Gary Senecal: Childhood and Salvation in The Brother’s Karamazov


Childhood and Salvation in The Brother’s Karamazov

Gary Senecal

In his work, The Brother’s Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky demonstrated a profound intellectual critique of Christianity and its ideals of love. Throughout the novel, Dostoevsky sets out to address the problem of uncovering God and goodness in the face of unjust suffering, temporality, and self-laceration. Ultimately, Dostoevsky presents to the reader a metaphysical understanding of childhood and the spiritual innocence that comes from it to answer the questions of suffering, temporality and laceration. According to Dostoevsky, when an individual is psychologically and emotionally broken by the sight of unjust suffering in the world, he or she is left with an immediate sense of hopelessness in regards to a universe that has been ordered toward the good. Laceration, according to Dostoevsky, occurs when an individual is desperately shamed over the recognition of one’s own impotent will in light of one’s own sublime and lofty ideals about love. Temporality and time come to fruition when the individual gives up hope of reaching their own ideals of a love that exists eternally within a moment and inevitably attempts to construct an ideal utopia (i.e. a heaven on earth) based on worldly goods and circumstances. For Dostoevsky, metaphysical childhood solves these problems by returning one to a metaphysical state of innocence where one can see and recall that one possesses the ability to act in a way that is purely good. One will then no longer lacerate oneself and will also pursue goods (as opposed to manipulating and/or constructing them) in a way that, within a moment, is authentic, unadulterated, and beyond the limitations of space and time. From this, life will bear moments of “miracles”[1] for an individual that will bring one ultimately to faith in a God that has ordered the universe toward the good.

                I have chosen to break the paper down into three distinct parts as well as a conclusion to analyze how Dostoevsky uses metaphysical childhood to ultimately solve these problems: 1. unjust suffering; 2. laceration; 3. temporality; and 4. a concluding point. According to Dostoevsky, it is the recognition of unjust suffering that ultimately causes laceration of oneself and it is laceration that keeps an individual from experiencing moments of active love outside of space and time. Thus, it is in that order that I will analyze how Dostoevsky uses metaphysical childhood to solve these problems.         

I believe it will be beneficial to briefly explain the main concept of metaphysical childhood that I hope to ultimately illustrate and clarify throughout the course of this essay. It is often difficult or even impossible when writing on a metaphysical topic to use terminology that can be interpreted univocally because metaphysics is a science that attempts to take into account every ontological level of reality that consists of an individual’s experience in the universe. Thus, the word metaphysical is used to invoke a connotation of universal accountability of all the levels of a human beings experience of reality. In particular, in regards to a Dostoevskean metaphysics, the total experience of reality would have to account for an individual’s soul and an ability to have an ontological experience of the divine and eternity through an objectively spiritual essence that an individual can come in contact with through one’s individual experience.

                Thus, in regards to the term childhood, one must try to understand the term as used in a metaphysical sense. For example, a biological/anatomical understanding of childhood would examine the various physical bodily structures of a child, a sociological understanding of childhood would perform an abstract examination of children as a group living in and responding to the various environments and cultures they are raised in, a scientific psychological examination of childhood would examine through rigorous analysis the chemical and neurological structures and workings of a child’s brain to explain behavior in their environment, etc. In the Brother’s Karamazov, Dostoevsky is attempting to convey an understanding of and interpretation of childhood that speaks to another level of reality that childhood accounts for. Thus, metaphysical childhood attempts to place words upon the ability of a child, through innocence, to love life, one’s peers, one’s activities and oneself in a way that provides a consequent experience of God and eternity in a way that an individual who has experienced his or her own sin and guilt towards others because of this sin cannot.

It is important to note that this is not merely a univocal or metaphorical understanding of childhood. Thus, it does not speak merely to something experienced only by a child during his or her childhood. It also does not speak to something that is just a metaphorical explanation of an experience similar to something that takes place in childhood but ultimately that is fundamentally different. It is a metaphysical interpretation of childhood because though this innocent experience devoid of laceration shares the same essence in physical childhood as it does in the metaphysical childhood Alyosha experiences as an adult, metaphysical childhood takes place in a state of consciousness of oneself and one’s experience of the universe that is ontologically greater than the one it is experienced in during physical childhood. In experiencing metaphysical childhood, one had already experienced one’s own sinful nature, one’s guilt toward one’s peers because of this failure to love them according to the divine ideal one holds in one’s soul and the consequent laceration and exacerbation of this failure when one loses faith that he or she can in fact be redeemed to loving one’s peers according to their individual ideal. When one can overcome laceration and regain faith through active love, one will experience metaphysical childhood, like Alyosha does in the novel. Thus, one will regain faith in their ability to overcome their individual sin and guilt through directing each moment of their existence toward seeing one’s peers and oneself objectively and loving one’s peers and oneself actively.

Finally, I will provide a brief description of laceration before I begin to examine these concepts throughout the novel. Laceration is first formally brought up Book IV of the novel entitled “Lacerations,” though it could easily be argued that lacerations in the characters can be located from the very first pages of the novel. In this book, Dostoevsky takes time to show some very specific and diverse forms of laceration, taking place in all types of characters from an ascetic monk (Fr. Ferapont), to the buffoonery of Fyodor Karamazov and even in the form of a young child and a teenage girl (Ilyusha and Lisa, respectively). Laceration occurs when an individual recognizes his or her inability to love according to the divine ideals of their soul. Instead of looking toward one’s childhood to a moment or time when one did love according to the ideals of one’s soul, one loses faith in love, in God and in one’s own ability to love in spite of sin and absurdity. One then does either one of two things (or both). One can then create an image of oneself and consciously project it into the world and toward one’s peers (in particular those peers one longs to love the most). One then “lacerates” or simply “beats up” this image of oneself in front of one’s peers to show to the world that though he or she is a sinner and has failed to live up to the ideals of their soul, he or she will judge oneself first, above all and with a harsher and more vehement punishment than any other ever could. The other option one can take is to perform this same process on one’s peers. In both cases, laceration is performed in order to divert oneself from the actual state of one’s own sin. In the second case, it is just more clear that one is diverting this attention toward the sins of another or of many.


Dostoevsky addresses the question of how one ought to exist in the world in the face of unjust suffering. In his chapter on Rebellion, Dostoevsky presents his main arguments for the problem of unjust suffering through the brother Ivan. Ivan says:


I am a believer. But then there are the children, and what am I to do about them? That’s a question I can’t answer…. While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself against the higher harmony altogether. It’s not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to “dear kind God”! It’s not worth it, because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for or their can be no higher harmony.[2]

It is important to notice that this argument concerning unatoned and unjust suffering focuses on children. According to Ivan, all adults, in some way, have lost the innocence they had as a child. Thus, the suffering of adults, according to Ivan, can be justified because all have met the “idol of Gomorrah” and therefore deserve to suffer.[3] When a child suffers unjustly, not only is the body of the child hurt, but, more importantly for Ivan, the innocence of the child is lost and can no longer be regained. Ivan longs so desperately to hold on to the innocence of children because he recognizes in himself this loss of innocence. Upon recognizing the unjust suffering of children, Ivan, along with the suffering child, loses his own innocence yet refuses to kill his sublime and lofty ideals about life. According to Ivan, if he accepts a higher harmony in the midst of the unjust suffering of children he will be giving up the last of his innocence and lofty ideals. Thus, only if he rejects his ticket to heaven and the higher order can he holds on to the last part of his innocence (i.e. these sublime and lofty ideals). It is because he has lost the vast majority of his innocence (i.e., his metaphysical “childhood”) that Ivan inevitably cannot bring his will to meet the ideals of Christian love that burn within his mind and soul.

                Dostoevsky answers Ivan’s problem of unjust suffering and loss of innocence by presenting a syllogism for how a “realist” can come to faith and ultimately perform miracles.[4] Dostoevsky’s syllogism is that if one can overcome laceration one will be able to see the pure good in oneself. If one sees pure goodness within oneself, one will recognize that self-laceration is not justified even in the face of one’s own vile and baseness. When one sees a moment of pure goodness in one’s own life and overcomes self-laceration, it becomes possible that one can find pure goodness within the soul of all persons, ultimately overcoming laceration directed toward the actions, thoughts and intentions of others. Inevitably, when one overcomes laceration directed toward all persons, one will be able to perform active love to all persons. If one performs active love to all persons, one will see that inherent in active love lies “miracles” and even a “heaven on earth.” If one sees miracles, the true, real and objective miracles active love offers, one will have faith in God.

Dostoevsky illustrates this syllogism for faith in book ten of his novel titled Boys when Alyosha is with the boys and Ilyusha’s family. The common opinion is that Dostoevsky’s ultimate metaphysical answer to the problems raised was to be found in Zosima’s teachings, but this is not the case. They ultimately come in this understanding of active love and metaphysical childhood, though this is difficult to overlook as the only illustration of active love in the novel occurs in Alyosha’s relation to the children. In the chapter on Boys, Dostoevsky uses Ilyusha to depict a modern Russian version of the child suffering unjustly. He also sets out to use Alyosha as the modern Russian illustration of his syllogism for faith in the midst of suffering. Dostoevsky portrays the scene at Ilyusha’s house as a melting pot of laceration. For example, he articulates how laceration manifests itself in the relationship between Captain Snegiryov and his ill son Ilyusha. To exacerbate the immense sadness he holds witnessing the slow death of his son, Snegiryov acts like a “buffoon,” telling his son “stories, funny anecdotes, mimicking comic people, even imitating the howls and cries of animals…he even began letting them (the children) ride on his back…”[5] Ilyusha cannot stand his father’s lacerated buffoonery and is brought to shame in the face of his actions. He is constantly haunted by the memory of the day when his schoolmates insulted him for his father’s buffoonery and constantly falls back into contempt for his father at the sight of such actions.[6] Along with this, the young boy Kolya, who is friends with Ilyusha, experiences perhaps one of the most heavily lacerated hearts of any character in the novel for his longing to intellectually assert himself while realizing he is too young to have any independent knowledge. Thus, the pride of Ilyusha, the torn heart of Snegiryov and Kolya’s intellectual laceration make for a lacerated and ultimately emotionally draining relationship between them and anyone who must endure their actions.

In fact, it is Alyosha who does just that in the chapter. Alyosha goes to the house daily just to be a stable source of love for the family amidst their suffering and laceration. Dostoevsky records the phrase “Alyosha smiled” in regards to the lacerated characters in his midst five times in only this one book. Also, Alyosha makes sure that he gathers all the children to Ilyusha for one moment so all can love the boy together and experience the miracle of communal love for another in the midst of suffering. One clear example of how Alyosha is able to love these lacerated characters with such gentleness and warmth is shown in his conversation with Kolya in the chapter on Precocity. After Kolya semi-intellectually rambles on about his socialist ideals in order to gain the intellectual recognition of Alyosha, he recognizes that Alyosha’s love and respect is not moved by his discourse, but instead Alyosha only smiles warmly at the young boy. He immediately feels shame over his attempts and says to Alyosha, “Tell me, Karamazov, have you an awful contempt for me?” Alyosha responds gently by saying, “What for? I am only sad that a charming nature such as yours should be perverted before you have begun life.”[7] Alyosha is able to look past the pride-driven comments of the young boy because he can see him in the sight of love. He goes on to express to Kolya why he was able to smile but explaining that he understands the pride, conceit and passion of the Russian schoolboy. Thus, when Alyosha sees Kolya free from laceration, he can see into the heart of Kolya and he views only good desires and passions which are misplaced. From this, he is able to love Kolya (as well as all the other equally-lacerated characters) and experiences miracles and inevitably faith. In Alyosha is a state of metaphysical “childhood” which allows for enough innocence to remember what is good and ultimately to transcend laceration and see the real good at the heart of all the character’s actions.


Dostoevsky addresses the issue of accepting oneself in the midst of laceration and guilt for one’s failure to live up to the ideal of Christian love. Though evidence for laceration and guilt from failure can be derived from several characters throughout the book (i.e. Ivan, Katerina, Dimitri, Smerdykov, etc.), to stay true to the theme of this paper the young girl Lise provides one with a noteworthy example of a lacerated soul. Though Lise is a young girl, shame has fallen upon her memory of her own childhood. She says to Father Zosima:


Why has (Alyosha) forgotten everything, then? He used to carry me when I was little. We used to play together. He used to come to teach me to read, do you know. Two years ago, when he went away, he said that he would never forget me, that we were friends forever, forever, forever! And now he’s afraid of me all at once…No, now he’s saving his soul. Why have you put that long gown on him? If he runs he’ll fall.[8]

This particular quote from Lise articulates the shame she now holds when she remembers her childhood. One ultimately learns in the story that Alyosha holds in his heart an erotic love for Lise, which one can assume is the reason why he is so hesitant and ashamed to go back to her as he has promised.[9] Unfortunately for Lise, Alyosha’s shame leads ultimately to her own shame about an objectively pure and good time that she has in her life. One will see from Lise’s laceration later in the novel that her shame has lead her to ultimately forget this authentically beautiful time in her life.

                Later in the novel, Dostoevsky brilliantly articulates Lise’s laceration. In the chapter A Little Demon, Alyosha visits Lise and finds a young girl whose heart is full to the brim with guilt and laceration over her own inability to love according to the Christian ideal. After expressing her desire for destruction and the dreams she has about devils coming to capture her, she confesses the fundamental source of her laceration. She says to Alyosha:


There’s a book here in which I read about the trial of a Jew, who took a child of four years old and cut off the fingers from both hands, then crucified him to the wall…sometimes I wish it was I who crucified him. He would hang there moaning and I would sit opposite him eating pineapple compote…You know when I read about the Jew I shook with sobs all night, I kept fancying how the little thing cried and moaned…and all the while the thought of pineapple compote haunted me.[10]

At the core of her laceration, longing for destruction and confessed “hatred” of all things is a pure and true desire to love all things and become responsible to all and for all. As Lise lies awake psychologically and emotionally suffering for the poor child who was crucified, she cannot bear the fact that she also longs for as base a pleasure as dessert. Though Dostoevsky does not tell the reader explicitly why Lise, or any of the characters that cannot overcome their laceration, the scene where she confesses shame over her childhood must be taken into account. In the novel, all characters suffer from laceration but not all ultimately fall victim to it. There is a direct correlation between Lise’s shame of her childhood and her failure to overcome laceration. This becomes clear upon examining the particular ways that several characters do overcome laceration throughout the course of the novel.

                In the chapter titled An Onion, Dostoevsky articulates, through the conversation between Grushenka and Alyosha, that the first necessary and in many ways simple step to overcoming laceration is to recognize that at least one point in one’s life that individual “gave an onion” to another.[11] To “give an onion” is essentially to offer the most base and simple act of love to another, to oneself or even to the world at large. According to Dostoevsky, it is primarily in or through metaphysical childhood that a human being will perform such a pure action of love free from any laceration or guilt. If one can only recall that deep within one’s soul there lays some genuine and true act or feeling of love, one will no longer lacerate themselves when they recognize their failure to ultimately live up to the Christian ideal of love.

                Among several characters in the book, Dimitri Karamazov experiences a moment of “giving an onion” and at least temporarily overcomes his own laceration. Like his two brothers, Dimitri has a dream which ends up playing a central role in defining the course of his character in the novel. After he is interrogated about the murder of his father, Dimitri falls asleep in the jail and Dostoevsky articulates his dream for the reader.


 “He was driving somewhere in the steppes…And as they drove in, there were peasant women drawn up along the road…especially one at the edge, a tall bony woman…And in her arms was a little baby crying. And her breasts were so dried up that there was not a drop of milk in them. And the child cried and cried, and held out his little bare arms, with its little fists blue from cold…’Why are people poor? Why is the babe poor? Why is the steppe barren? Why don’t they hug each other and kiss? Why don’t they sing songs of joy? Why are they so dark from black misery? Why don’t they feed the babe?’[12]

Dostoevsky goes on to explain that Dimitri had felt a “passion of pity, such as he had never known, was rising in his heart,” thus, demonstrating in Dimitri a one moment of love that is pure, genuine, and real.

Though this is only a dream and therefore only occurs in the theoretical realm for Dimitri it is enough to allow for his theoretical hymn. After experiencing this emotion of love in his dream, Dimitri comes to peace (at least momentarily) with the idea of being exiled for the crime of his father. Though he admits that he did not kill his father, he takes responsibility for desiring the death of his father. His penance, in his own words, will be to go to Siberia and spread his “hymn” of love to all due to this newfound recognition of his responsibility. Dimitri says:


 Even there, in the mines, underground, I may find a human heart in another convict and murderer by my side…One may resurrect and revive a frozen heart in that convict, one may wait upon him for years, and at last bring up from the dark depths a lofty soul, a feeling, suffering creature; one may bring forth an angel, resurrect a hero![13]

Though Dimitri inevitably struggles to put his plan into action and in reality accept responsibility to “the murderer” in Siberia, his plan is one that longs for the Christian ideal of love and is free from any laceration. While Dimitri articulates his “hymn” to his brother Alyosha, there is not the same immediate guilt and shame from the fact that he may not be able to live up to this ideal of love. At least for a moment in his mind, Dimitri’s soul is at peace and free from laceration in his desire to become responsible to all persons and love ideally. His ability to love freely in this way is directly derived from his dream where he expresses a genuine care and responsibility for the suffering of a child. Essentially, to give an onion is to perform an act in a state of metaphysical childhood because at least for one moment, one act, one thought and dream, etc., an individual has enough innocence to overcome laceration and offer something intrinsically good to another. It is both Lise’s inability to give an onion and Dimitri’s longing to give an onion that result from their corresponding lack of innocence and moment of innocence, respectively. Thus, as is the case with Dimitri, Dostoevsky articulates that it is in children or childhood that an individual will find their “onion.”


Dostoevsky addresses the question of temporality and eternity. Dostoevsky offers subtle but profound evidence in articulating the difference between existing within temporality and time and experiencing a moment that occurs eternally. Dostoevsky demonstrates temporality in portraying the rationalist predictions of the “man-god.” At three points in the novel, Dostoevsky offers the theory that over time and through periods of history, an individual will inevitably come and demonstrate a social-political-religious dominance over all human beings.[14] Perhaps most clearly articulated in the chapter on The Grand Inquisitor, there are necessary historical cycles that will take place proceeding a time when this individual will subconsciously extract the freewill from all individuals through his ability to manipulate temporal goods. Within time and temporality, the Grand Inquisitor longs to establish a social-religious-political heaven on earth. He takes in exchange merely the freewill of all persons so that the mere possibility of any moral failure by an individual will be eliminated, food will be given to all, people will have their miracles and mystery and all will be united in a “heaven on earth.” Dostoevsky places a subtle emphasis on the fact that this “heaven on earth” articulated by Ivan is one that can only take place within time (throughout the course of historical events) and through the manipulation of temporal goods. Ironically enough, heaven for Ivan and the Grand Inquisitor actually holds on to nothing that is really divine (i.e. a moment or event that exists beyond space and time and/or the physical laws of nature). This “heaven on earth” is fitting for the lacerated heart of Ivan who constructs this prophecy in order to distract himself from a real longing but immediate inability to be “one of the twelve-thousand,”[15] so to speak.

                Dostoevsky offers the reader several illustrations throughout the book of the heaven experienced by “the twelve-thousand.” According to Dostoevsky, moments of pure, genuine and un-lacerated love exist in eternity, outside of space and time. While one undergoes an unconscious dream state, one is experiencing a moment of thought and sensation that takes place outside of temporal space and time. Though a dream can take place within spaces, they are not necessarily the geographic spaces of our world. Also, though there can be a small level of chronological detail in a dream, a dream occurs within a highly unstructured and ultimately more fluid account of time. Upon waking from a dream, one cannot account the amount of hours, minutes or seconds that a certain dream took place while they were sleeping and/or unconscious. On the other hand, one can only account experiencing moments of images and the contingent sensations one felt within this moment. Alyosha’s dream and his falling to the earth is still very much a moment of in his own metaphysical “childhood.” Spiritually, Alyosha had been a child protected and nurtured by Zosima for years. After Zosima’s death, Alyosha’s spiritual immaturity is demonstrated by his immediate moments of confusion and anger at the fact that Zosima’s body has deteriorated so quickly and negated a possibility for sainthood. Alyosha longs for justice that he believes has not come and immediately questions the faith that he once believed held so firmly within his mind and soul. Inevitably, Dostoevsky is demonstrating to the reader the metaphysical state of “childhood” in which Alyosha remains in through the fact that his whole edifice of faith in a God of love, eternity and resurrection crumbles in the midst of the decay of a temporal body for the sake of a “miracle.”

                In the midst of his metaphysical “childhood,” Alyosha experiences within a dream and a tangible and real action a moment of eternity. After returning home from Grushenka’s,[16] he falls by Zosima’s grave and begins unconsciously praying. In the background, he can hear Father Païssy reading the Gospel story of the wedding at Cana. Alyosha slips into an unconscious dream state and finds himself at the wedding experiencing the love of Jesus for all persons (even in their goodness) and their reciprocated love for him. Dostoevsky goes on to present three passages written in a stream of consciousness format.[17] Stream of consciousness writing attempts to capture within only a moment of time an abundance of conscious activity. Thus, as Alyosha is looking on at the wedding in this unconscious dream state, he is experiencing a moment that in many ways is occurring beyond temporality as we know in this world. In his third discourse (with himself), he ultimately encounters Father Zosima at the wedding. Zosima explains to Alyosha that he is there based only the fact that he gave one onion to another and that because Alyosha has now done the same, he will also be at the wedding (i.e. heaven) when his life is over.

                In regards to the theme of metaphysical “childhood,” Zosima, in explaining Jesus and his longing to bring more to “the wedding,” explains to Alyosha the idea of the “new wine” which Jesus is making at that moment. This idea of “new wine” holds significance as a metaphor for the metaphysical childhood (i.e. new childhood) which Alyosha is about to embrace. Like “old wine,” the “new wine” is fundamentally the same substance (i.e. wine) in the same way that physical and metaphysical “childhood” also share an essence (i.e. innocence). Like the “new wine,” this “new childhood” (metaphysical childhood) must come after the “old wine” and “old childhood,” respectively. According to the gospel story, despite it being brought out last, the “new wine” is described as the best wine. In the same way, this metaphysical childhood articulated by Dostoevsky, which comes after one’s physical state of childhood, is the best metaphysical state one can reach. Thus, Dostoevsky is using these short moments in a state of unconsciousness to articulate the ultimate epiphany Alyosha will undergo in the novel. After awaking from his dream, Alyosha leaves the room, goes outside and falls to the earth, weeping and kissing the ground in a moment of ecstasy. In the same way that the conversion of water to wine was Jesus’ first miracle in the world, this falling to the earth after his dream is Alyosha’s first miracle of active love. As new wine comes from Jesus’ miracle, new childhood comes from Alyosha’s miracle of faith. This moment of kissing the earth and weeping for it demonstrates a new innocence and genuine ability to see all things as good and kiss them; an innocence that comes only from an experience of metaphysical childhood. Dostoevsky writes, “His soul, overflowing with rapture, yearned for freedom, space, openness.”[18] This quote explains the longing of Alyosha for this moment that is beyond temporality, at least as we understand it. It is only through this experience and action of metaphysical childhood that Alyosha is able to transcend these limitations of time and cross over into a moment of eternity.


                 For Dostoevsky, metaphysical childhood solves the problems of unjust suffering, laceration, and temporality by returning one to a metaphysical state of innocence where one can see and recall that one possesses the ability to act in a way that is purely good. What Dostoevsky ultimately presents to the reader is a genuine and original methodology for faith that meets the demands of the realist while never compromising the divine and transcending ideals of God that had been held by Christians for roughly the previous eighteen centuries. For the realist, it is no longer the case that one must concede all points of unjust suffering to the ultimate and unknowable plan of God. Dostoevsky’s methodology not only allows for the realist to be broken by the absurdity of unjust suffering, laceration, and temporality. His methodology calls for all human beings to become responsible to all and for all that which is not truly providing for a true heaven on earth. How one becomes responsible and creates a heaven on earth is ultimately from moments of active love for oneself and for others. According to Dostoevsky, if one provides active love, one will experience miracles. Ultimately, if all persons perform all actions directed by acted love, all actions at all times will be miracles. Thus, human beings will have heaven on earth through experiencing life as a state of constant miracles of active love. Ivan’s laceration stems from the fact that he cannot be a child and a realist at the same time. It is only this real experience of heaven will provide an individual (in particular the realist) with an unshakeable foundation for faith free from any abstract, mysterious and unknowable premises. According to Dostoevsky, active love (and thus miracles and heaven on earth) are only possible if one can come reach a state of metaphysical childhood. It is only by obtaining the metaphysical innocence that comes from this state that one will acquire the ability to see within oneself some pure goodness. Only after recognizing at least one moment of pure goodness in one’s own life will it become possible for one to overcome laceration. Upon overcoming laceration by seeing life through the eyes of this metaphysical innocence and understanding of pure goodness, one’s actions will by driven by a longing for active love; a longing to get up and walk a quadrillion miles for only one moment in heaven[19]; a longing to experience miracles and a heaven on earth.


Saint Anselm College

Manchester, New Hampshire

About the Author

[1] These miracles will not be the standard “mysteries” that the Church strove to provide throughout history. According to Dostoevsky, “miracles” are not so much turning stones to bread as they are performing active love toward an individual and experiencing a moment of heaven in that action.

[2] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brother’s Karamazov (Norton Critical Edition, Constance Garnett, translator and Ralph E, Matlaw, editor, New York, 1976),  p. 225. (Hereafter, abbreviated BK.)

[3] BK, p. 97. The “idol of Gomorrah” stands throughout the novel as a symbol of every human beings longing for debauchery, vile and the base pleasures in life.

[4] Dostoevsky notes in the novel that Alyosha, his hero, is also a “realist.” What he means by this is that he is longing for a faith not based on mystery, outward miracles and abstract notions of God. Alyosha will only come to faith by seeing at least a true glimpse of God demonstrated in this life.

[5] BK, pp. 509-510.

[6] BK, p. 188 .

[7] BK, p. 525.

[8] BK, p. 50.

[9] BK, p. 200.

[10] BK, p. 552.

[11] BK, p. 330.

[12] BK, pp. 478-479.

[13] BK, p. 560.

[14] Dostoevsky refers to this in his chapters The Grand Inquisitor, Ivan Fyodorovich’s Nightmare: The Devil and the section The Mysterious Visitor within the chapter on Notes of the Life in God of the Elder Zosima.

[15] Ivan describes in the chapter on The Grand Inquisitor that according to Jesus’ plan for salvation of reaching the ideal of love and responsibility to all and for all, only 12,000 persons would have reached heaven by being able to live out this ideal.

[16] BK, pp. 332-333. In this scene, Alyosha gives his first “onion,” In the midst of Grushenka’s shame and laceration. Alyosha is able to see her clearly and recognizes the beauty at the heart of all her laceration and actions. He merely lets a broken woman know that in her heart, she is truly, purely and objectively good.

[17] A technique used primarily by some late Modern and Contemporary writers, in particular Virginia Woolf. Woolf says about stream of consciousness that it captures “the atoms as they fall onto the brain.” It is a style written within space, but outside of “time” insofar as it captures a plethora of thoughts all occurring really within a moment of time. 

[18] BK, p. 340.

[19] BK, p. 610.