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Plot Summary of Fyodor Dostoevsky's ' The Brothers Karamazov'

Updated on December 25, 2017


Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian novelist who lived in the 19th century. He wrote in Russian, but translations of his books brought out the greatness of Dostoevsky to other people. Dostoevsky’s ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ is his Magnus opus, a long rambling tale of a family in Russia. This book is considered by critics as his greatest novel and one of the best novels ever written in the history of literature.

The Brothers Karamazov

‘The Brothers Karamazov’ is a very voluminous novel. It is set in Russia when the Tsar was the supreme ruler. Dostoevsky writes eloquently and create a fascinating tale of a Russian family caught up in personal intrigue and jealousy. He covers the entire range of human emotions like love, hate, revenge, ego, sex and forgiveness. It’s a massive novel running to almost 800 pages. He spent two years writing this novel.

Background to the Plot

The novel concerns a Russian family whose head is a man named Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. Dostoevsky paints the man as a womanizer. Fyodor Karamazov is a man dominated by the basest of emotions and all his life is centred on seducing women and amassing wealth. He has married twice and has three sons. He also has a fourth illegitimate son, Alexei from a mentally retarded woman who lived on the outskirts of the village. This woman was raped by Fyodor in one of his sprees. She dies in childbirth and the son is brought up on the farm of Fyodor Karamazov by his servants. But Fyodor Karamazov does not acknowledge he is his son. He treats him as a serf and a servant.

The Feud between Father and son

The entire plot is immense and Dostoevsky presents a grim and tortured image of human society in Russia. The eldest son is Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov. He is in feud with his father as he wishes to claim the inheritance of his mother, who is no more. They have another bone of contention in Grushenka, a beautiful girl who both father and son love. The clash between father and son over Grushenka is one of the highlights of the novel. Dmitri when he was away from the village loved another girl Katerina. She is the real heroine of the novel.

The Murder of the Father Karamazov

Dmitri is accused of the murder of his father and arrested by the police. Circumstantial evidence is against him, though the murder is done by the fourth son, who always had a grouse against his father.

The other two sons from the second wife are Ivan and Alexei Karamazov. Ivan is an atheist while the younger Alexei is a novice at the village monastery. The character of the fourth son is ambiguous as he grapples with his conscience and the need to recognize himself.

Zosima the Monk and questions of the Mind.

Dostoevsky also creates the character Zosima a monk at the monastery, who is brought in to help settle the dispute between the elder Karamazov and his father. He dies and the monks expect a miracle will happen. No miracle takes place and the body decays very fast, creating doubts in the minds of his followers.

The Trial

At the trial Ivan throws everybody into confusion by claiming that he had killed his father. Most people are convinced of the innocence of the elder son, but the court still sentences Dmitri to prison in Siberia. Alexei hangs himself and there is no reprieve for Dmitri. Dmitri however realizes that he really loved Katerina and both forgive each other. She arranges for Dmitri to escape from prison and go to America.

Last Word

Dostoevsky writes long passages on the significance of god and truth. He also brings in the devil. It’s all very heavy stuff, but extremely fascinating. The book spread over 800 pages is a treasure house of human emotions. It is considered as one of the greatest novels ever written. The Brothers Karamazov has been translated from Russian into almost all major languages of the world. The first English translation was done by Constance Garnett in 1912.

The novel has an array of admirers like Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, who called it “the greatest novel ever written”. There have also been many film adaptions of this novel, the last being in 2008 (directed by Yuri Morozov)


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    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 4 years ago from Singapore

      thank you suzettenaples for commenting

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Quite a well written summary of this book. I have read it and it is complex and you give a concise and interesting article about it. I agree it is one of the most interesting and most important novels ever written.!

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 4 years ago from Singapore

      thank you Touch for commenting and appreciating

    • The Touch Typist profile image

      Walter Dark 4 years ago from Amsterdam

      That is an extraordinary book! I am really glad you wrote an article about it. Voted up!