The Brothers Karamazov

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The First Trial: Alyosha

The Woman-Who-Gave-an-Onion gives you a long, suspicious look, and then begins her case against Alyosha.   “Do you think that the young monk is a holy man?  You saw how flimsy his faith is.  Because his beloved elder is stinking, his faith crumbles.  He’s ready to eat sausage, drink vodka, and consort with loose women – and all because the expected miracle has not come.  When he thinks that his elder has been ‘disgraced’ and ‘defamed’ he rebels and announces that he’s going to return his ticket (340 – 341).  He doesn’t love God; he doesn’t love Christianity; he loves his elder, and only his elder.  Is this the sort of faith that God rewards?”


The Virgin looks sadly at the Woman-Who-Gave-an-Onion, and then speaks this defense.  “You want God to judge this boy’s tender heart for loving too much?  I ask you, ‘if at such an exceptional moment there is no love to be found in a young man’s heart, then when will it come?’ (340).  With this love dwells a greater love:  a love for mankind.  Because he loves mankind Alyosha is desperate for justice:  for his elder, yes, but for all.  You remember Alyosha’s conversation with his brother Ivan:  he agreed that he could not agree to build paradise on the suffering of one child.  In short, he will not build his paradise on injustice because he loves mankind.  Do you want to condemn him for that?”


The Woman-Who-Gave-an-Onion snorts at the virgin’s reply.  “But God’s paradise is not just!  He built the universe, created hell, and tossed me in.  If you do not accept suffering, then you do not accept God.”  She fumes awhile and then adds, “ That monk will rebel against his God for an old man and a child.  But will he rebel against his God for me?  And if not, is he any better than I, who took back my onion?”


The Woman-Who-Gave-an-Onion isn’t finished.  She turns a cruel eye on you. “You know, after leaving the slut, the foolish boy goes back to the monastery, has a hallucination, falls to the earth, and kisses it. Crazy!  And the angels say, ‘It was as if threads from all those innumerable worlds of God all came together in his soul, and it was trembling allover, touching other worlds.  He wanted to forgive everyone and for everything and to ask forgiveness, oh, not for himself! But for all and for everything… [and] each moment he felt clearly and almost tangibly something as firm and immovable as this heavenly vault descend into his soul.  Some sort of idea… was coming to reign in his mind – now for the whole of his life and unto ages of ages…’ (362 – 363).  Bah!  No one seems to be able to tell me what that idea is.  Can you?

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