Wednesday's Child

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Today I was cleaning out my computer (it is starting to go a little crazy with all the files we have on it), and I found a paper that I wrote last year for my english class about The Brothers Karamozov (great book). It was interesting for me to reread it, especially since it was about a year ago that I really started to feel the pull of Orthodoxy, so to speak. For a while I had gotten a bit too fascinated by existentialism and feminism, and I was coming dangerously close to nihilism. Reading The Brothers Karamozov and More Spirited Than Lions really helped me refocus. So here is the paper that I wrote about the aforementioned novel. Hope you like it.

A Woman’s True Worth
In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamozov, Dostoyevsky depicts the pejorative roles that women played in 19th century Russia. In so doing, Dostoyevsky condemns the roles that women were forced to play, and as a solution to their plight, offers up the Virgin Mary as a model of purity, wisdom, and independence, characteristics that women should possess, rather than their current roles as sexual objects, ignorant superficial housewives, and property.
Throughout history, women have been seen as “petticoats to run after” (4). As a result, women’s emotions, desires, and needs are ignored because of man’s selfish desire to satisfy himself sexually. Dostoyevsky uses the character of Grushenka, or Agrafena Alexandrovna, to portray the sexually exploited and corrupted role that some woman must play. Grushenka, because of her beauty, has immense appeal to men, which therefore forces her to “visit gentlemen in the dusk,” thereby loosing her internal beauty and consequently transforming into a “vile slut” (158). By illustrating Grushenka as a promiscuous woman, Dostoyevsky shows her as the complete opposite of the Virgin Mary, for Grushenka does not preserve her purity, but rather becomes totally corrupted. In the Orthodox Church, the church to which Dostoyevsky belonged, the Virgin Mary, or the Theotokos, (Mother of God) is seen as the embodiment of purity and commands complete respect. Grushenka on the other hand, possesses no purity, and thus commands no respect from anyone. Through this, Dostoyevsky is able to illustrate what women have to do in order to gain respect from society; they must learn to respect themselves by not allowing themselves to be controlled by the sexual desires of men, but instead by God and the church, and by using the Theotokos as their model of perfection.
Dostoyevsky utilizes Madame Hohlakov to exemplify the role of ignorant, superficial housewife. Throughout the storyline, Madame Hohlakov is a “gossip and busybody, saying things which [she] ought not,” and is completely consumed with the trivial things in the world (1 Timothy, 5:13). Everyday, she is “dressed with taste” and caught up in the drama of young love affairs or in the scandal of the day (45). She does not stop to calm her mind or to pray, but she is continually in pursuit of shocking news. Through these superficial qualities that Madame Hohlakov shows herself to possess, Dostoyevsky juxtaposes her with the Theotokos, who was of a calm mind and heart. The Mother of God used the time given to her in life not to be consumed with the superficial and temporal, but instead to concentrate on being a holy and honorable woman who could be found worthy of God’s love. Through Madame Hohlakov, Dostoyevsky further illustrates what women must do to change their position in society. For, by continuing to be engrossed in the superficial and unimportant, women will never be taken seriously; however, if women take on an enlightened role, they will be able to have a positive and enriching impact on society, rather than contributing to the decline of society as a whole through their frivolity and lack of virtue.
In The Brothers Karamozov, Dostoyevsky uses Katerina Ivanovna to symbolize the perception that was held for many years of women as property, to buy or sell as men wished. Katerina Ivanovna was a “creature for sale,” and Dmitri, being the buyer could do anything that he desired with her (158). Once again, women are seen as being under the control of man, like cattle or a “beast” (154). Katerina Ivanovna was not only controlled physically, but was also expected to be “an echo of other people’s ideas” (4). For women to “lack mental freedom” is horrible and despicable above all else (4). Seeing this trend in society, Dostoyevsky attempts to communicate the vast importance of independence, especially independence of thought. Dostoyevsky explains that women cannot be owned by men; they must instead give their hearts to God, and be wholly His. For man does not possess the ability to save women, only God has this power, and thus, in order to gain freedom in society, Dostoyevsky argues, women must first give themselves to God, and by doing so, gain societal and eternal independence from bondage. Through the example of the Virgin Mary, who gave her body and mind to God as a temple, and thus rose above the scorn of society and the control that men had over women as wives and mistresses, Dostoyevsky gives Russian women, and women all over the world, the initiative, and the proper model to free themselves from their centuries of bondage.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a devout Orthodox Christian, and his purpose in his literature was to show people “the way to the church” (330). In The Brothers Karamozov, he targets women, revealing their demeaning roles and explaining to them that only through God’s salvation will they be able to elevate their societal position from their existing pejorative roles, in which they are continually being manipulated, to a level or position in which they can positively impact and mold their society.


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