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).
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.
Karamazov (Alyosha, Alyoshka, Alyoshenka, Alyoshechka, Alexeichik, Lyosha,
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.
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,
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 fianc´┐Że, 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 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 is a famous defense lawyer from St Petersburg who
represents Dmitri at the trial.
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.
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 is
a stern but kindly monk who is Zosima's confessor.
Borisovich (Trifon Borisich)
Borisovich is the keeper of the inn at Mokroye where Dmitri goes to see
Grushenka with her former lover.
Kalganov is a
young relative of Miusov's.
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.
is the kindly but ineffectual town doctor.
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