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Themes

Family values? What family values? In his depiction of the Karamazovs, Dostoevsky gives us a seriously dysfunctional clan that seems to undermine every traditional notion of what a family ought to be. No loving ties or tender care here. Fyodor is hardly the moral authority you'd expect in a father figure, and the sons – well, forget filial piety. And then there's the small matter of Fyodor's murder. While Smerdyakov may confess to the actual murder, Dostoevsky's novel suggests that all of the brothers, and in some sense, all of the readers, are symbolically responsible for Fyodor's death. The novel repeatedly draws attention to the ways that the exceptional Karamazovs actually represent the turbulent society of Dostoevsky's Russia, where conventional authorities such as the monarchy and the Russian Orthodox Church were challenged by liberal and radical ideas.

Questions About Family

  1. Take a look at the way the Karamazovs behave toward each other. Does Fyodor act like a father to his sons? Do his sons treat him as a father? How do the brothers act toward one another?
  2. Why do you think there is so much conflict in the Karamazov family? Consider, for example, the role that disputes over money and attitudes toward women (both romantic interests and mothers) play.
  3. Do you think Smerdyakov is Fyodor's son? Does he count as a Karamazov brother? Why or why not?
  4. Do you think Fyodor's murder was justified? Why or why not?
  5. Take a look at other father-son and other brother-brother relationships in the novel. You might consider Captain Snegiryov and his son or Zosima and his elder brother, or look at foster father figures, such as Zosima with Alyosha. How do these relationships differ from the Karamazov relationships?
  6. Consider Kirillovich and Fetyukovich's lectures on fatherhood in Dmitri's trial scene. If, as Kirillovich claims, the Karamazov family stands in for society as a whole, what does that say about society?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Fyodor's neglect of his duties as a father led to his death.

Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov suggests that the whole of Russian society lacks a fatherly authority figure that can give it moral guidance. Like the Karamazov family, it is doomed to self-destructive violence.

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