Good Essay On The Grand Inquisitor
“The Brothers Karamazov” is Dostoevsky’s last novel and is one of the most renowned literary scripts of all time. The story came out in 1880 just before his death, and it was a culmination of his previous works where all the themes, patterns and issues were brought together and presented in the Brothers Karamazov. The Grand Inquisitor is set up as a conversation between Alyosha and Ivan Karamazov, who were brothers living in Russia. The two are essentially different, with Alyosha having a monastic view of life with respect to tradition and religion while Ivan is led by reason and opposes tradition and Christian practice. The two are in this case debating on the existence of God, with Ivan expressing his difficulty in understanding how God allows for the suffering of people. He, therefore, tells his brother the story of the Grand Inquisitor that explains both relationships between the church and the teachings of Christ.
The parable tries to explain the nature of human beings especially on how they behave when faced with the aspect of freedom. Here, people are divided into two groups depending on their ability to deal with freedom given to them. The two groups rise by judging people based on their ability to handle freedom and the manifestation of the said freedom. The two groups are a few who duly handle freedom and a big number that is unable to. The large group is made of individuals unable to sustain themselves even in basic needs such as food, unable to take the responsibility of dealing with ethical questions and with a desire of coming together and doing away with differences. This according to the parable, therefore, means that most people are naturally unable to live with differences, take care of issues such as food, and become ethically responsible and most important handle freedom. This according to Dostoevsky can be proven through historical documents that also reveal a distinct small group within human beings. This small group, unlike the other one, is naturally able to do the things the bigger group could not accomplish.
Placing the Grand Inquisitor and other literary works by Dostoevsky into a universal historical context brings forth various periods. The first period can be viewed as the time of Napoleon dominance in Europe which also included Russia. This happened just before his birth but was followed by the rule of Tsar Alexander during his adult life. The other major event occurred after his death whereby the Tsar was assassinated, followed by a series of revolutions that changed the political scene in Russia. This resulted in the rise of western ideas of rationality and atheist views on communism.
In order to understand why Dostoevsky would write such a text, it is worth examining his personal life and the social picture in the country at the time of writing. After being orphaned at 17 years of age, he continued his education to become an army officer with an overwhelming desire in literature. His early writings were based on socialism and focused on change that would enable Russia as a country become great. He frequently criticized the ruling Tsarist in Russia.
Dostoevsky was among a group of writers in Russia who were mainly atheists and with stern political stands. Given his close relation to them, he was arrested for being in a group of intellectuals accused of causing unrest due to the push for political change. He was therefore charged with a plot of assassinating one of the leaders; a charge he denied. He was however found guilty and sentenced to death only to have his sentence reduced to serving time in a labor camp in Siberia. This was a changing point in line to his worldview since he now saw Christianity and other traditional aspects as the only sensible way to change the country. He was strongly opposed to the idea of socialism and by extension all other methods proposed by other western countries on how to bring change to the country. His new worldview heavily impacted in Dostoevsky’s writing of The Brothers Karamazov. The country was in a phase where the use of Jesus prayer and traditions of eldership in the political scene were on the rise.
The period also saw a major event occur; The French Revolution of 1789. This set the pace for revolutions all over the world with change agents being motivated to bring revolutions to their countries. This effect was also felt in Russia, which was broken into three groups; Westernizing liberals, the radicals, and the Slavophiles. The liberals who were influenced by the ongoing western wave pointed out that the only way to revolutionize Russia was by setting up a written constitution, creating a national assembly with representation the for the citizens, limiting the monarchical setup and having essential rights for every citizen. The radicals on the other hand were of the view that different mindsets such as atheism, communism, anarchism and even socialism were the way to go. They essentially rooted for destruction of all the present political systems and coming up with new systems. Despite their differences, the two groups were brought together by their belief of being more progressive and their common desire of doing away with the influence of religion. According to members of the two groups, the church was retrogressive and was holding Russia back from reaching the immense potential it had. These groups were mainly made up of intellectuals who therefore viewed the poor as ignorant and concerned with issues of lesser importance.
Dostoevsky subscribed to the last group called the Slavophiles. This group was made up of firm believers of religion and culture. To them, religion and Slavic cultural practices were the building blocks of a successful society. They were vehemently opposed to the idea of gauging Russia by the standard of the west due to the understanding that the beliefs of the two were miles from each other. Dostoevsky particularly pointed at the difference of the democracy and individualism of the west and the Russian monarchical and communal belief. The two were incompatible and, therefore, could not be used in Russia. According to Dostoevsky faith should have been used as the building block to progress of Russia unlike the idea of doing away with Christianity that the West was rooting for. in sharp contrast to the two groups, Slavophiles believed that the Russian folk needed to be religiously enlightened and the westernized intellectuals needed to follow suit. This, therefore, is the background to which The Brothers Karamazov was written and an explanation of the writing of the riddle. This period saw Russia undergo a transition where a gap emerged. The usual political, psychological and societal frameworks were changing, and a confusion of what was to take their place was impacting the country.
Many changes had occurred in the political scene. For a start, the ruler Nicholas I had died. This saw an end to the 35-year long rule that not only led to the collapse of the Russian economy, but also resulting in defeats in war by other western countries. In his place came Alexander II, who promised major reforms in the political and social scenes in Russia. This period saw the rise of intellectual activity and the breakdown of the society into the three groups mentioned above. These new thinkers were opposed to the government, one that they saw to be failing in reforming the country and dismissing the older generation that had gotten used to the ways of Nicholas I.
This was the period of Dostoevsky’s literal activity and oversaw the witting of articles such as the Grand Inquisitor. He was strongly opposed to the approach of the liberals, and the radicals and such material was used to speak out his displeasure and articulate his opposing beliefs.
It is clearly seen that Dostoevsky’s opposition to the radicalization of that time was due to the importance the people attached to reason. To him, natural sciences had become so important and viewed as the epitome of knowledge at the expense of Christianity and spiritual growth.
According to Ivan, in the riddle, doom awaits the combination of reason and politics. This is because, with more importance attached to intellectual activity, people will come together to form a secularized theocracy that will be matching their desires. This, however, will come at the cost of spiritual and cultural fulfillment that is detrimental to progress. This view can be supported by the regimes in the world’s history that have brought terror just like Ivan pointed out.
The self-destructive course that Ivan saw people take can be challenged by the liberal governments that have made strides ion development. The human nature therefore though faulty as pointed out; also has the ability to make viable developments as history has shown.