The Significance of Food Imagery in The Brothers Karamazov Essay

Dostoevsky / The Brothers Karamazov / food / weakness

Essay Topic:

The true significance of the image of food in the novel “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Essay Questions:

What is the major conflict of the “The Brothers Karamazov”? What role do the descriptions of food play in the general message of the novel? Why did Dostoevsky chose food to share the significance of the novel

Thesis Statement:

Dostoevsky's work “The Brothers Karamazov” touch to the very core and all the messages that you consciously and subconsciously got, begin living their own life in you heart and mind giving start to thought, infernal conflicts and soul sufferings.


The Significance of Food Imagery in The Brothers Karamazov Essay



Introduction: Fyodor Dostoevsky was one of the people that make the literature world seem something extraordinary, deep, emotional and if it is possible to say – vital. Through his works one can understand things through outliving them. The moment you read the last word of his work and your eyes slowly go up to the “true reality” and look at the walls of your room something very strange happens inside of you. It feels like you were in another world, on another planet for SO long, that now you do not recognize your own world and if you do – it seems very different from what it did before. The tragedy of his works can fill the heart of every human being and if after you read the book you feel like you have a heart-ache close to the one you feel when you loose somebody very important in your life it means that the world of Dostoevsky with all its pain has become a part of you. Dostoevsky's work “The Brothers Karamazov” touch to the very core and all the messages that you consciously and subconsciously got, begin living their own life in you heart and mind giving start to thought, infernal conflicts and soul sufferings. It is very difficult actually to view anything from the “The Brothers Karamazov” apart from the whole plot. “Brothers Karamazov" appear before us as a strong internal unity with complex plot directions penetrating each other. Therefore, resulting this comes the affectation of any kind of separations and reviews of separate themes from the general picture of the book. Nevertheless, we will try our best in tracking the theme that we are specifically interested in. Before talking about certain aspects concerning “The Brothers Karamazov” we want to put a little ascent on the author. What kind of a person can arouse all these emotional rebels in different people? This is very important in the further understanding of the issue discussed in this paper.

The life of Dostoevsky was very hard and tragic and it is naturally to suppose that the experience he had deeply influenced his works. Dostoevsky did not simply know well the contents of the Bible; he spiritually penetrated it since his most early years. His novel is a tragedy. It is the result of his spiritual tragedy and a revelation of the “ deep mystery of his soul”. Everything in “The Brothers Karamazov” is filled with duality and contradiction. There is also a conflict in his book. The theme of food and drink is also represented by a contradiction in it. The food or drink scenes appear in major scenes of the novel. Another thing that also needs to be mentioned before starting our analysis is the understanding that Dostoevsky had his own “imagery” that was brightly denominated in this novel. This, we might say, encoded message may not be seen at once but is still very important. Food and drink appear as a background of the plot in the novel, but this background often says what the situation itself could not manage to say. It complements the episode perfectly and through this background Dostoevsky shares as much thoughts with the reader as he does through the plot line. As the religious topic is viewed throughout his whole novel the first example of the significance of food and drink in the novel we will examine from the position of the power of religion for we are going to talk about Alyosha Karamazov, an “angel” as Dmitri Karamazov would later call him (b.3/c.3). The themes of Dostoevsky in this book are so much connected with religion that a question about Dostoevsky and his belief in paradise on earth starts having a really deep meaning. Religion has had a great influence on the people’s traditions and ways in Russia back then and the way the Russians followed the prescription of the Christian church impressed, the way they believed in miracles, this can be seen in the scene of Father Zossima talking to all these women that came from far away to ask him to release their sins. All these “ traditions” concerned food, too. Eating and drinking played a great role, because it was also a “tradition” that was followed. During the religious feasts people “refueled” their bodies, made them happy and glorifies God. Food in this case is viewed as a mean of communication of one believer with another believer or even with God. So food and drink are shown from the divine side, not as the things that lead to gluttony, but as an ability to show through the sharing of a meal their love to God and obedience. Alyosha, the youngest from the Karamazov brothers is shown in the book full of religious admiration and love to God, which he learned from Father Zossima. His perception of the outer world is very different. He has no business towards getting something for people and everybody that they like his unusualness in him. When in our contemporary world we see a person who is ready to take his last shirt off just to somebody else with can easily call him – Alyosha Karamazov. No matter what he is going to do all his always intentions have a good beginning. He tries hard to bring kindness to people. Father Zossima was very important for him, not only because he was his pupil, but also because he identified himself with Father Zossima. Alyosha lives by the Christian laws Father Zossima teaches him, he followed them, without forgetting a single one. The imagery of food in Alyosha’s description appears at a very critical moment for the young men. Father Zossima dies (b.7/c.1), a man that taught him so much that the world of religion to him, showed that the human being should not be condemned and that to love means to love every single man, and not just the ones that make you good. The image of Father Zossima is something that he secretly, we might even say, worshiped and who was the brightest example for him. And yet death has taken him and starts touching his body. The sense of the decaying body of his religious elder impressed Alyosha immensely. And here comes the moment when food and drink appears on stage. Alyosha is disappointed by what he sees, and he meets his so-called “friend” he steps on the wrong way. He feels that it is so unfair that such a man as Father Zossima after death has to go through such a humiliation, from his point of view.

His desperateness and the destruction of his ideal make him turn to the human weaknesses. All the monastic vows are forbidden, and though he still remains kind and loving inside he turns to the religious taboos. Through Rakitin he escapes in vodka and forbidden food. The imagery of food in this case is of a very high importance. Dostoevsky shows that the Alyosha’s “decline” happens first by eating and drinking. Food represents the lightness of a moral fall. And how easy it is possible to achieve it through just eating and drinking. So it is one of the contradictions that Dostoevsky gives in his book “The Brothers Karamazov”. The contradictions between the pure Christian view on food as a union with people and God on one side and food as a mean of self-destruction after the loss of ideals on the other. This moment of the book is very deep meaning that influences Alyosha’s life entirely. Fortunately, he resurrects his belief in God through love. His love to people has been such so much unforgettable for his own heart that finally he finds consent with himself. And even despises himself for having been weak. This failure made him strong for him future successes. And at the end we see another repetition of the imagery of food connected with his character. When he was at the wedding feast at Cana connected with the changing water into wine by Christ he felt the love of God as never before. This love overwhelmed him and filled him with something absolutely new and pure. At that very moment he had a vision of a feast in heaven, where God meet all the guests. Here, Alyosha’s spiritual resurrection happens through water and wine and continues the food imagery role in the novel. This is one of the brightest and significant uses of the food and drink imagery in the book.

As many significant events in the novel are connected with eating or drinking we will keep focusing on the major ones. The next moment connected with food and drink imagery is the scene when Alyosha comes to his father house in(b.3/c.6).The gathering of the brothers Ivan, Alyosha and their father Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. Dostoevsky shows Alyosha coming to the house when the dinner is already over. A deep analysis of this aspect may be interpreted as the lack of care from the side of this house and his father in the first place. That he is not expected there. As soon as he comes he understand that his father has been drinking but is not drunk yet. The way his father talks, offers coffee and speaks of food in a manner that implies that it is very important to him. That he likes food and drinking which are physical pleasures. He offers Alyosha coffee from Smerdyakov and asks to tell before hand when he will come the next time so he would have the possibility to give him some fish soup (uha) to try. Though Fyodor Pavlovich is always telling that Alyosha is a good boy but he does not seem to care about him at all. Instead of a real fathers hug he offers him some coffee and alcohol. On the background through all the conversation alcohol accompanies Karamazov senior.

The way he enjoy drinking is seen throughout the whole scene. When alcohol starts influencing him he starts talking about things that very shock Alyosha, especially when he started talking about women and their mother. Later on he fails to understand that his wife was not only Alyosha’s mother, but Ivan’s mother, too. Fyodor Pavlovich is shown in the image of a degradating person, a person that lives only to eat good drink a lot and meet women, no matter how they look like. All of these manifestations are very much spiced by Dostoevsky with plenty of alcohol; it even seems to be floating in it. Drink, in this case is shown as a destruction power that leads to complete personality disintegration. When we ask ourselves the question why is he chose to be killed in the novel, the first answer that comes in mind – he was nobody. Alcohol is very important here, for it shows that this man was very weak. And the alcohol that Alyosha chose when he was desperate, the same alcohol Fyodor Pavlovich chooses to make his everyday moments funnier. It is another confirmation of how throughout the satisfaction of physical needs a person looses even a hint to having spiritual values. The theme of alcohol seems to continue in Dmitri’s despair. Before entering the father’s house Alyosha meets Dmitri who by the influence of alcohol, and being brave enough now tells all the 4,5 thousand money-issue to Alyosha. Here alcohol was a catalyst, such as was Grushenka for Alyosha, to reveal the truth, as Alyosha revealed that what he was doing was wrong. It was alcohol again for a certain reason. During all his life Dmitri his existance was about the struggle between behaving animal-like and decent. And it is possible to assume that Dostoevsky made this alcohol line to show that the son had common weaknesses with his father Fyodor Pavlovich, that he is still the son of his father.Nevertheless, at the end he takes the punishment of another person. Which means that the physical did not win in him and that the “human” traits did take court. He punished himself but for a better future. There are a lot of other examples that may be reviewed in details but in our opinion we got the main ones that go throughout the entire book.

The significance of the food and drink imagery in “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor M. Dostoevsky has a deeper sense that it may seem form the first sight. As Dostoevsky is considered to be a real psychologist it is obvious that he made a great job in choosing the imagery that would contain encoded messages. This imagery is of a high importance for this book, because throughout the novel, he reveals the true nature of the scenes depicted in the novel. He often uses this imagery as a background, a background that sometimes carries more information that it usually does. The focus on this imagery is necessary if the book is to deeply understood and analyzed. Every single word said by Dostoevsky is not just a word but has a certain aim of using. As you see the example of the food and drink imagery usage is of a great importance for the understanding of the book. Minimizing its significance we minimize the meaning of the novel “The Brothers Karamazov” as a whole and underestimation of Dostoevsky’s world perception.

Conclusion: People providing themselves enough food, and enjoying the spectacles deprive themselves from the main divine grant of a person – the liberties of moral choice and possibility to live on their won will. It is shown in “The Brothers Karamazov” how much the physical aspect enslaves people, making them flabby. Through the food and drink in the novel Dostoevsky achieves the aim of showing how much the “physical” can destroy the spiritual. How can it worsen what already was bad? And we think this is why he keeps showing these scenes again.In conclusion it is important to say that of course the novel would not have really lost its extraordinarity without the food and drink imagery, nevertheless without it the essence of the transmitted idea is not complete. The values given in the novel are brightly supported by the same food and drink imagery. The psychological art of Dostoevsky is famous all over the world. He gets into the depths of subconsciousness of people and researches their emotional lives creating his outstanding characters in “The Brothers Karamazov”. Dostoevsky by using food and drink imagery in “The brother Karamazov” saved the initial sense of the novel for us. His analysis in the book the analysis is not limited by individual psychology: it gets into social, household and ethnic psychology. His idea of the possibility of the resurrection of high moral human values and union of the mankind are seen through the whole novel. Dostoevsky by using food and drink imagery in “The brother Karamazov” saved the initial sense of the novel for us. It is a great book with a great meaning for us, people, who live and love after Fyodor M. Dostoevsky and the imagery in the book is the confirmation that the best messages are not always offered as a plaintext.


“The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky/translators: Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky/ Vintage /1992/


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