The Grand Inquisitor/Rebellion

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The Grand Inquisitor

The Brothers Karamazov (at Wikisource) — The Grand Inquisitor (at Wikipedia) — The Brothers Karamazov (at Wikipedia)

Rebellion[edit]

In this chapter, Ivan relates several news stories that he has collected over the years. Each story is about a child that has been abused, or murdered, or otherwise made to suffer. Ivan claims that if god allows these children to suffer, Ivan will not accept any invitation into God's kingdom. After this, Alyosha says "That's rebellion!".

Part 1[edit]

     "I MUST make one confession" Ivan began. "I could never understand how one can love one's neighbours. It's just one's neighbours, to my mind, that one can't love, though one might love those at a distance. I once read somewhere of John the Merciful, a saint, that when a hungry, frozen beggar came to him, he took him into his bed, held him in his arms, and began breathing into his mouth, which was putrid and loathsome from some awful disease. I am convinced that he did that from 'self-laceration,' from the self-laceration of falsity, for the sake of the charity imposed by duty, as a penance laid on him. For anyone to love a man, he must be hidden, for as soon as he shows his face, love is gone."

Ivan here is referring to a passage from the book of Matthew, 22:35:

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jesus claimed that "love thy neighbor" was the second most important law of god. It is by claiming to not be able to follow this law (and providing some justification against it) that Ivan starts this discussion.


     "Father Zossima has talked of that more than once," observed Alyosha; "he, too, said that the face of a man often hinders many people not practised in love, from loving him. But yet there's a great deal of love in mankind, and almost Christ-like love. I know that myself, Ivan."

Father Zossima is Alyosha's mentor at the monestary, and a well-respected local figure.


Part 2[edit]

     "Well, I know nothing of it so far, and can't understand it, and the innumerable mass of mankind are with me there. The question is, whether that's due to men's bad qualities or whether it's inherent in their nature. To my thinking, Christ-like love for men is a miracle impossible on earth. He was God. But we are not gods. Suppose I, for instance, suffer intensely. Another can never know how much I suffer, because he is another and not I. And what's more, a man is rarely ready to admit another's suffering (as though it were a distinction). Why won't he admit it, do you think? Because I smell unpleasant, because I have a stupid face, because I once trod on his foot. Besides, there is suffering and suffering; degrading, humiliating suffering such as humbles me- hunger, for instance- my benefactor will perhaps allow me; but when you come to higher suffering- for an idea, for instance- he will very rarely admit that, perhaps because my face strikes him as not at all what he fancies a man should have who suffers for an idea. And so he deprives me instantly of his favour, and not at all from badness of heart. Beggars, especially genteel beggars, ought never to show themselves, but to ask for charity through the newspapers. One can love one's neighbours in the abstract, or even at a distance, but at close quarters it's almost impossible. If it were as on the stage, in the ballet, where if beggars come in, they wear silken rags and tattered lace and beg for alms dancing gracefully, then one might like looking at them. But even then we should not love them."

When Ivan says "Christ-like love" he is referring to unconditional love towards your neightbors and your enemies. Ivan here is claiming that people in general are incapable of this kind of love by their nature, and are therefore incapable of following the laws of Jesus.


"But enough of that. I simply wanted to show you my point of view. I meant to speak of the suffering of mankind generally, but we had better confine ourselves to the sufferings of the children. That reduces the scope of my argument to a tenth of what it would be. Still we'd better keep to the children, though it does weaken my case. But, in the first place, children can be loved even at close quarters, even when they are dirty, even when they are ugly (I fancy, though, children never are ugly). The second reason why I won't speak of grown-up people is that, besides being disgusting and unworthy of love, they have a compensation- they've eaten the apple and know good and evil, and they have become 'like gods.' They go on eating it still. But the children haven't eaten anything, and are so far innocent. "

This is an important point in the narrative. Here, Ivan turns the focus of the conversation squarely onto the issue of children, and not on man-kind in general. He does this for two reasons: he says that restricting his conversation to children will limit his argument, but also because people are compassionate towards children.


"Are you fond of children, Alyosha? I know you are, and you will understand why I prefer to speak of them. If they, too, suffer horribly on earth, they must suffer for their fathers' sins, they must be punished for their fathers, who have eaten the apple; but that reasoning is of the other world and is incomprehensible for the heart of man here on earth. The innocent must not suffer for another's sins, and especially such innocents! You may be surprised at me, Alyosha, but I am awfully fond of children, too. And observe, cruel people, the violent, the rapacious, the Karamazovs are sometimes very fond of children. Children while they are quite little- up to seven, for instance- are so remote from grown-up people they are different creatures, as it were, of a different species. I knew a criminal in prison who had, in the course of his career as a burglar, murdered whole families, including several children. But when he was in prison, he had a strange affection for them. He spent all his time at his window, watching the children playing in the prison yard. He trained one little boy to come up to his window and made great friends with him.... You don't know why I am telling you all this, Alyosha? My head aches and I am sad."

"the apple" here refers to the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, from the garden of eden. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit (which later came to be identified with an apple) they committed what is now known as "original sin". Saint Augustine first wrote about the concept of original sin, a fallen state of humanity that is inherited by children from their parents.

Ivan starts by saying that it is "incomprehensible" that children should be made to suffer because of their original sin. If an innocent person should not suffer for the sins of another person, then children should not suffer for the sins of their ancestors.

Ivan goes on to talk about how even the most cruel and evil people still love children. He justifies this by saying that children are so small in stature that they are essentially different creatures from regular adult humans. When Ivan is talking about the affection or love that adults generally feel towards children, he is talking about a patronly love, not a sexual or romantic kind.


Part 2[edit]

     "You speak with a strange air," observed Alyosha uneasily, "as though you were not quite yourself."

     "By the way, a Bulgarian I met lately in Moscow," Ivan went on, seeming not to hear his brother's words, "told me about the crimes committed by Turks and Circassians in all parts of Bulgaria through fear of a general rising of the Slavs. They burn villages, murder, outrage women and children, they nail their prisoners by the ears to the fences, leave them so till morning, and in the morning they hang them- all sorts of things you can't imagine. People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that's a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that's all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it. These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, -too; cutting the unborn child from the mothers womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mothers' eyes. Doing it before the mothers' eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. Here is another scene that I thought very interesting. Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her. They've planned a diversion: they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby's face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out its little hands to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby's face and blows out its brains. Artistic, wasn't it? By the way, Turks are particularly fond of sweet things, they say."

Here Ivan mentions, almost without explanation stories he has heard of cruelties commited by the Turks against the Bulgarians. He uses these stories to illustrate the fact that men can be much more cruel then any animal can be, thus elliminating a possible model for the devil. If the devil was an invention, he must have been based off other men, and not off some cruel animal.


Part 3[edit]

     "Brother, what are you driving at?" asked Alyosha.

     "I think if the devil doesn't exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness."

     "Just as he did God, then?" observed Alyosha.

     "'It's wonderful how you can turn words,' as Polonius says in Hamlet," laughed Ivan. "You turn my words against me. Well, I am glad. Yours must be a fine God, if man created Him in his image and likeness. You asked just now what I was driving at. You see, I am fond of collecting certain facts, and, would you believe, I even copy anecdotes of a certain sort from newspapers and books, and I've already got a fine collection."

Driving to the heart of the matter, Ivan says that man has created the Devil "in his own image and likeness." Alyosha immediately likens this to the theory that man has created God in a similar fashion.

It's at this point that Ivan first mentions his "collection" of stories. These stories, as we shall see, have a particular focus that has Ivan very troubled.


"The Turks, of course, have gone into it, but they are foreigners. I have specimens from home that are even better than the Turks. You know we prefer beating-rods and scourges- that's our national institution. Nailing ears is unthinkable for us, for we are, after all, Europeans. But the rod and the scourge we have always with us and they cannot be taken from us. Abroad now they scarcely do any beating. Manners are more humane, or laws have been passed, so that they don't dare to flog men now. But they make up for it in another way just as national as ours. And so national that it would be practically impossible among us, though I believe we are being inoculated with it, since the religious movement began in our aristocracy."

This passage is a little bit obscure, and it is difficult to understand all of Ivan's context-sensitive references. However, the point of this passage is quite clear: every society has manners of harming other people. Also, the ways that one society hurt people may seem to be barbaric to other societies, but all the methods are essentially equivalent.


"I have a charming pamphlet, translated from the French, describing how, quite recently, five years ago, a murderer, Richard, was executed- a young man, I believe, of three and twenty, who repented and was converted to the Christian faith at the very scaffold. This Richard was an illegitimate child who was given as a child of six by his parents to some shepherds on the Swiss mountains. They brought him up to work for them. He grew up like a little wild beast among them. The shepherds taught him nothing, and scarcely fed or clothed him, but sent him out at seven to herd the flock in cold and wet, and no one hesitated or scrupled to treat him so. Quite the contrary, they thought they had every right, for Richard had been given to them as a chattel, and they did not even see the necessity of feeding him. Richard himself describes how in those years, like the Prodigal Son in the Gospel, he longed to eat of the mash given to the pigs, which were fattened for sale. But they wouldn't even give that, and beat him when he stole from the pigs. And that was how he spent all his childhood and his youth, till he grew up and was strong enough to go away and be a thief. The savage began to earn his living as a day labourer in Geneva. He drank what he earned, he lived like a brute, and finished by killing and robbing an old man. He was caught, tried, and condemned to death. They are not sentimentalists there. And in prison he was immediately surrounded by pastors, members of Christian brotherhoods, philanthropic ladies, and the like. They taught him to read and write in prison, and expounded the Gospel to him. They exhorted him, worked upon him, drummed at him incessantly, till at last he solemnly confessed his crime. He was converted. He wrote to the court himself that he was a monster, but that in the end God had vouchsafed him light and shown grace. All Geneva was in excitement about him- all philanthropic and religious Geneva. All the aristocratic and well-bred society of the town rushed to the prison, kissed Richard and embraced him; 'You are our brother, you have found grace.' And Richard does nothing but weep with emotion, 'Yes, I've found grace! All my youth and childhood I was glad of pigs' food, but now even I have found grace. I am dying in the Lord.' 'Yes, Richard, die in the Lord; you have shed blood and must die. Though it's not your fault that you knew not the Lord, when you coveted the pigs' food and were beaten for stealing it (which was very wrong of you, for stealing is forbidden); but you've shed blood and you must die.'And on the last day, Richard, perfectly limp, did nothing but cry and repeat every minute: 'This is my happiest day. I am going to the Lord.' 'Yes,' cry the pastors and the judges and philanthropic ladies. 'This is the happiest day of your life, for you are going to the Lord!' They all walk or drive to the scaffold in procession behind the prison van. At the scaffold they call to Richard: 'Die, brother, die in the Lord, for even thou hast found grace!' And so, covered with his brothers' kisses, Richard is dragged on to the scaffold, and led to the guillotine. And they chopped off his head in brotherly fashion, because he had found grace. Yes, that's characteristic. That pamphlet is translated into Russian by some Russian philanthropists of aristocratic rank and evangelical aspirations, and has been distributed gratis for the enlightenment of the people. The case of Richard is interesting because it's national. Though to us it's absurd to cut off a man's head, because he has become our brother and has found grace, yet we have our own speciality, which is all but worse."

Here Ivan recounts the story of a man named Richard, who was raised as an animal, and grew up to become a thief and a murderer. In prison, awaiting death, Richard is converted into a christian and educated in reading and writing. On the day of his execution, Richard is actually celebrating his own death as a holy act.


"Our historical pastime is the direct satisfaction of inflicting pain. There are lines in Nekrassov describing how a peasant lashes a horse on the eyes, 'on its meek eyes,' everyone must have seen it. It's peculiarly Russian. He describes how a feeble little nag has foundered under too heavy a load and cannot move. The peasant beats it, beats it savagely, beats it at last not knowing what he is doing in the intoxication of cruelty, thrashes it mercilessly over and over again. 'However weak you are, you must pull, if you die for it.' The nag strains, and then he begins lashing the poor defenceless creature on its weeping, on its 'meek eyes.' The frantic beast tugs and draws the load, trembling all over, gasping for breath, moving sideways, with a sort of unnatural spasmodic action- it's awful in Nekrassov. But that only a horse, and God has horses to be beaten. So the Tatars have taught us, and they left us the knout as a remembrance of it."

Here, Ivan discusses the story of a master and a horse. The horse is tired from pulling "too heavy a load", and stops pulling. The master, in a rage, lashes the horse and beats it repeatedly and for some time. Finally, having no untouched skin left to beat, the master lashes the horse on it's eyes. This finally motivated the horse to pull the load.

Ivan uses this story as an example that people experience satisfaction from inflicting pain, thus reinforcing his thesis that the Devil was created in the image of evil men.


"But men, too, can be beaten. A well-educated, cultured gentleman and his wife beat their own child with a birch-rod, a girl of seven. I have an exact account of it. The papa was glad that the birch was covered with twigs. 'It stings more,' said he, and so be began stinging his daughter. I know for a fact there are people who at every blow are worked up to sensuality, to literal sensuality, which increases progressively at every blow they inflict. They beat for a minute, for five minutes, for ten minutes, more often and more savagely. The child screams. At last the child cannot scream, it gasps, 'Daddy daddy!' By some diabolical unseemly chance the case was brought into court. A counsel is engaged. The Russian people have long called a barrister 'a conscience for hire.' The counsel protests in his client's defence. 'It's such a simple thing,' he says, 'an everyday domestic event. A father corrects his child. To our shame be it said, it is brought into court.' The jury, convinced by him, give a favourable verdict. The public roars with delight that the torturer is acquitted. Ah, pity I wasn't there! I would have proposed to raise a subscription in his honour! Charming pictures."

In the same vein of the previous story, Ivan recounts now the story of a man and his wife beat their seven-year-old daughter with a birch rod. The beating lasted for more then 10 minutes, and grew harder and more savage as time went on.

When brought to court, instead of being punished for abusing their daughter, the couple is praised for properly correcting their child. As we shall see later, Ivan has a special place in his heart for abused children, and the stories he relates later focus more on them.