Devils And The Brothers Karamazov Essay Research

Devils And The Brothers Karamazov Essay, Research Paper

In “On Dreams,” Freud asserted that feelings of guilt, if repressed from consciousness,inevitably surface in unconscious symptoms, such as nightmares or madness. Although aperson may repress his conscience, the guilt is merely displaced to another part of themind, and eventually, this repressed matter must return. In the works of Dostoevsky, acharacter’s guilt often manifests itself in dreams by presenting the character’s purelydevilish self or his worst fears. Not only does the character himself assume in dreams atotally fiendish nature, but the beings he encounters do also. Whether the devil appearsliterally, as in Ivan Karamazov’s case, or in the likeness of the character’s victim, as in thecase Stavrogin, the mere fact of the devil’s emergence reveals that the character has failedto elude guilt, a human universal, despite what he thinks or says consciously. In that thecharacter himself is responsible for his nightmare, in that he is incapable of escaping theguilt that plagues him, the character constitutes his own devil. Because he is human, hesuffers guilt, and hence, cannot get away with his crime. He is not as good at being bad ashe believes. We will therefore have a close examinition of the crimes, the dreams, and thedevils of Stavrogin, and Ivan Karamazov to understand these depictions of pride and guilt. It is important when discussing a dream in a novel to distinguish between theliterary and psychological implications of the dream. The dream is obviously thefunctional product of the author’s imagination, and hence, must serve a definite purpose inthe work. If examined legitimately, however, as a dream of an actual, non-fictional person,the dream bears psychological importance and reveals something about the dreamer’sunconscious. In interpreting the dreams in Dostoevsky’s novels, we can assumesignificance in every detail, but only in light of the fact that Dostoevsky, as author, createdthese dreams for a purpose, both literary and psychological. These dreams are not actualproducts of the unconscious, but, on the other hand, deliberate, conscious attempts to fillout a certain character’s psychology. With a belief that he can transcend human mediocrity and maintain himself on aplane with the divine, in Devils, Stavrogin believes he can heartlessly rape a young girl andthen virtually arrange her suicide without personal consequence. Stavrogin seems toconveniently “forget” his humanity, assuming in his arrogant hubris that he can transcendhis mortal self through his own will and action. But his guilt, emerging from hisunconscious to disturb his dreams, reminds Stavrogin, of his indisputably human nature. Inhis confession to Tikhon, Stavrogin describes the dream that continuously haunts him: I saw before me (Oh, not in reality! If only it had been real!), I saw Matryosha,emaciated, with feverish eyes, exactly as she was when she stood at my doorshaking her head and raising her tiny little fist at me. Nothing had ever tortured meso! The pitiful despair of a helpless ten-year-old child with its undeveloped mindthreatening me . . .but blaming only herself, of course. Nothing like this had everhappened to me before. I sat there until nightfall, without moving, forgetting thetime. Is this what’s called remorse or repentance? . . . Perhaps it’s not therecollection of the act that I find so loathsome even now. Perhaps even now thatrecollection contains something that appeals to my passions. No–what I findintolerable is solely this image, namely, her in the doorway . . . That’s what I can’tstand because that’s what I’ve been seeing ever since, almost every day. It doesn’tcome of its own accord; I summon it and can’t help doing so, although I can’t livewith it (Devils,472). Matryosha, the ten-year-old whom Stavrogin raped and allowed to die, now invades herrapist’s dreams to show Stavrogin that he is not above his humanity. Stavrogin may havebeen able to repress his guilt, but he can never escape it. The guilt gathers new energyfrom the energy employed in its repression, and manifests itself in unconscious symptoms. The dreams of Stavrogin are marked by the appearance of their now-vindictivevictim, is symptomatic of the repression of his guilt. Like the victim herself now returning,in dreams, as more powerful, threatening figures, the guilt which the victim symbolizeemerges from the unconscious to likewise haunts the criminal. Stavrogin, however,effectively haunts himself, since his guilt is his human nature reminding him that he hasdone wrong, and the images, devilish themselves, are actually products of his unconsciousmind, which, it is essential to remember, is a product of Dostoevsky’s mind. Hence, thevictim may appear to be the real devil in these dreams, but when examined in light ofFreud’s theories of dream and repression, it can be found that Stavrogin is unconsciouslyresponsible for these devils, and hence, is the real devil himself. What motivates Stavrogin to commit such a random, heartless crime? Stavroginmakes a point of testing the limits of acceptable behavior, of acting randomly to see whatpeople will do. Despite the opinion of many characters in the book, he is not insane,according to the last sentence of the book. Shatov questions him: “Is it true that youclaimed not to see any aesthetic difference between a voluptuous, bestial prank and a

heroic feat, even the sacrifice of one’s own life for the benefit of humanity? Is it true thatin both extremes you found identical beauty and equal enjoyment?” (Devils, II, 7, 268).Shatov hones in on Stavrogin’s pretentious disrespect for boundaries, and his drive tosurpass them, and in fact a trait he shares with most of humanity, the very trait that allowsand encourages him to rape Matryosha. Stavrogin’s pride, which allows him to assume thathe can rape without guilt, that he can surpass human nature, is also obvious in hisinfluence on Kirillov and Shatov. Stavrogin crosses boundaries not only by incorrectlyassuming that such transcendence is attainable for humans, but also by fostering in hisdisciples conflicting ideals. He teaches both to go beyond the restrictions of time anddeath, but only along different paths: Kirillov should seek to abolish God, but Shatovshould pursue God. Pride allows and motivates Stavrogin to believe that he can transcendhis mortality in his quest of the divine, but his dreams remind him that he cannot. Thispursuit of godly power, in the end, only highlights his human restrictions. As a result ofhis pride and the associated will to transcend human nature and gain power, each commitsa crime without considering consequence. Therefore, he represses this guilt, whicheventually emerges from the unconscious in the form of devil-ridden dreams. Exaggerated pride inspires Ivan Karamazov to commit a crime of sorts as well.Motivated by his intellectual pride, Ivan trespasses on divine territory with his extravagant,athiestic theories, arrogantly assuming knowledge of the cosmos and superiority overgodly forces. In Part One, conscious, of course, of his own athiesm, he smugly asserts,”[E]very earthly State should be, in the end, completely transformed into the Church andshould become nothing else but a Church” (Brothers Karamazov, 53). Also, “There is novirtue if there is no immortality” (Brothers Karamazov 60), and hence, “everything islawful.” He toys with people’s minds by broaching these grandiose theories on the”correct” order of Church and state, faith, and immortality, for he himself does not evenbelieve in God. It is this pride that then encourages this murder. Unlike Stavrogin, Ivan’s “crime” isnot literal or definite, like murder or rape. He has committed a crime only in that hethinks he has committed a crime; in other words, he did not literally murder his father,but, with Smerdyakov’s encouragement, Ivan comes to believe that he effected the death ofhis father by silently wishing for it and by preaching his lofty, nihilistic ideas. In their thirdmeeting, Smerdyakov accuses Ivan, “You murdered him; you are the real murderer, I wasonly your instrument, your faithful servant Licharda, and it was following your words Idid it” (Brothers Karamazov, 590). Whether consciously or not, Ivan believes that heparticipated in his father’s death. Thus, he might as well have actually murdered Fyodor,for he experiences the same guilt, the same psychological trauma. Although Ivan tries to persuade himself that he is not to blame, his true feelings ofguilt are evident in his dream encounter with the “devil.” Ivan has repressed his guiltyfeelings in hopes of avoiding them. He has displaced his guilt by divorcing his “good” self,the self that maintains his innocence, from his “bad” self, the devil self, the dark, doubtingalter-ego who supports Smerdyakov’s claim that Ivan, in fact, is to blame for his father’sdeath. When faced with the devil, Ivan accordingly cries out, “You are the incarnation ofmyself, but only of one side of me . . . of my thoughts and feelings, but only the nastiestand stupidest of them” (Brothers Karamazov, 604). He has repressed or denied his guilt,but only temporarily and only from his consciousness. His guilt lives on within hisunconscious, symbolized by the devil. Just as the dreams of Stavrogin reveal hisundeniable, unconscious belief in his own guilt, Ivan’s encounter with his own devil in hisdream, and his admission that this devil is in fact a part of himself, reveals that his guiltremains, despite his attempts to deny or repress it. The intellectual, urbane devil of Ivan’s dreams preys on his insecurities, forcing himto question and defend his innocence. Emerging from Ivan’s subconscious and manifestinghimself in a hallucination, the devil is both external and internal, physical andpsychological. He is a physical embodiment of Ivan’s deepest fears, yet he exists withinIvan himself. Stavrogin likewise encounters a devils dual in nature and function; indreams, each character continuously faces not only his own devilish self, himself as ahardened criminal in the act of commiting his crime, but also his victim, reborn as a sort ofdevil in dreams to psychologically punish the murderer. Ultimately, each character is hisown devil; the pride that permitted him to commit such a godly action has fathered theguilt that now plagues his unconscious. Guilt is a universal throughout humankind, andmerely completes the psychological equation originating with excessive pride: if one daresto assume that he can transcend his humanity and enter the divine sphere, and commits acrime accordingly, guilt, emerging unconsciously in dreams, will eventually remind him ofhis human roots. Bibliography Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Trans. Constance Garnett. Ed. Ralph E.Matlaw. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1976. Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Devils. Trans. and Ed. Michael R. Katz. New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 1992.


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