My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 30: Concluding Observations

Well folks, I had to finish it up sooner or later.  The Brothers Karamazov is one of my favorite books of all time, and there is so much there that I could go on writing about it forever.  But this is a blog, not a book.  And it is not good form at all, from what I hear at least, to write a series of blog posts on a book that is longer than the book they are about–just as it is bad netiquette to post a comment that is longer than the post being commented on (though I have seen instances where commenters have violated this rule with impunity).  But at any rate, I had to finish it up sooner or later, and this is as good a place as any to stop.  (Although if I read this book in the future and something else jumps out at me that I wish to write about, I reserve the right to do so.) Continue reading “My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 30: Concluding Observations”

My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 29: More on the Schoolboys

In this post I wanted to return to Alyosha and the schoolboys.

Earlier I said that the thing I liked best about Alyosha in his first encounter with the schoolboys was his willingness to put himself out there and to engage with them, even at the risk of getting it all wrong.

As I think about myself as a prospective teacher, I think that this is the heart of what teaching is all about.  You plan to the best of your ability, and then you just go in there with whatever you have.  You can’t control how your students will respond to your instruction.  They may eat it all up, or they may look at you with those eyes that say, “You have got to be the craziest person on the face of the earth to think that I would have any interest in whatever it is that you’re trying to teach me.”  But you have to be willing to show up and take the risk.

State standards give you guidance in determining what to teach.  Education courses give you the tools to plan how you will teach it and to determine whether or not you are effective in teaching it.  But the heart of teaching is just showing up and being there.  In doing so you say to your students, “I care about you enough to be here every day, to do whatever I’ve got to do to be here for you.  And I will not let you not get this.”

Alyosha was willing to engage with the schoolboys in his town, even at the risk of getting it all wrong.  And he did get it all wrong at first.  But he was willing to be there for them, and as a result he built influence in their lives.  That is what I look forward to as I think about teaching; the thought that I can be a positive influence in the lives of children just by showing up with whatever I have prepared for them, and just being there for them.

My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 28: Gold Mines

In this post I want to look at the character of Madame Hohlakov.

It is commonly accepted that people become more religious as they grow older.  The theory is that as people get older they become aware of the fact that they will only be around for so long and that time is growing shorter.  This leads them to become concerned about issues related to ultimate meaning, such as:  What is the meaning of life?  Why am I here?  How should I live?  What should I do to ensure that something of me will survive here on earth after I am gone?  Have I made my life count for anything worthwhile, or was it all for nothing?  Many people turn to religion, and specifically Christianity (within our culture, at least), for the answers to these issues and questions.  The idea of the “deathbed conversion” and its prevalence in our culture bears this out.

But what if the opposite is true?  Could it be that people actually become more irreligious as they grow older?  It is very hard to serve God faithfully over the full course of a lifetime.  To live for years and years in a natural world which seems to offer very little (if any) intersection between itself and anything that can be called supernatural (if such a thing as the supernatural even exists); to live for years and years in a world which screams that there are no values of any lasting importance, no values beyond money, sex, fame, and the pursuit of happiness in the here and now–and yet still remain faithful to a God whose values are completely opposite the values of that world, is no mean feat.  Anyone who can pull that off is to be strongly commended, and I would imagine that there are very many who simply do not have the strength.  I would even venture to say that “deathbed apostasy” is more common than “deathbed conversion”.

Madame Hohlakov is a prime example of this. Continue reading “My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 28: Gold Mines”

My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 27: Cana of Galilee (cont’d)

Alyosha is on his knees in prayer beside Father Zossima’s coffin, but really listening to Father Paissy’s reading of the Gospel.  Father Paissy is reading the story of the wedding at Cana, and Alyosha is thinking about his impressions of that miracle.

As he is thinking, he has a vision in which he is transported into the wedding feast at Cana.  We see that this feast and the great feast which God has prepared for the righteous are linked.  Father Zossima is at the feast, and he greets Alyosha. Continue reading “My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 27: Cana of Galilee (cont’d)”

My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 26: Cana of Galilee

Well how about that?  Last week I thought that I wouldn’t be blogging much at all right now, and yet in between school work and my job I’ve managed to get out more posts this week than in all of the month prior to then.  So much for “not blogging very much during the coming weeks”.

In this post I want to turn my attention to one of my favorite chapters in the story.

This chapter takes place on the evening after Father Zossima’s death.  Alyosha has returned to the monastery late at night after his visit to Grushenka with Rakitin.  Before going to bed he stops by Father Zossima’s cell.  Father Paissy is reading the Gospel over Father Zossima’s coffin, and at this point he is reading about the wedding of Cana (John 2:1-11).

Alyosha kneels down to pray, and when he realizes that Father Paissy is reading about the wedding of Cana, he begins to think about this miracle and his impressions of it. Continue reading “My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 26: Cana of Galilee”

My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 25: A Meeting with the Schoolboys

In this post I wanted to focus on Alyosha’s first meeting with the schoolboys.  This meeting occurs in Chapter 3 of Book IV.

Alyosha is on his way from his father’s house to Madame Hohlakov’s when he meets a group of school-age children on their way home from school.  Alyosha attempts to strike a conversation with one of them by suggesting that he should carry his school bag on his left shoulder instead of his right.  We learn from the text that Alyosha’s intent is to get into the children’s confidence by making a practical suggestion; such a move would place himself and the children on an equal footing.  But his attempt backfires; it turns out that the boy is left-handed.

Just at that point another boy starts throwing stones at them–but it turns out that he is really throwing stones at Alyosha.  The boys all pick up stones and throw them back at him.  Alyosha tries to break up the fight, but to no avail.  Eventually the boy runs away, but waits for Alyosha to come after him.  Alyosha goes to him and asks why he was throwing stones at him.  But the boy curses him, bites his finger, and then runs away crying.

Not a very auspicious beginning for Alyosha in his relationship with these children.  But the key thing is, he tried.  He wanted to reach out and connect with the children, and be a positive influence in their lives.  So he made the attempt.  He was willing to put himself out there and say something, even if it was all wrong.  How many people are willing to do that in their relations with children, or with other people in general, for that matter? Continue reading “My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 25: A Meeting with the Schoolboys”

My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 24: A Young Man Bent on a Career

In this post I turn my attention to the character of Rakitin.

Rakitin was a divinity student living at the monastery with Father Zossima and Alyosha.  Rakitin is a foil to Alyosha, just as Father Ferapont is a foil to Father Zossima.  Alyosha is a gentle and honest spiritual seeker who struggles but comes through his struggles to a stronger faith.  Rakitin, on the other hand, is a rank unbeliever and a selfish opportunist.  Rakitin even tries to seduce Alyosha to fall into sin at the critical moment when his faith is weakest. Continue reading “My Reaction to The Brothers Karamazov–Part 24: A Young Man Bent on a Career”