the path in which one may decide to walk in may have large lasting affects in their lives. Dimitri’s love for passionate outbursts leads almost everyone in the novel to believe that it was him that killed his own father. By the end of the novel he finds a sort of spiritual solace and comfort in both his experiences, Grushenka, a dream and Alyosha. The conflict in the novel is deep and spiritually ingrained in each of these characters, much like the conflicts that were arising at the turn of the century, during Dostoevsky’s time, left marks and changes on the upcoming society. Everyone was split by their own sort of passion and Karamazov is in hope that they can find a way together once again (Murav 128). At the end of the novel, Alyosha says to the little boy Koyla after he asked Alyosha whether everyone would reunite again in the afterlife; “Certainly we shall rise, certainly we shall see and gladly, joyfully tell one another all that has been.”
The seventeenth century saw the transformation of the idea of nature from something that is not of material substance into a territory. Medieval and Literary Scholar, Stanbury, claims that during this time nature became a “commodity whose relationship toe human was defined by its uses whether those involves preservation, consumption of destruction” (4-5). In the Man of Law’s Tale, Constance’s elvish characteristics and deep connections to her faith associate her with the natural world thus both reminding a modern audience about the link of the human spirit to nature and providing a parallel comparison to the expectations of how to care for the environment. Chaucer wrote the Canterbury tales with a single philosophical question in mind “the nature and spiritual effect of love” (Gardner 11). In this tale and in others, he depicts a force of nature that has its own spirit and power outside of its physical form. Often times the way in which the natural world interacts with the characters is representative of their moral being. Chaucer’s work ties together spirituality and the way in which nature loves one who has faith in the Christian God, as in Constance’s instance. Constance is awarded a certain elvish power and certain characteristics as a mother that connects her with a world outside of the human one. By the end of the story, Constance is representative of very nature herself providing readers with a metaphor for the treatment of nature. For a modern reader, Chaucer’s depiction of nature requires a deep understanding that nature has a live outside its potential for human usage.
The beginning prologue of the Canterbury Tales beginning with the spring as an agent. The different components of Spring are different active components. “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote”, and “Whan Zephirus” are invoked in these first eighteen-line sentence personifies the season not only by referring to it the time as a person but also by calling upon mythologies in order to provide action in the springtime description. It is not something that is stagnant but something that has some agency. Scholar Stanbury also discusses how the springtime acts as a force that awakens within humankind and encourages them to go on a pilgrimage (11). Nature depicted in this way is meant to be considered a part of the living and human community, something in which people should be interacting with. The medieval sense of nature held a sense of energy within it and a powerful landscape emphasized a more connected sense of community (Siewers 14). The reason for the entire journey then lies in the hands of the nature world and thus none of the story would be possible without the acts of nature. The community of storytellers is then created as these people from different walks of life engage in each others’ mind during this pilgrimage. In other words, the story would have never occurred had not the Springtime had not hit and instilled in people a want to go on a religious pilgrimage.
Similarly, The Man of Law’s tale would have never occurred had it not bene for the power of Constance. This initial description of Constance had they never been revealed or been known to all of Rome, then the tale would have never occurred and Constance would have been living in Rome all her life with nothing but love surrounding her but alas that was not her destiny.
“And so bifel that th’ excellent renoun
Of the Emperoures doghter, dame Custance…
This was the commune voys of every man:
“Oure Emperour of Rome — God hym see! —
A doghter hath that, syn the world bigan,
To rekene as wel hir goodnesse as beautee,
Nas nevere swich another as is shee.
I prey to God in honour hire susteene,
And wolde she were of al Europe the queene”
(The Man of Law’s Tale, 150-152; 155-161)
It is in this moment of the tale where, suddenly Constance is more than just the heroine of the story. The characteristics that define her are not of the common human but she is set apart from the rest of society. This establishes her as a being above the normal expectations of common folk. She is associated with a more heavenly form. Constance’s entrance upon Chaucer’s tale gives her a “Christian otherworldliness thus is identified with a native pre-Norman elvishness, and also with a type of Christianity linked to a mythical native Celtic Christianity…” (Siewers 112).
In this beginning section, some of the qualities that were associated with her being are characteristics that are common of a holy being:
“In hire is heigh beautee, withoute pride,
Yowthe, withoute grenehede or folye;
To alle hire werkes vertu is hir gyde;
Humblesse hath slayn in hire al tirannye.
She is mirour of alle curteisye;
Hir herte is verray chambre of hoolynesse,
Hir hand, ministre of fredam for almesse.”
(The Man of Law’s Tale 162-168).
In this further description of Constance, we begin to associate her with a true vision of perfection, of someone who deserves praise and prayers to be done unto her. Thus, beginning the parallels between the Hail Holy Queen, which will be discussed later in further detail. However, the only connection to other worldly being does not only lie with Constance’s connection with the Holy Mother but also with Anglo-Saxon tradition of the elf. Elves are often associated with the power to “inflict mind-altering ailments” (Hall 243). It is this particular elvish quality within her that begins to impact those she does not even begin to know. For it is solely by word of mouth from the Syrian merchants that the faraway Sultan dreams of having her divine-ness as a wife, which essentially sense her on her own journey. He even decides to change his religion and baptize himself due to Constance’s reputation and this is based solely on a description of a person that he had never met, but her connection to a spiritual Christianity precedes her. These initial descriptions of Constance however, set up for a larger connection with the spiritual world and thus is also representative of nature.
Twice was Constance put through a long trail in the sea, and during those times of her floating in the sea, very little is known. “Yeres and dayes fleet this creature… Men myghten asken why she was nat slayn Eek at the feeste? Who myghte hit body save? (The Man of Law’s Tale 463, 470-471). These are the rhetorical questions that might have been floating in the depths of a reader’s mind upon hearing this tale, well The Man of Law answers them for us. He brings us back to the Christian answer referring us to the different miracles that God preforms in Biblical readings. These trips into the sea is the way in which Constance detaches herself from earthly evils. Despite the fact that these are wrongs done onto her, they are functioning like tests of faith, to which she resigns herself with faith that the Lord will take care of her. It is his resignation that provides her with a truly spiritual self. “This departure saves [her] from the idolatry of being, vanity, non-existence, and we gain that being which truly exists” (Tatakēs 113).” It is a heightening of her spiritual self as she is floating in the sea in a sort of meditated state. When Constance then came upon this first land her transformative power is brought out.
It is in this unknown land in which she landed she did leave her permeant mark and gained power. At this point in the tale, she is also given power of the nature world through God. For Constance, “Wolde hire for Jhesu Cristes love han slayn,” (The Man of Law’s Tale 565). This complete dedication to her faith allowed her to perform a miracle through prayer to the old blind man. This was expletory of the type of spirituality and natural power that comes with complete faith. This single act allows her to mend the spirituality of the King, who later became her husband. It is through this mean that she is allowed to convert the king to believe in the Christian God. “Constance embodies a different type of sovereignty figure, still within a tradition likely adapted typologically by its monastic literary compliers, related both to traditions of the Mother of God… and the feminine figuring of biblical wisdom” (6 Siewers 112). This is in agreement with ecofeminist scholar Ruether that Christian system left a very ambivalent view of women, as either a seductress or as closer to the spiritual realm provided they are freed from subordination which will only occur if they had rejected a certain amount of sexuality (161). Constance throughout her multiple trials is a clear showcase for Biblical wisdom during times of tribulations. She is placed in situations that she herself cannot control and thus just hopes that it will work out for the best.
This attitude is one that is taken up by the Holy Mother who according to scripture trusted in God, in the moment that she agreed to be the mother of the Savior, and in the moment, that she witnessed her Son die on the cross (Luke 1:26-28 && John 19: 25-27). In this tale, Constance is tried once more sent off into the sea, but this time with her just born babe.
“Hir litel child lay wepyng in hir arm,
And knelynge, pitously to hym she seyde,
“Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee noon harm.”
With that hir coverchief of hir heed she breyde,
And over his litel eyen she it leyde,
And in hir arm she lulleth it ful faste,
And into hevene hire eyen up she caste.”
(Man of Law’s Tale 834-840)
This image her brings up a popular image of Madonna and Child. She and her son are being exiled into sea yet again with only faith to save them. Although it may seem to some people the constant adversity to which she faces and simply accepts as truth may be seen as passive and going against the agency that links her to the same springtime agency that Chaucer links to nature in the beginning prologue, the agency that belongs to the natural and spiritual world, it does in fact like with her.
No one who has violence in this tale can hold that spiritual connection within them. For as Tatakēs states, that once the body reaches a holy quietness of body and soul then the only thing left to do is to be united with God (114). In that understanding of the holy wisdom does Constance in her unbound wilderness in the sea does she turn to prayer.
“Mooder,” quod she, “and mayde bright, Marie,
Sooth is that thurgh wommanes eggement
Mankynde was lorn, and damned ay to dye,
For which thy child was on a croys yrent.
Thy blisful eyen sawe al his torment;
Thanne is ther no comparison bitwene
Thy wo and any wo man may sustene”
(Man of Law’s Tale 841-847)
Constance calls upon the holy mother to bring her to safety. There is very little that Constance can control about the situation but one thing that she is vastly aware of is that she has the power to have a greater being always at her side and indeed the heaven’s do travel with Constance and keep her from death and rape during her journey. “The primal image of [Constance] in a rudderless boat in the sea reinforces her unknowable, anarchic power” (Robertson 161). Constance is the agent of the novel. Again, and again, do bad things occur to her despite the fact that she is undeserving of those being subjected to much violence. However not once to those violent agitators in her life ever begin to hold complete power over her. This is because of this power, this elvish quality that Constance seems to hold.
Despite the fact that Constance is the agency for this particular tale, she is also could be a symbol of Mother Earth for the modern reader. While Constance is a symbol of non-violent strength and spirituality the truth of the matter is there are moments within the novel where she is in need of assistance from the real world. For though she goes off to sea and seemingly into another dimension she always comes back to this earth. The first time she lands on the shore she is described as broken:
“The constable of the castel doun is fare
To seen this wrak, and al the ship he soghte,
And foond this wery womman ful of care;
He foond also the tresor that she broghte.
In hir langage mercy she bisoghte,
The lyf out of hir body for to twynne,
Hire to delivere of wo that she was inne.”
(Man of Law’s Tale 512-518).
This pitiful sight on the sand brings memories of oil spills bringing up thousands of dead fish to the surface as they suffocated from the dark liquid. It brings images of a depleting ozone layer. If pushed too harshly, even someone who is one with the natural world can be withered down to nothing. Modern society is not caring for the earth that surrounds them and the misuse of technology against this earth is causing its deuteriation. Chaucer shows us with the very character of Constance how mankind should be in treatment of the earth. Consider the biblical teaching saying that mankind had dominion of the natural world and that they are made in God’s image, then there is indeed a certain amount of agency within mankind (Genesis 1). This agency is given to mankind for the chore of taken care of the church. God and the holy spirit take care of Constance due to her deep connectivity with not only himself but with nature, in the same way that God expected mankind to care for his earth.
Though Chaucer was written in the medieval times it does not fail to apply to today’s society. When looking at the character of Constance from the Man of Law’s tale one can easily associate her with not only a spiritual being but one who is connected with nature so much so that she begins to a part of a deeper natural world. It is her deep understanding of her faith that allows her that closeness to the earth which sends her on her journeys in the sea, which detaches her from normal society. This detachment from society provides her to be the perfect parallel for this dying earth in need of care. In this day in age, many have lost the ability to be connected to nature, and thus according to Byzantine Mysticism it our “intensive duty to turn back, to find the initial condition of man, or better realize within himself the nature which God gave him.” (Tatakēs 120). Not all people have the same devotedness of this fictional character in Chaucer’s tale, nor does one need to be Christian to understand that there was once a time where the earth was believed to have agency among humankind due to a sort of reverence and respect that was given to it. It had the right to life just as humans do. Thus, take a lesson from Chaucer’s tale, and reach out to protect the dying earth of today.
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