Study Guide

The Brothers Karamazov Isolation

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Isolation

"Here is a willow, there is a handkerchief, a shirt, I can make a rope right now, plus suspenders, and – no longer burden the earth, or dishonor it with my vile presence! And then I heard you coming – Lord, just as if something suddenly flew down on me: ah, so there is a man that I love" (3.11.8)

Dmitri does not commit suicide because at the sight of his brother Alyosha he no longer feels alone.

Why had the elder sent him "into the world"? Here was quiet, here was holiness, and there – confusion, and a darkness in which one immediately got lost and went astray. (3.11.25)

Alyosha doesn't seem to understand Zosima's point about a monk's solitude (see Quote #5 below). Monks, according to Zosima, aren't supposed to use their isolation in a monastery as a way to escape earthly troubles; they're supposed to use it to think about and pray for the suffering of the world at large. In contrast, Alyosha wants to use the monastery as an escape from his zany family.

"[...] if, indeed, I hold out for the sticky little leaves, I shall love them only remembering you." (5.5.26)

Just as Alyosha's brotherly love rescues Dmitri from suicide in Quote #1, it also holds out a glimmer of hope for cynical Ivan.

"[...] every once in a while, if only individually, a man must suddenly set an example, and draw the soul from its isolation an act of brotherly communion." (6.2.d)

Mikhail, Zosima's "mysterious visitor," here celebrates brotherly love as a force that can unite and heal a fractured society. This suggests that Alyosha's care for his brothers may have a significance beyond fraternal devotion.

"Which of the two is capable of serving a great idea – the isolated rich man or one who is liberated from the tyranny of things and habits? The monk is reproached for his isolation. [...] We shall see, however, who is more zealous in loving his brothers." (6.3.e)

Zosima points out the irony that those who are living it up in the world are in fact the most isolated because they are driven by selfish needs. Monks, who are isolated from the world, are more in tune with the rest of humanity because they are not driven by selfish needs and can devote themselves wholly to the love of mankind.

"'What is hell?' [...] 'The suffering of being no longer able to love.'" (6.3.i)

Zosima views Russian Orthodoxy as based on universal love. Hell would mean isolation from this universal love, which would cause immense despair. In the novel, characters do seem to suffer the most when they feel the most unloved – think, for example, of all those twisted love triangles.

"Woe to those who have destroyed themselves on earth, woe to the suicides! I think there can be no one unhappier than they." (6.3.i)

The consequence of isolation from the profound bonds of love that Zosima believes unite all mankind is suicide. Smerdyakov's suicide testifies to this condition (see Quote #11 below).

"But what comes of this right to increase one's needs. For the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; for the poor, envy and murder, for they have been given rights, but have not yet been shown any way of satisfying their needs. We are assured that the world is becoming more and more united, is being formed into brotherly communion, by the shortening of distances, by the transmitting of thoughts through the air. Alas, do not believe in such a union of people." (6.3.e)

Zosima warns against viewing modern progress as somehow creating a global community or network (sounds kind of like a Microsoft ad). Despite modern advances, Dostoevsky is writing in the context of a deepening divide between rich and poor.

[Dmitri's] scattered thoughts suddenly came together, his sensations merged, and the result of it all was light. A terrible, awful light! "If I'm going to shoot myself, what better time than now?" swept through his mind. [...] So now all he had to do was live, but...but he could not live, he could not, oh, damnation! (8.8.36)

Taking a break from the Mokroye festivities, Dmitri finds himself alone on a porch and contemplates suicide yet again (see Quote #1 above). At this point in the novel, we've read all of Zosima's teachings (some of us, anyway, right?), so we can now read his confusion as further proof that isolation leads to suicide.

And so [Ivan] was sitting there now, almost aware of being delirious, and, as I have already said, peering persistently at some object on the sofa against the opposite wall. (11.9.1)

The devil appears to Ivan when he's sitting alone in his room. This passage recalls Zosima's definition of hell as the consequence of isolation from the bonds of love that unite humanity (see Quote #6 above).

There was a note on the table: "I exterminate my life by my own will and liking, so as not to blame anybody." (11.10.1)

Not only does Smerdyakov die alone; his suicide note suggests that he wants to isolate himself from all human consideration, even in death.

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