The Brothers Karamazov: Character Profiles

Character Profiles

Russian names can be complicated for non-Russian readers. Russians have three names: the first, or Christian name; the last, or family name; and the middle name, or patronymic. The patronymic is derived from the father’s name, and means “son of” or “daughter of.” Hence, Ivan’s full name is Ivan Fyodorovich (Ivan, the son of Fyodor) Karamazov. Formal address requires the use of the first name and patronymic, as in Katerina Ivanovna (Katerina, the daughter of Ivan).

There are also variants on the first name, known as diminutives. Usually, the diminutive is used as an endearment (as in Alyoshenka for Alyosha, Katya for Katerina, and Ilyusheckha for Ilyusha). Occasionally, however, a more insulting diminutive form is used (Katka for Katerina, Mitka for Dmitri, Rakitka for Rakitkin).

The characters are listed below by their full names. Variant names are given in brackets. Where a character is usually known by a variant name, that variant is listed first within the brackets.

Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov (Alyosha, Alyoshka, Alyoshenka, Alyoshechka, Alexeichik, Lyosha, Lyoshenka) Alyosha is called the hero of the novel by the narrator. He is the third son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. Instinctively kind, generous, and loving, Alyosha is the most deeply religious of the Karamazovs. He initially lives with his elder, Zosima, in the monastery. He leaves the monastery after Zosima’s death, on the elder’s orders, to go out into the world and do good. Alyosha puts into practice Zosima’s philosophy of active love for mankind. He refrains from judging others, instead focusing on helping those who are suffering and bringing together those who have become separated by differences and hostilities. He has a calming, soothing effect on others, and shares Zosima’s ability to intuit people’s needs and problems. While not a memorable speaker, Alyosha is a great hearer, in that he is the only character who is able to listen to what others say.

Several other characters call Alyosha an “angel,” and he is often employed by others as a go-between or messenger, recalling the literal translation of the Greek word angelos, messenger.

Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov (Mitya, Mitenka, Mitka, Mitri Fyodorovich) Dmitri is the eldest son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. He is passionate and impetuous, as is clear from his dropping his fiancee, Katerina, when he suddenly falls in love with Grushenka. He has a violent temper which often leads him into sinful and destructive behavior, as when he attacks his father while looking for Grushenka, and when he beats up Snegiryov as a result of a dispute with Fyodor Pavlovich over money. However, he has a strong conscience and sincerely loves God. By the novel’s end, he longs to reform and attain spiritual redemption.

As the character who is most dramatically poised between sinner and a saint, Dmitri stands as a symbol of humanity in general, endowed with free will to do good or evil and oscillating between the two. When he is arrested for the murder of his father, in a symbolic sense, he is standing trial for humanity. The question of whether he is innocent or guilty reflects the larger question of whether humankind is fundamentally good, as Zosima and Alyosha believe, or fundamentally evil and base, as Ivan and Fyodor Pavlovich appear to think. Dmitri’s final redemption, contrasted with Ivan’s breakdown, expresses the novel’s optimistic message that love and faith can triumph over doubt and alienation.

Ivan Fyodorovich Karamazov (Vanya, Vanka, Vanechka) Ivan is the second son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. He has a brilliant intellect and has strong doubts about the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. Certainly, he cannot reconcile the existence of evil in the world (such as the suffering of children) with the existence of a benevolent God, and concludes that if there is a God, He is equivalent to a torturer. Ivan’s lack of faith in God spills over into a lack of faith in himself and other people. He is constantly tortured by doubts about himself and others. He stands apart from the rest of humanity, viewing them with disgust (in the case of his father) or a detached wariness (in the case of Alyosha).

Ivan believes that belief in God and the immortality of the soul is the foundation of morality - in other words, that people only do good because they are frightened of facing the consequences of doing evil in the afterlife. Because he doubts the existence of God and the afterlife, it follows that in his philosophy, “everything is permitted,” and people can do as they like. He communicates this amoral philosophy to Smerdyakov, who embraces it and treats it as permission to murder and rob Fyodor Pavlovich. Because Ivan has influenced Smerdyakov intellectually, Smerdyakov believes that they are in a compact regarding the murder and that he was merely carrying out Ivan’s unspoken orders. Ivan’s realization that he was partly responsible for the murder leads to his mental breakdown at the novel’s end.

In fact, Ivan does not really believe what he preaches. He is a deeply moral person and reacts with disgust to those, such as Fyodor Pavlovich and Smerdyakov, who live out the philosophy of “everything is permitted.” Thus there is a deep division within his soul that fatally weakens him and leaves him without sustenance in his final breakdown. For example, though he loves Katerina, he is beset by doubts about her feelings for Dmitri and his own feelings, and does not act on his love until the end of the novel.

Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov is the wealthy father of Alyosha, Dmitri and Ivan, and almost certainly of Smerdyakov. He is selfish, avaricious, greedy, and lustful; indeed, it is difficult to think of any redeeming features in his character. He ignores his sons as soon as they are born, allowing them to be brought up by servants and relatives. He respects no one and because he is in the habit of acting the buffoon in public, it is difficult to know whether he is sincere about anything he says or does. Zosima believes that this habit of lying to himself has led him not to believe in himself, and by extension, to mistrust everyone around him.

Fyodor Pavlovich scorns religion and lives out Ivan’s theory that “everything is permitted.” He is popularly believed to be the father of the illegitimate Smerdyakov, by his shockingly immoral rape or seduction of the slow-witted Stinking Lizaveta. His pursuit of Grushenka prompts the jealous rage of Dmitri, who also loves her, and contributes to his murder by Smerdyakov.

Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlov (Grushenka, Grusha, Grushka) Grushenka is a beautiful and sensuous young woman who is loved and then abandoned by her Polish lover before the novel opens. She is rescued from poverty and disgrace and brought to town by her patron, the merchant Samsonov. Pursued by many men in the town, she acquires the reputation of being a “loose woman.” However, the truth is that the only men who can boast of her sexual favors are her former lover and, for a short time, Samsonov. She is too proud to give herself lightly and her main focus in life is not spending time with men but making money through business deals. When she meets Alyosha, the love and gentleness that have lain hidden in her character begin to develop, and the two become close friends.

Grushenka is courted by both Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and Dmitri. She plays with the attentions of both men but returns to her first and former lover when his wife dies. She quickly realizes that she no longer loves him and that she loves Dmitri. Through her love for Dmitri, the spiritual redemption that began at her meeting with Alyosha continues to develop. At the novel’s end, she plans to accompany the escaped Dmitri to America and work the land in some remote place.

Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov Smerdyakov is almost certainly the illegitimate son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, the product of his rape or seduction of the slow-witted vagrant Stinking Lizaveta. He is raised by Grigory and employed by Fyodor Pavlovich as a servant. He is an epileptic.

Smerdyakov is viewed by Fyodor Pavlovich as trustworthy because he once returned to his master some money he had dropped. In fact, he is cunning and devious, as is shown by the calculated way he carries out the murder of Fyodor Pavlovich while feigning an epileptic attack and framing Dmitri. Sometimes his malice is plain to see, but at other times he hides it behind a groveling servility. He is unsociable and isolated. Smerdyakov mocks religion and embraces the philosophy preached by Ivan - that as God and the immortality of the soul do not exist, there are no absolute standards of good and evil and “everything is permitted.” This opens the door for his murder of Fyodor Pavlovich. He confesses to the murder to Ivan before committing suicide the night before Dmitri’s trial, an act which demonstrates the emptiness and despair at the center of the philosophy he shares with Ivan.

Zosima Zosima is the wise elder who is Alyosha’s beloved teacher and mentor at the monastery. Widely revered as a holy man, Zosima is visited by an endless procession of monks and laypeople who come to ask for advice, blessings and healings. Zosima ardently loves God and mankind, and shows kindness and compassion to everyone he meets. He has an extraordinary ability to see into people’s souls, so that he knows their needs and worries and can temper his advice accordingly. He teaches people to practice “active love” for mankind, to forgive others, and to cherish God’s creation. Zosima tells Alyosha to leave the monastery and do good, and Alyosha does so after the elder’s death.

Katerina Ivanovna Verkhovtsev (Katya, Katka, Katyenka) Katerina is the daughter of a military captain. After Dmitri saves her father from jail by giving her money, she devotes herself to him in spite of his humiliating treatment of her. They become engaged, but Dmitri abandons Katerina for Grushenka, with whom he has fallen deeply in love. Katerina creates suffering for herself by continuing to sacrifice herself to Dmitri, apparently so that she can draw attention to his shortcomings. She is a proud martyr. Though she comes to love Ivan and he loves her, only in the courtroom scene at the end of the novel does she finally give way to her love for Ivan, reversing her former testimony to defend Ivan and taking care of him when he falls ill with brain fever.

Katerina Osipovna Khokhlakov (Madame Khokhlakov) A kind but weak-willed woman and a wealthy widowed landowner, Madame Khokhlakov is the mother of Lise. She spends much of her time worrying about the latest caprices of her daughter.

Liza Khokhlakov (Lise) The daughter of Madame Khokhlakov, Lise is partially paralyzed and is in a wheelchair. Hysterical and capricious in nature, Lise loves Alyosha but vacillates between expressing her love and hiding it. He is prepared to marry her but has no alternative but to back off when she insists that she is not serious about loving him and wants to marry someone who will torment her.

Nikolai Ivanov Krasotkin (Kolya) Kolya is a schoolboy who befriends Ilyusha. He is generous, bold and intellectually precocious, and likes to teach and “develop” younger boys. When Ilyusha plays a cruel trick on a dog, Kolya punishes him by withdrawing his friendship. Ilyusha falls ill, and Alyosha reconciles the two boys. Kolya comes to admire and love Alyosha.

Ilyusha Snegiryov (Ilyushechka, Ilyushka) The son of a retired sea captain, Nikolai Ilyich Snegiryov, Ilyusha once saw his father being beaten up by Dmitri. He is a good-hearted boy who becomes isolated and unhappy when he is bullied by other boys. Kolya becomes his protector, but when Ilyusha plays a cruel trick on a dog, Kolya withdraws his friendship to teach him a lesson. The lesson backfires when Ilyusha turns to aggressive behavior, stabs Kolya with a penknife and bites Alyosha. Afterwards, Ilyusha falls sick. Alyosha befriends Ilyusha and reconciles him with Kolya and the other boys. At the end of the novel, Ilyusha dies.

Nikolai Ilyich Snegiryov Snegiryov is a retired sea captain and the father of Ilyusha. He is beaten up by Dmitri after he acts as Fyodor Pavlovich’s agent in a financial deal. When Katerina hears of this, she sends Snegiryov money and continues to help him financially.

Mikhail Osipovich Rakitin (Misha, Rakitka, Rakitushka) Rakitin is a young seminary student and friend of Alyosha. Sarcastic and cynical, he believes he is too intelligent to have religious faith. Instead, he espouses a series of fashionable political ideas. He feels threatened by spiritual purity and has an appetite for scandal and corruption. He avidly predicts that Dmitri is bound by his Karamazovian sensuality to kill his father, and brings Alyosha to meet Grushenka in the hope that she will corrupt him. That he turns out to be wrong on both counts is proof of the limitations of his philosophy.

Pyotr Alexandrovich Miusov Miusov is a wealthy landowner and the cousin of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov’s first wife. He briefly acts as the guardian of the young Dmitri before losing interest in the boy and passing him to other relatives. Miusov believes himself to be a sophisticated intellectual, and despises Fyodor Pavlovich.

Pyotr Ilyich Perkhotin Perkhotin is a friend of Dmitri’s, a young official who becomes suspicious of Dmitri on the night of Fyodor Pavlovich’s murder and goes in search of evidence and witnesses. He is a suitor of Madame Khokhlakov’s.

Kuzma Kuzmich Samsonov Samsonov is a wealthy old merchant who brings Grushenka to the town after her former lover betrays her. He acts as her mentor in business.

Stinking Lizaveta ; Stinking Lizaveta is a young mentally retarded girl who wanders about the town and begs for a living. The townspeople view her as a “holy fool” and look after her, providing food and shelter. When she dies giving birth to Smerdyakov, the shocked townspeople suspect that Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov seduced or raped her.

Fetyukovich Fetyukovich is a famous defense lawyer from St Petersburg who represents Dmitri at the trial.

Ippolit Kirillovich Kirillovich is the prosecuting lawyer at Dmitri’s trial. He is an adherent of the (in Dostoevsky’s time) new discipline of psychology, which he uses to try to prove Dmitri’s guilt.

Father Ferapont Father Ferapont is a severe and ascetic monk who opposes Zosima. After Zosima’s dies and his body quickly corrupts, Father Ferapont leads the crusade to paint Zosima as a charlatan who invites in devils.

Father Paissy Father Paissy is a stern but kindly monk who is Zosima’s confessor.

Trifon Borisovich (Trifon Borisich) Trifon Borisovich is the keeper of the inn at Mokroye where Dmitri goes to see Grushenka with her former lover.

Pyotr Fomich Kalganov (Petrusha) Kalganov is a young relative of Miusov’s.

Fedosya Markovna (Fenya) Fenya is Grushenka’s maid.

Pan Mussyalovich Pan Mussyalovich is Grushenka’s Polish former lover, who returns to reclaim her after his wife dies. After meeting him once more, Grushenka quickly realizes that she no longer loves him, and that she loves Dmitri. Long after Grushenka leaves him, Pan Mussyalovich repeatedly tries to borrow money from her.

Dr Herzenstube Dr Herzenstube is the kindly but ineffectual town doctor.

Grigory Vasilievich Kutuzov Grigory is Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov’s servant. A simple yet good-hearted and religious man, he brings up Dmitri and Smerdyakov after they are effectively abandoned by their father. He is married to Marfa. Grigory’s evidence at Dmitri’s trial plays an important part in Dmitri’s false conviction for the murder of Fyodor Pavlovich.