The Brothers Karamazov (2): Themes and Quotes

As I continue to listen to Dostoevsky’s novel, one of main themes I am picking up on is the necessity of suffering for redemption. Redemption requires suffering because only through suffering can we arrive at self-knowledge, and redemption is only possible where there is a prior self-knowledge. Its amazing how you can see a truth like this illustrated through fiction in a unique and powerful way – I wouldn’t really have thought of this point as particularly surprising or profound before I started reading, but watching it dramatized in the book gives it new depth and new meaning. I think there is truth to the idea that only in suffering do we realize the depths of our sin and our need for redemption.

Another theme I am picking up on: the interconnectedness of human guilt. As in Zosima’s repeated statment that “each of us is guilty before all and for all.” It would be wrong to take this too far, but once again I find it a powerful insight to see dramatized, as (for example) Alyosha’s lack of contempt for the sin of those around him continually redeems them. From this I draw: I can’t abstract myself out of the evil of the world. Only when I look at all the brokenness and evil in the world without contempt, without separation, without superiority, can I truly be a blessing in the world. Only when I see myself in the sin of others can I help them turn away from that sin. Before God, I am Adam: I ate the fruit of the tree.

Some of my favorite quotes so far:

“Active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching. Indeed, it will even go so far as the giving of one’s life, provided it does not take long but is soon over, as on stage, and everyone is looking on and praising. Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a whole science” (Zosima to Alyosha, Book II, Chapter 5)

“You will behold great sorrow, and in this sorrow you will be happy. Here is a commandment for you: seek happiness in sorrow” (Zosima to Alyosha, Book III, Chapter 7).

“The science of this world, having united itself into a great force, has, especially in the past century, examined everything heavenly that has been bequeathed to us in sacred books, and, after hard analysis, the learned ones of this world have absolutely nothing left of what was once holy. But they have examined parts and missed the whole, and their blindness is even unworthy of wonder. Meanwhile the whole stands before their eyes as immovably as ever, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Elder Paissy to Alyosha, Book IV, Chapter 1).

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