5. Whose Rebellion?
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

176 5 Whose Rebellion? As has been frequently noted by literary scholars, Dostoevsky used some of the arguments—and some of the techniques—from the Zasulich trial in the penultimate book of The Brothers Karamazov, devoted to Dmitry’s trial. Or rather, it is more accurate to say that he exposed the arguments and techniques even as he used them. But the more momentous trial occurs before the “crime” of the novel, Fyodor Karamazov’s murder by one of his sons, even takes place. This is Ivan Karamazov’s trial of God, in Ivan’s first genuine conversation with his younger brother Alyosha, a gentle and virtuous novice at the local monastery. Dostoevsky entitled this chapter “Rebellion” (Bunt), and scholars have identified many sources for Ivan’s arguments and the examples he uses to support them, including the previously mentioned Kroneberg case and Dostoevsky’s own commentary on it in Diary of a Writer. But Ivan’s “rebellion” is far more than an argument (words): it is a reenactment (deed), and a key source for it (at times used almost verbatim) is the Zasulich trial. The conversation between the two brothers begins when Ivan baits Alyosha by cynically denying the existence of true empathy. “Let’s say that I, for example, am capable of profound suffering, but another man will never be able to know the degree of my suffering, because he is another and not me, and besides, a man is rarely willing to acknowledge Whose Rebellion? 177 someone else as a sufferer (as if it were a kind of distinction). And why won’t he acknowledge it, do you think? Because I, for example, have a bad smell, or a foolish face, or once stepped on his foot?”1 What better testifies to this fundamental lack of empathy than the intentional cruelty of human beings who inflict suffering on their fellows , and worse, on defenseless innocents, on children? “In order to reduce the scope of my argument about ten times,” says Ivan, he proceeds to focus exclusively on children and unfurls before Alyosha a catalogue of atrocities, crimes, villainy, and abuse committed against them—what he refers to at first as “certain little facts,” “certain little anecdotes” that he claims to have taken from newspapers and historical chronicles. From the narrator’s introduction of him at the beginning of the novel, the reader knows that Ivan made a living and a pseudonymous name for himself as “Eyewitness” (ochevidets) with his piquant articles on street incidents.2 It is not, ultimately, as a teller of anecdotes but as an “eyewitness” that Ivan harrows Alyosha with what he characterizes as primarily visual “lovely pictures” and “little pictures,” each one more graphically portraying “the defenselessness and angelic trustfulness of the child, who has nowhere to turn and no one to turn to.”3 When Ivan reaches the climax of his exposition, he refers to it, just as Alexandrov did, “as one more picture, just one more” supposedly a typical one. Like the picture of Bogoliubov and General Trepov, this one also features a general, a very wealthy landowner with two thousand souls who also kept hundreds of dogs. Upon noticing that one of his dogs was limping, the general discovered that an eight-year-old serf boy had thrown a rock and wounded its paw. The general’s retribution was immediate: he took the boy from his mother, and the next day: The house-serfs are gathered for their edification, the guilty boy’s mother in front of them all. The boy is led out of the lockup. A gloomy, cold misty autumn day, a great day for hunting. The general orders them to undress the boy; the child is stripped naked, he shivers, he’s crazy with fear, he doesn’t dare make a peep. . . . “Drive him!” the general commands. The huntsmen shout, “Run, run!” The boy runs. . . . “Sic him!” screams the general and looses the whole pack of wolfhounds on him. He hunted him down before his mother’s eyes, and the dogs tore the child to pieces . . . ! I believe the general was later declared incompetent to administer his estates. Well . . . what to do with him? Shoot him? Shoot him for our moral satisfaction? Speak Alyoshka! 178 Part Three: “The Little Devil Sitting in Your Heart” “Shoot him!” Alyosha said softly, looking up at his brother with a sort of pale, twisted smile. “Bravo!” Ivan yelled in a sort of rapture. “If even you say so, then. . . . A fine...



Subject Headings

  • Russian literature -- Political aspects.
  • Terrorism -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Terrorism in literature.
  • Alexander II, Emperor of Russia, 1818-1881 -- Assassination.
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881 -- Political and social views.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access