Spiritually speaking, Dostoevsky worked on The Brothers Karamazov his entire life. The novel is one artistic embodiment riddled with everything he experienced, thought, and created. The central theme is a familiar motif: the conflict between faith and disbelief. This conflict is most accentuated by the personality duality of Ivan Karamazov and his dreamy encounter with the devil. The novel is a cumulation of Dostoevsky’s life that in the topography of which his memories of childhood are united with the impressions of his final years. The three brothers, Dimitri, Ivan, and Alyosha are aspects of Dostoevsky’s personality, three stages of his spirituality.
Dostoevsky portrays the brothers as a spiritual unity with some collective personality in its triple structure. The principle of reason is embodied in Ivan, the atheist, logician, and innate skeptic. Dimitri represents the principle of feeling in whom one finds the sensuality of insects. The principle of will, realizing itself in active love as an ideal, is presented Alyosha. However much the novel resembles a psychological treatise and a theological epistle; Dostoevsky merely meant it to be a novel. Religious-philosophical material was introduced into the framework of the novel genre and treated according to its laws. A tense dramatic plot is constructed at the center of which stand an enigmatic crime, a murder mystery, rivalry within family, and an entangled love affair. The religious mystery is thus paradoxically joined with a mystery-crime novel, as the ideological masses are ineluctably drawn into the eddy of the convoluted action, and clashing together, produce effective outbursts. Notwithstanding all its depth in philosophical treatise and the musing of immortality and existence of God, the novel is one of the most captivating and popular works of Russian literature.
Tension instantly builds up as the novel opens. The gathering at the Elder’s Zosima’s abode is an exposition of the characters and complication of the plot, as well as foreshadowing of the imminent fatality. The main protagonists are all presented together in this dramatic scene. The first clash between old Fyodor Karamazov and Dimitri takes place here. Ivan, whose essay establishes atheism, reason and logic, exposes his idea of the impossibility to loving mankind. The scandal anticipates the novel’s tragic denouement. Tension mounts with each scene, and one inevitably becomes convinced of the possibility of the murder both practically and psychologically. The murder is a mystery for it seems only that the false denouement with Dimitri’s stormy, unbridled character by contrast prepares the tragic tone of catastrophe. No less skillfully is the false murderer Dimitri places in opposition to the moral murderer Ivan. The frenzy of the former is not so terrible as the latter’s cold hatred.
Conflict between faith and disbelief is brought to the full actuality in Ivan’s nightmarish encounter with the devil. It is obvious that Ivan’s consciousness is torn between faith and disbelief for the idea is not resolved in his heart and fretted him. Ivan longs for a world riddled with rational consciousness as opposed to evil and suffering. In a way, proportionally as the apparent atheist withdrew into the shadows, the wrestler with God steps out into illumination. In other words, Ivan is not an atheist but a struggler in the faith. The keenness of Ivan’s reasoning lied in that he renounces God out of love for mankind comes forward against God in the role of the advocate of all suffering creation. He asserts the existence of evil in the world shows that there is no God and denying sin, he absolves man of any responsibility for evil and fixes it upon God. All the force of Christianity is in the personality of Christ, who overcomes sin and death. But if there is no sin, then redemption is not needed.
Ivan Karamazov echoes the Grand Inquisitor whose monologue culminates the work of Dostoevsky’s whole life: his struggle for man. In it he discloses the religious foundation of the personality and the inseparability of faith in man from faith in God. To the Anti-Christ freedom is a torment for freedom leads to evil. Under the false compassion for the sufferings of mankind is hidden in a diabolic hatred of human freedom and the image of God in man. This is what stuck Ivan Karamazov. The monologue contains a “proof by the contrary” in which the censure of Christ is turned into his glorification. His negative argumentation suddenly transforms into a positive one. The Inquisitor reproaches Christ for having imposed an intolerable burden of freedom upon mankind, having demanded an impossible perfection from it and, having acted as if He did not love at all. Dostoevsky, through a proof of the contrary, shrewdly makes the greatest spiritual disclosure: the free personality of man is revealed only in Christ. Love is not a divine nature and the lover of mankind is not a man but God, who has given his son for the salvation of the world.
Since Ivan is with the Inquisitor against Christ, he must follow the road of apostasy and struggle with God to the end. The dichotomy of his consciousness between faith and disbelief is shown in his dialogue with the devil, which did everything in his power to compel the atheist to accept his reality. The devil might have been the product of Ivan’s disbelief. The question of the devil’s enigmatic visit will remain unresolved in Ivan’s heart. Reality might have escaped the man who has lost the highest reality – God; fact merges with delirium, nothing exists but everything only seems.
The overall framework of the novel prepares for the pro and contra that enters into Alyosha’s very soul, becomes his inner struggle, temptation, and victory over the temptation. While Ivan’s revolt ends in his struggle with God and negation of God’s world, Alyosha’s revolt is completed and pruned by his mystical vision of the resurrection, through a feat of personal love. After all, The Brothers Karamazov, in light of its violent nature, calls for love and the miracle it brings about in life.