Six Degrees: From Dani to Alexei Karamazov
Time for another spin on the merry-go-round of literature known as Six Degrees of Kool Books. This week, we’ll spin our way from one snowy land to another. From the book, Treasures in the Snow, which Jenelle Schmidt talked about last week to the frozen lands of Russia with The Brothers Karamazov. While I have not had the pleasure of reading Treasures, it had a sort of Heidi/Little House on the Prairie feel to it from the way Jenelled described it (though I’m guess it has a more modern time frame based on the cover). In short, a family drama.
Today’s book, Brothers Karamazov, is also a family drama, but far less happy than the ones I’ve mentioned. In fact, it would be positively depressing if it were not for the hero of the story, Alexei Karamazov, or Alyosha as he is also called.
The character that reminded me of him was Dani, whom Jenelle described as “…a sweet boy [with] all the excitement about life you would expect from a five or six year old child who has been extremely loved. His cheerfulness is infectious, and he [is] ready and willing to forgive any offense.” This sort of buoyant, resilient spirit is also present in Alexei. Unlike Dani, though, he has not be extremely well loved. In fact, his other two brothers and his father are all self-absorbed moral failures to one degree or another.
Maybe Alexei was adopted?
Though Alexei is much older than Dani, he displays the same sort of innocence and willingness to trust that I imagine Dani possesses. He is a monk in a Russian Orthodox monastery and his faith is one thing among many which sets him apart from the rest of his family. In fact, at times Alexei is so noble, caring, and compassionate, that it almost seems impossible that he shares any blood relationship with the rest of his back-biting, prideful relatives.
The least dishonorable among his family members is his brother Dimitri, the elder of the three brothers. He is headstrong, a hedonist, and easily manipulated, but he seems to have his heart in the right place. This only makes him all the more tragic as he proceeds to make one bad decision after another throughout the course of the novel. The song, “Fools Rush In” should probably be playing in the background of most of his scenes.
Dimitri is far more likable than Alexei’s other brother, Ivan. The middle brother comes off as cool and collected and someone who is rather fond of himself. He seems perpetually to be in control and he likes it that way. But his heart is so cold and his assumptions about the world so base that he ends up cynical and prideful. Though intellectually gifted, he uses his mind to twist reason and turn it on its head, justifying his actions through a sort of Darwinian pragmatism that is, at its core, thoroughly evil.
Finally there is the head of the Karamazov clan, Fyodor. A completely disinterested (or perhaps self-interested would be a better word) father, Fyodor is a moral train wreck, a lech, and a sop. There is nothing to like about him and he, more than any other member of the Karamazov family, bears responsibility for the sad state of the Karamazov family.
There are many other characters in the novel outside the Karamazovs. One of the most important ones is Grushenka, a pretty young starlet who attracts the interest of both Fyodor and Dimitri. The jealousy she engenders between father and son further damages their relationship. While at first she seems only interested in exercising her charm over men for her own enjoyment, she eventually becomes less selfish and more willing to listen to Alexei’s more spiritual, less materialistic point of view.
Katerina is Dmitri’s fiancée, but their relationship is chiefly built on principle, not love. Since Dmitri helped her father she feels obligated to continue the relationship despite the fact that she is secretly in love with Ivan. Katerina is simply too proud to change. Like Grushenka, however, she eventually shows a change of heart due to Alexei’s influence and seeks forgiveness for her prideful behavior by the end of the novel.
Brothers Karamazov is by far one of the best novels I have ever read. And I’d put it right up there with Tale of Two Cities for its emotional impact and spiritual insights. It is gut wrenching at times to read the awful lives some of these characters lead, but ultimately Alexei makes the novel shine and pulls the story out of the fire, refined and stronger for the testing it has gone through.
I hope you enjoyed this stop on the Six Degrees trail. Anyone is welcome to join in at any point and write about one of the characters I’ve mentioned and another character who he or she reminds you of from another book. If you do, just send me the link and I’ll post it on our massive, Six Degrees list. We’re up to 35 books now! I can hardly believe it. Which one will be next? Tune in next week to find out!