Reading Dostoevsky’s Brothers K: Mitya and the Stupidly Good

Note: The penultimate Bros. K journal.

9 November 1999

I have figured out why Mitya annoys me so.

His stubborn honor is a self-laceration, an omen of pride which must be stripped away – literally and spiritually. Until it is stripped away, Mitya strikes me as impulsive, buffoonish, even down-right stupid:

 “Write down at once… at once… ‘that I snatched up the pestle to go and kill my father… Fyodor Pavlovich… by hitting him on the head with it!’ Well, now are you satisfied, gentlemen? Are your minds relieved?” he said, glaring defiantly at the attorneys. (p. 444)

On the margins of this passage, I could not help but write stoopid (purposely misspelling).  Is Mitya that out of touch will the real world?

He reminds me of Shakespeare’s honorable Brutus or honest Othello, so ill-suited for the corruption that exists in his world that the forces that are suited for that world (the Capsizes, the Lagos, the Smerdyakovs) easily fell the stupidly honest, the stupidly good.

For, in fact, Mitya is stupidly good, in such a manner as Satan is stupidly good seeing Eve: aware of goodness and awed by it but unable to exact goodness himself, out of close-minded pride. What will strip Mitya of this stubborn honor that renders him stupidly good?

The three torments, that reveals Mitya’s self-laceration to the outside world, which also reveals to Mitya just how absurd his honor is in the world of modern Russia, helps to strip away this stubborn honor, logically leading to a physical stripping of his clothes:

“He could never, even a minute before, have conceived that anyone could behave like that to him, Mitya Karamazov!” (p. 455). As seen in his thinking, the physical stripping is not enough to rid him of the self-seeking honor that he attaches to his own name.

The outside world finds Mitya’s honor absurd. When Mitya reveals the source of his self-laceration, Katerina’s money that he has kept in a pouch around his neck, the outside world laughs: “Both attorneys laughed aloud” (p. 466).

Mitya realizes there that the world is not the world of his own understanding, that the world is NOT Mitya: “Oh, God, you horrify me by not understanding!” (p. 466).

The interrogation, physical stripping, and the attorney’s laughter strips Mitya of his self-laceration, strips Mitya of the walls that he built around him that allowed him to say, “I’m not guilty!  I’m not guilty of that blood! I’m not guilty of my father’s blood…. I meant to kill him. But I’m not guilty.  Not I.” (p. 431).

As Mitya’ sleeps, his self – the honorable “I” — has been stripped away such that he is able to participate in a dream about suffering, about the communion of suffering, to feel the suffering of others that are not his self:

“And he felt also that a passion of pity, such as he had never known before, was rising in his heart, and he wanted to cry, that he wanted to do something for them all, so that the babe should weep no more, so that the dark-faced, dried-up mother would not weep, that no one should shed tears again from that moment, and he wanted to do it at once, regardless of all obstacles, with all the Karamazov recklessness.” (p. 479)

Even though Mitya in that dream wants to cure all suffering, the “Karamazov recklessness” and Grushenka’s voice in the dream assure that Mitya is really only one among the suffering, as seen when he wakes up before his dream persona can do anything to help the babe.

Mitya wakes up to his suffering – real suffering – and, unlike the rebellious Mitya before the dream, this Mitya looks toward his suffering “with a new light, as of a joy, in his face” and leaves Mokroe, asking for forgiveness and saying good-bye.


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