Great Books IV Spring 2021

The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky


Reading/Discussion Schedule

Mar 8: II.6; Mar 11: III; Mar 15: V.3; Mar 18: VI.2;

Mar 22: VIII.3; Mar 25: IX.5 ; Mar 29: X;

Apr 1 XI.8; Apr 8: XII.8; Apr 12: End.


Pronunciation Guide

Discussion Prompts  


Mar 8

QdJ - What is your earliest recollection of your mother?

  1. Look for connections to both Kierkegaard and Nietzche in this work.
  2. Is Fyodor buffooning or serious as he talks about the hell hooks?
  3. Summarize Fyodor's theology.
  4. Why is Alyosha so embarassed by his father?
  5. Which account of faith in today's reading is most powerful?
  6. What do you make of Zosima's account of the church vs. state?

Mar 11

  1. What does Dmitri want from Alyosha?
  2. What makes a Karamazov?
  3. Viewing each character as either in an ascent or in a descent, where is Dmitri? Fyodor? Alyosha? Ivan? Smerdyakov?
  4. Bring your own questions and be prepared to pose them in class.

Mar 15

  1. Construct a "laceration" catalog.
  2. How is laceration a leitmotif for the entire work?
  3. How does laceration contribute to Alyosha's growth and development?
  4. How is Katerina Ivanovna like Fyodor?

Mar 18

QdJ - When you see God, face to face, what will you ask Him?

  1. Does Ivan really believe in God?
  2. Read the Rebellion and Grand Inquisitor passages twice. Who is the Grand Inquisitor?
  3. How would Ivan define human freedom?
  4. How does Alyosha respond to Ivan?
  5. What is the crux of each of the three temptations of Christ, according to Ivan?
  6. Find all instances of character pairings that represent great likenesses or oppositions - e.g. Fyodor and Katya.
  7. Do character analyses of Smerdyakov & Zosima.
  8. What are potential themes that capture the essence of the novel?



Mar 22

  1. How does each character contribute to Alyosha's identity development?
  2. Describe the overall trajectory of Alyosha's character development.
  3. Are Father Zosima's words enough to counterbalance Ivan's words? Explain.
  4. How does an onion serve as a leitmotif?

Mar 25

  1. What physical entity used in the novel best symbolizes each character in the work and why? For example, for Father Zosima, one might argue that the ocean is such a symbol.

  2. Compile this list and bring it to class. Also, compile a list of all of the symbols you see in the novel thus far.

  3. We will hold a "Reader's Theatre" of "In the Dark".

  4. How does Book VIII "rhyme" with or "mirror" Mitya's confessions in Book III?

  5. In what way is Dmitri an incomplete soul?

  6. Why is the pestle a possible symbol for Dmitri's character?

Mar 29

  1. What are Mitya's three torments?

  2. What correspondences and contrasts can we find between Mitya's three-part confession (Book III) and his three-part torment (Book IX)?

  3. How is religious faith connected with suffering?

  4. Which Karamazov brother is Kolya most like and why?

  5. How does the account of Kolya, Ilyusha, and the other boys illustrate Zosima's platitude about the ocean?

  6. How does the Grand Inquisitor section echo in Book X?

Apr 1

  1. How have Lise, Madame Khokhlakov, Grushka, Dmitri, & Ivan changed?  How does Alyosha interact with these changes?

  2. Any surprises in this portion of the novel? Any echoes of previous sections?

  3. Analyze Smerdyakov's character. Is he "confessing" to Ivan?

  4. In what ways do each of the following themes resonate in Book XI:  secret, hymn, hallucination, guilt, aberration?

  5. How do the characters of Lise, Ilyusha, and Kolya form a response to Ivan's theories on the injustice of childrens' suffering?

  6. What is the significance of Smerdyakov's affirmation of God's presence?

Apr 8

  1. For Ivan, is the devil a hallucination or not? Is the devil's strategy to reawaken Ivan's faith or to kill it?

  2. Analyze the flow of the trial and the role of each character.

  3. Compare the courtroom scene to that of the Karamazov family visiting the monastery in Book II.

  4. In what way is each brother guilty of Fyodor's death?
  5. What does the trial teach about getting at the truth?
  6. How DOES one person determine the guilt of another person?

Apr 12

  1. How does the end of the novel resolve loose ends?
  2. How does John 12:24 serve as the defining passage of the novel?
  3. What other passages might serve in this capacity?
  4. Read the speech at the stone aloud.
  5. What is the most important lesson of the novel?
  6. Why is Alyosha our hero?
  7. Final thoughts, personal applications, Nietzschean echoes ...