The guts of the book are done. The long saga of the Karamazov brothers has reached its conclusion.
This is a very difficult section to summarize because it is chock-full of stuff. No matter how you want to read this book–as a procedural, as a tragedy. as social criticism or as a psychological study–the trial section of this book has plenty to keep you talking.
For me, here’s what it made me think about.
First, we know Dmitry didn’t do it. Much of this book has been about the failures of society, of the structures that humans build to manage their lives. It’s about the trap of worldly, sensual pleasures and the need for goodness and spirituality.
This can be seen in the Grand Inquisitor’s speech about the Church no longer needing Christ, as well as the reaction to the Starets rotting corpse, the lunatic ascetic that lives in the monastery, etc. There is pure truth, but society’s institutions perpetuate themselves and not anything true.
The trial is a very good example. The entire trial goes on, with long eloquent speeches by the lawyers, before a gawking audience, and a procession of loony witnesses. It takes all of a day into the middle of the night, with evidence and a jury of peasants and drama…all of it to decide whether Dmitry killed his father. Which we know he did not. The day is about whether it can be proven that he did it or not….not whether he did it or not, which is unknowable except in Dmitry’s heart.
But who believes the accused?
For a pop culture reference, it is very reminiscent of the Seinfeld trial. Every rogue element of the story finds his or her way to the stand and 950 pages of drama plays out.
So I know a lot of prosecutors, and they often say that the people they convict are usually guilty of many other crimes that they were never charged with. The current charges notwithstanding, they are sort of in a criminal class.
Dmitry is much the same way. He’s not convicted by the actual commission of the crime, but he is convicted by the way he lived his life–the anger and the threats and the drinking and stealing. When all that is added up, he lived a life where he very well could have killed his father, regardless of whether he did or not.
Imagine, for example, the reaction if Aloysha was accused of the same crime.
In other words, when you get hammered and write a letter describing how you’re going to kill your Father and then he’s found dead, you’re going to be in trouble. Fortunately, few of us will ever write that, much speak it out loud or even think it.
Furthermore, we know that Dmitry had an awakening, realized the toxic presence of the fallout from his actions. The problem is that it came too late for him to be saved from being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, but could have, which is enough for this flawed system, which had to answer for the corpse.
So, if someone asks you what the verdict is of the trial, you’d be within your rights to say “it’s more complicated than that.” He wasn’t innocent, but was he guilty?