Date of Award

Spring 5-2015

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis



First Advisor

Monika Gehlawat

Advisor Department



Dostoevsky’s final novel, The Brothers Karamazov, strives to resolve the question of God’s existence. But many critics have acknowledged that Dostoevsky seems to present Ivan’s skeptical voice with equal, if not greater, force than Alyosha’s affirmative voice—a feature of the novel that is difficult to explain in the context of Dostoevsky’s avowed Christianity. There is an overwhelming consensus among critics that The Brothers is a thesis-novel. But in order to establish the novel as a defense of faith, the critic must ultimately dismiss the strength of Ivan’s voice; and in attempting to demonstrate that the voice of doubt prevails, the critic must similarly dismiss the value of Alyosha’s faith. By utilizing Bakhtin’s theory of polyphony, I propose an interpretation of The Brothers that does not attempt to resolve this opposition. Because Bakhtin’s theory is often seen to sanction all interpretations as equally valid, it has been used to endorse each of these mutually incompatible positions on the novel. But I hope to show that the theory of polyphony is, in its essence, diametrically opposed to the interpretation of Dostoevsky’s work as either a defense of faith or a concession to doubt. Further, I propose—contra Bakhtin—that the polyphonic novel can be thesis-driven, if its very thesis resides in its formal polyphony. The thesis of The Brothers, I argue, does not resolve the question of God’s existence, but posits instead that the inability to resolve this question is fundamental to human nature.


Honors College Award: Excellence in Research