THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
Chapter 4 - Rebellion
"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."
"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
"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. 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. 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."
"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."
"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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
"But I've still better things about children. I've collected a
great, great deal about Russian children, Alyosha. There was a
little girl of five who was hated by her father and mother, 'most
worthy and respectable people, of good education and breeding.' You
see, I must repeat again, it is a peculiar characteristic of many
people, this love of torturing children, and children only. To all
other types of humanity these torturers behave mildly and
benevolently, like cultivated and humane Europeans; but they are
very fond of tormenting children, even fond of children themselves
in that sense. it's just their defencelessness that tempts the
tormentor, just the angelic confidence of the child who has no
refuge and no appeal, that sets his vile blood on fire. In every
man, of course, a demon lies hidden- the demon of rage, the demon of
lustful heat at the screams of the tortured victim, the demon of
lawlessness let off the chain, the demon of diseases that follow on
vice, gout, kidney disease, and so on.
"This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture
by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her
for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater
refinements of cruelty- shut her up all night in the cold and frost in
a privy, and because she didn't ask to be taken up at night (as though
a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained
to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with
excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother
could sleep, hearing the poor child's groans! Can you understand why a
little creature, who can't even understand what's done to her,
should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and
the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to
protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and
humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is
permitted? Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth,
for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that
diabolical good and evil when it costs so much? Why, the whole world
of knowledge is not worth that child's prayer to dear, kind God'! I
say nothing of the sufferings of grown-up people, they have eaten
the apple, damn them, and the devil take them all! But these little
ones! I am making you suffer, Alyosha, you are not yourself. I'll
leave off if you like."
"Nevermind. I want to suffer too," muttered Alyosha.
"One picture, only one more, because it's so curious, so
characteristic, and I have only just read it in some collection of
Russian antiquities. I've forgotten the name. I must look it up. It
was in the darkest days of serfdom at the beginning of the century,
and long live the Liberator of the People! There was in those days a
general of aristocratic connections, the owner of great estates, one
of those men- somewhat exceptional, I believe, even then- who,
retiring from the service into a life of leisure, are convinced that
they've earned absolute power over the lives of their subjects.
There were such men then. So our general, settled on his property of
two thousand souls, lives in pomp, and domineers over his poor
neighbours as though they were dependents and buffoons. He has kennels
of hundreds of hounds and nearly a hundred dog-boys- all mounted,
and in uniform. One day a serf-boy, a little child of eight, threw a
stone in play and hurt the paw of the general's favourite hound.
'Why is my favourite dog lame?' He is told that the boy threw a
stone that hurt the dog's paw. 'So you did it.' The general looked the
child up and down. 'Take him.' He was taken- taken from his mother and
kept shut up all night. Early that morning the general comes out on
horseback, with the hounds, his dependents, dog-boys, and huntsmen,
all mounted around him in full hunting parade. The servants are
summoned for their edification, and in front of them all stands the
mother of the child. The child is brought from the lock-up. It's a
gloomy, cold, foggy, autumn day, a capital day for hunting. The
general orders the child to be undressed; the child is stripped naked.
He shivers, numb with terror, not daring to cry.... 'Make him run,'
commands the general. 'Run! run!' shout the dog-boys. The boy runs....
'At him!' yells the general, and he sets the whole pack of hounds on
the child. The hounds catch him, and tear him to pieces before his
mother's eyes!... I believe the general was afterwards declared
incapable of administering his estates. Well- what did he deserve?
To be shot? To be shot for the satisfaction of our moral feelings?
"To be shot," murmured Alyosha, lifting his eyes to Ivan with a
pale, twisted smile.
"Bravo!" cried Ivan delighted. "If even you say so... You're a
pretty monk! So there is a little devil sitting in your heart, Alyosha
"What I said was absurd, but-"
"That's just the point, that 'but'!" cried Ivan. "Let me tell you,
novice, that the absurd is only too necessary on earth. The world
stands on absurdities, and perhaps nothing would have come to pass
in it without them. We know what we know!"
"What do you know?"
"I understand nothing," Ivan went on, as though in delirium. "I
don't want to understand anything now. I want to stick to the fact.
I made up my mind long ago not to understand. If I try to understand
anything, I shall be false to the fact, and I have determined to stick
to the fact."
"Why are you trying me?" Alyosha cried, with sudden distress.
"Will you say what you mean at last?"
"Of course, I will; that's what I've been leading up to. You are
dear to me, I don't want to let you go, and I won't give you up to
Ivan for a minute was silent, his face became all at once very
"Listen! I took the case of children only to make my case clearer.
Of the other tears of humanity with which the earth is soaked from its
crust to its centre, I will say nothing. I have narrowed my subject on
purpose. I am a bug, and I recognise in all humility that I cannot
understand why the world is arranged as it is. Men are themselves to
blame, I suppose; they were given paradise, they wanted freedom, and
stole fire from heaven, though they knew they would become unhappy, so
there is no need to pity them. With my pitiful, earthly, Euclidian
understanding, all I know is that there is suffering and that there
are none guilty; that cause follows effect, simply and directly;
that everything flows and finds its level- but that's only Euclidian
nonsense, I know that, and I can't consent to live by it! What comfort
is it to me that there are none guilty and that cause follows effect
simply and directly, and that I know it?- I must have justice, or I
will destroy myself. And not justice in some remote infinite time
and space, but here on earth, and that I could see myself. I have
believed in it. I want to see it, and if I am dead by then, let me
rise again, for if it all happens without me, it will be too unfair.
Surely I haven't suffered simply that I, my crimes and my
sufferings, may manure the soil of the future harmony for somebody
else. I want to see with my own eyes the hind lie down with the lion
and the victim rise up and embrace his murderer. I want to be there
when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for. All the
religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer.
But then there are the children, and what am I to do about them?
That's a question I can't answer. For the hundredth time I repeat,
there are numbers of questions, but I've only taken the children,
because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear. Listen! If
all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children
to do with it, tell me, please? It's beyond all comprehension why they
should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony. Why should
they, too, furnish material to enrich the soil for the harmony of
the future? I understand solidarity in sin among men. I understand
solidarity in retribution, too; but there can be no such solidarity
with children. And if it is really true that they must share
responsibility for all their fathers' crimes, such a truth is not of
this world and is beyond my comprehension. Some jester will say,
perhaps, that the child would have grown up and have sinned, but you
see he didn't grow up, he was torn to pieces by the dogs, at eight
years old. Oh, Alyosha, I am not blaspheming! I understand, of course,
what an upheaval of the universe it will be when everything in
heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise and everything that
lives and has lived cries aloud: 'Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy
ways are revealed.' When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her
child to the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears, 'Thou art just,
O Lord!' then, of course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and
all will be made clear. But what pulls me up here is that I can't
accept that harmony. And while I am on earth, I make haste to take
my own measures. You see, Alyosha, perhaps it really may happen that
if I live to that moment, or rise again to see it, I, too, perhaps,
may cry aloud with the rest, looking at the mother embracing the
child's torturer, 'Thou art just, O Lord!' but I don't want to cry
aloud then. While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself, and
so I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It's not worth the
tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with
its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its
unexpiated tears to 'dear, kind God'! It's not worth it, because those
tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or there can be no
harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it possible?
By their being avenged? But what do I care for avenging them? What
do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since
those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of
harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I
don't want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to
swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then
I protest that the truth is not worth such a price. I don't want the
mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She
dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will,
let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her
mother's heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no
right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child
were to forgive him! And if that is so, if they dare not forgive, what
becomes of harmony? Is there in the whole world a being who would have
the right to forgive and could forgive? I don't want harmony. From
love for humanity I don't want it. I would rather be left with the
unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering
and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a
price is asked for harmony; it's beyond our means to pay so much to
enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I
am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And
that I am doing. It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I
most respectfully return him the ticket."
"That's rebellion," murmered Alyosha, looking down.
"Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that," said Ivan earnestly.
"One can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me
yourself, I challenge your answer. Imagine that you are creating a
fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the
end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and
inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature- that baby
beating its breast with its fist, for instance- and to found that
edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the
architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."
"No, I wouldn't consent," said Alyosha softly.
"And can you admit the idea that men for whom you are building
it would agree to accept their happiness on the foundation of the
unexpiated blood of a little victim? And accepting it would remain
happy for ever?"
"No, I can't admit it. Brother," said Alyosha suddenly, with
flashing eyes, "you said just now, is there a being in the whole world
who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? But there is
a Being and He can forgive everything, all and for all, because He
gave His innocent blood for all and everything. You have forgotten
Him, and on Him is built the edifice, and it is to Him they cry aloud,
'Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed!'
"Ah! the One without sin and His blood! No, I have not forgotten
Him; on the contrary I've been wondering all the time how it was you
did not bring Him in before, for usually all arguments on your side
put Him in the foreground. Do you know, Alyosha- don't laugh I made
a poem about a year ago. If you can waste another ten minutes on me,
I'll tell it to you."
"You wrote a poem?"
"Oh, no, I didn't write it," laughed Ivan, and I've never
written two lines of poetry in my life. But I made up this poem in
prose and I remembered it. I was carried away when I made it up. You
will be my first reader- that is listener. Why should an author forego
even one listener?" smiled Ivan. "Shall I tell it to you?"
"I am all attention." said Alyosha.
"My poem is called The Grand Inquisitor; it's a ridiculous
thing, but I want to tell it to you.