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Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov Essay

1760 words - 7 pages

Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoevsky first presents Smerdyakov, in The Brothers Karamazov, in Book 3 of Part 1. The author divulges details of the conception of the fourth son of Fyodor Pavovich Karamazov. Late on a September evening, a drunk Fyodor, by modern standards, "rapes" a homeless woman. Stinking Lizaveta, the victim of Fyodor's violence, was a legend in the town. Regardless of her unattractive and dirty appearance, her poverty, and homelessness, the townspeople regarded her with sympathy and compassion. Fyodor, on the other hand, treated Lizaveta as an insubordinate who was undeserving of even an ounce of respect. He and his friends mock her. He, then, rapes her. And, as if these actions are not cruel and offensive enough, he vehemently denies any of it happening. Later, when Lizaveta gives birth to Fyodor's illegitimate son, it is Grigory and Marfa who take the boy in, baptize him, and decide to raise the child. The townspeople mistakenly credit Fyodor for taking the dead woman's child into his house. All of these disturbing actions on the part of Fyodor are cause for his punishment.

While Fyodor neglected his fatherly duties to his other three sons, to this fourth, he rejects them completely. He finds the controversy around the mystery of the boy's conception amusing. He employs his own son as one of his servants, as his "lackey." Although incredible attention to detail is paid to the story of Lizaveta, Dostoevsky waits to speak of the boy himself. It is as if the author is all ready separating this last son. Dostoevsky claims to not want to go into detail about Smerdyakov so as not to distract the reader from the story. However, it is an intention set-up on the part of the author.

When we finally learn more of this mysterious character, it is not until four chapters later. Dostoevsky is oddly able to summarize the character of Smerdyakov in only five pages, whereas, with the characters of his brothers, he needs many more pages. In this way, the author is showing the mistreatment of this innocent boy by all who know him. Grigory is ashamed of him. He spreads the story of Smerdyakov's birth and ruins his reputation indefinitely. All three of the brothers treat Smerdyakov not as an equal, but as a servant. Despite his displays of intelligence, Smerdyakov is labeled and mocked by everyone. He is called a lackey, an ass, a scoundrel, and more.

So, quite predictably, we find out in the sixth chapter of Book 3, that Smerdyakov is, to say the least, bitter about his mistreatment. Smerdyakov seems to be innately aware of the violence, disrespect, and cruelty from which he was conceived. He is outwardly cold and passionless. Inwardly, he has a lot of anger. As a child, he maliciously unleashes this inward wrath in the ceremonial killing of cats. Thanks to a frank and mean-spirited admonition by Grigory, he is fully aware of his position as a subordinate in the house of his father. Dostoevsky, quite effectively,...

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