Smerdyakov And Nietzsche Essay, Research Paper
Smerdyakov and Neitzsche
The character of Smerdyakov in Dostoevsky?s Brothers Karamazov appears to me to
epitomize Nietzsche?s idea of the ?slave revolt?. With a closer look at the book we see that
Smerdyakov appears to have been plotting throughout the entire story. Upon a close analysis we
see that he had both a reason and a means for revenge against almost all of the other characters.
We also see that he comes out ?ahead?. Much like Nietzsche?s slave revolt, where there is an
inversion of power, and the weakling comes out the ?winner?. In this paper I will attempt to
show how Smerdyakov accomplished this ?inversion of power?. I will take an in depth look into
the relationships that Smerdyakov had with the other characters, and show how and why he fits
perfectly into the ?slave revolt?.
Dostoevsky first presents Smerdyakov, in the Brothers Karamazov, in Book three of Part
one. The author divulges details of the conception of the fourth son of Fyodor Karamazov. Late
on a September evening, a drunk Fyodor, by modern standards, ?rapes? a homeless woman.
Stinking Lizaveta, the victim of Fyodor?s violence, was a legend in the town. Regardless of her
unattractive and dirty appearance, her poverty, and homelessness, the townspeople regarded her
with sympathy and compassion. Fyodor, on the other hand, treated Lizaveta as an insubordinate
who was undeserving of even an ounce of respect. He and his friends mock her. He then rapes
her. As if these actions are not cruel and offensive enough, he vehemently denies any of it
happening. Later, when Lizaveta gives birth to Fyodor?s illegitimate son, it is Grigory and Marfa
who take the boy in, baptize him, an decide to raise the child. The townspeople mistakenly credit
Fyodor for taking the dead woman?s child into his house. All of these actions on the part of
Fyodor are the cause for his punishment. While Fyodor neglected his fatherly duties to his other
three sons, to his fourth, he rejects them completely. He finds the controversy around the mystery
of the boy?s conception amusing. He employs his own son as one of his servants, as his ?lackey:?
Although incredible attention to detail is paid to the story of Lizaveta, Dostoevsky waits to speak
of the boy himself. It is as if the author is all ready separating this last son. Dostoevsky claims to
not want to go into detail about Smerdyakov so as to not distract the reader from the story.
However, it is an intentional set-up on the part of the author.
When we finally learn more of this mysterious character, it is not until four chapters later.
Dostoevsky is oddly able to summarize the character of Smerdyakov in only five pages, whereas,
with the characters of his brothers he needs many more pages. In this way, the author is showing
the mistreatment of this innocent boy by all who know him. Grigory is ashamed of him. He
spreads the story of Smerdyakov?s birth and ruins his reputation indefinitely. All three of the
brothers treat Smerdyakov not as an equal, but as a servant. Despite his displays of intelligence,
Smerdyakov is labeled and mocked by everyone. He is called a lackey, an ass, a scoundrel, and
many other horrible things.
So, quite predictably, we find out in the sixth chapter of Book three, that Smerdyakov is,
to say the least, bitter about his mistreatment. Smerdyakov seems to be innately aware of the
violence, disrespect, and cruelty from which he was conceived. He is outwardly cold and
passionless. Inwardly he has a lot of anger. He reacts to his situation much in the same way that
the lamb reacts to the bird of prey according to Nietzsche. Those who are in power are the birds
and those who the powerful use as a crutch to survive are the lambs. Nietzsche tells us that
although the birds of prey must eat the lamb to survive, the lambs still ?hold the birds of prey
accountable for being birds of prey? (25). So although Smerdyakov knows that he has no control
over the position that he has been put in, he is still is going to be angry and resentful of it.
The similar characteristic of the three Karamazov brothers is their explosive exhibition of
their passion. The youngest Karamazov, Alexei, is passionate about religion. He passes some
time in the town monastery where he is greatly influenced by the elder Zosima. Even though he
decides against living his life as a monk, he vows to uphold the teachings of his mentor.
Throughout the entire book he attempts to exhibit to others the workings of his God. Alexei is
greatly admired and respected for his unyielding dedication to the truth. He embodies religious
devotion, purity, and spirituality.
The second Karamazov, Ivan, is passionate about his intellect. he is known as an educated
and intellectual man. He is the only son to have graduated from college. Ivan?s reviews of books
are published and his name is familiar in literary circles. He takes great pride in his talented mind.
He is consumed by his love for books.
Dmitri, the eldest Karamazov brother, holds a slightly more complicated passion. His
passion lies in dishonest and immoral actions. He is presented as a lover of women, money, and
alcohol. His nature is fun loving and easy-going. He seems to attract controversy and is always
surrounded by illegal, unethical, and unscrupulous activities.
Smerdyakov, on the other hand, does not exhibit this common Karamazov trait of
explosive passion. Dostoevsky precisely outlines in the sixth chapter how Smerdyakov is different
in this respect. In this chapter, Smerdyakov systematically rejects the three passions that consume
the lives of his three brothers. First, Smerdyakov challenges Grigory?s teachings of the
Scriptures. He offends Grigory by questioning the plausibility of the Bible. He rejects religion.
Then, Fyodor recommends a book and is offended when Smerdyakov finds it boring.
Smerdyakov also finds no humor in a book that is supposed to be funny. He rejects books.
Finally, Smerdyakov proves to be trustworthy and honest because he returns money to Fyodor.
he rejects immoral activities such as stealing. This rejection of the beliefs of the people who are
supposed to be in charge relates directly to Nietzsche?s ?slave revolt?. The idea is that the weak
base their idea of ?good? on whatever is opposite of what the strong see as ?good?. In
Nietzsche?s lamb vs. bird of prey description the lambs oppose the ideas of the strong saying ?Let
us be different from the evil ones, namely good!? (26)
Smerdyakov?s passion stems from his birth in Fyodor?s garden and ripens in his dreams
while asleep in the kitchen. His passion is cooking. He closely examines and studies the different
characteristics of food. He is then sent to training school in order to become a cook.
Smerdyakov has a terrific knack for manipulating foods. The final dishes nearly always turn out
perfectly. His culinary artistry imbues his personality. Smerdyakov conjures up a recipe for
delicious soup, as well as a recipe for sweet revenge on his ?family.?
Smerdyakov?s entire existence from womb to death is on the exterior of the lives around
him. He is born outside of the birth order accepted by society. This is symbolically demonstrated
by the fact that his birth took place outside. The servants of Fyodor?s household deliver the baby
boy in the garden. As a child, he sleeps separated from the other members of the house, in the
kitchen. The author reinforces this separation by introducing his character independent of any
other characters. Fyodor physically separates the boy from the household by sending him to
Moscow. Ironically, while all of this physical separation is placed upon Smerdyakov, he is unable
to separate himself from the one thing that haunts him. He can not escape his past and his fate.
Within the fenced garden where Smerdyakov was released from his mother?s womb, he is forever
attached to his mother?s reputation and trapped by his own fate. Smerdyakov is well aware of his
lot in life. His smeared name follows him to Moscow where the physical distance is obviously not
sufficient. While he is outwardly distanced and separated both by others and by himself, inwardly
he is restricted and confined to his circumstances of birth. This idea of being stuck in the same
social class that you are born into relates back to Nietzsche once again. The thought that a bird is
always a bird, and a lamb is always a lamb is a central idea with Nietzsche. He tells us that it is
impossible for us to ?demand that it (the bird) not express itself as strength, that is not be desire to
overwhelm, a desire to cast down, a desire to become lord, a thirst for enemies and resistance and
triumphs, is just as nonsensical as to demand of weakness that it express itself through strength?
Smerdyakov outwardly appears to grudgingly accept his fate, while inwardly he cooks up
a scheme to seek revenge. In the same way that he meticulously inspects his food as a child,
Smerdyakov watches and digests every bit of information about his brothers and his father. He
questions and challenges their ideas and beliefs. He learns of their quirks and passions as well as
their abilities and insecurities. He secretly gathers all of these items and stores them in his head as
ingredients for his recipe. Like a true ?broth-maker,? he never divulges his secrets.
Smerdyakov uses the idea of ?ressentiment?, this idea is a back-handed revenge sought
out by the weak who are looking for some sort of justice behind their suffering. Instead of
affirming himself by using an outside and forthright force, he goes behind the backs of the strong,
knocking them down.
Smerdyakov tempts Dmitri to the scene of the crime like a child to candy. Smerdyakov
sets up an easy chance for Dmitri to commit the crime that has been threatening for some time.
Knowing his character, Smerdyakov is aware of Dmitri?s cowardly inability to carry out his
threats. However, impassioned by the chance, Dmitri, Smerdyakov knows, will certainly present
himself at the correct time and place. Smerdyakov cleverly devises the plan to have Dmitri appear
as the main suspect while he himself is able to carry out the actual murder. After years of obeying
the humiliating commands of his master/father, Smerdyakov takes revenge into his own hands.
He cracks open his fathers cruel and unjust head at the same time he places his master at his feet.
This is what the slave revolt is all about, putting your master at your feet. Smerdyakov
accomplishes this task with the greatest of ease.
Smerdyakov then places the guilt of the murder onto Ivan. He plays on his obsession with
knowledge and his persistence in gaining it. It is not until Ivan comes to him for the third time
that Smerdyakov hands him the truth, the proof (the money), and the responsibility of the murder.
Smerdyakov says continuously throughout the book, ?it?s always interesting to talk with an
intelligent man.? He mocks Ivan?s intelligence because he knows that Ivan can not handle certain
truths. Ivan, indeed, becomes so burdened with this knowledge that he becomes insane.
Smerdyakov handles the destruction of his third brother a little differently. Alexei cares to
an extreme extent about others. Smerdyakov knows that by simply affecting the two brothers
whom Alexei loves, he is also affecting Alexei. Alexei, to no avail, attempts to save what remains
of his brothers? dehumanized states.
While Smerdyakov?s actions are cunning and deceitful, he knows at every moment exactly
what he is doing and why he is doing it. He is fully aware of his own predicament. He is born
into misfortune, attempts to avenge his name, and wreaks havoc upon this small Russian town.
He carefully manipulates people and skillfully executes his plans. Like Zosima?s ?mysterious
visitor,? Smerdyakov commits his crimes out of passion. He does not wait for the jury to
consider the case. Like the ?mysterious visitor,? he convicts himself of murder and sentences
himself to death, believing that there are no consequences after death.
As a recap we see that Smerdyakov is embodiment of Neitzsche?s slave revolt. He is the
weak, who has no control over his situation. He is angry of his lot in life, and is determined to do
something about it. In turn he takes revenge out on all of the people that put him where he is. He
ends up the winner from his view, being that he believes that there are no repercussions in the
after-life to what you do in this one.