Life without Love – The Malady of Death
The Brothers Karamazov, is a novel which contains many themes presenting outlooks on faith, life, and love. The character of Ivan is the cornerstone which Dostoevsky uses to present these outlooks. It is suggested that Ivan suffers from “The Malady of Death”. The idea of the malady of death is presented in the novel, The Malady of Death, by Marguerite Duras. The malady of death can be thought of as a disease or disorder caused by a sort of spiritual malaise. The question asked than is; does Ivan Karamazov suffer from the malady of death? I believe that the novel clearly shows that Ivan does indeed suffer from the malady of death, but the question I pose is; at the end of the novel is he cured?
To start I’ll present the following question; what IS the malady of death? If one were to take into consideration the actual definition of the words in the phrase, the malady of death would mean the disease or disorder of death. The way that our texts have presented this is not all that different from the words’ actual meanings. In the Duras text the man is said to be suffering from the malady of death. Duras presents this idea by showing that life is nothing without love. On page 3 of The Malady of Death the prostitute asked the man what he wanted to try and his response was, “Loving.”
The man in this text is incapable of loving and when he questions the prostitute as to why the malady of death is fatal, “… And also because he’s like to die without any life to die to, and without even knowing that’s what he’s doing,” was her response (pg. 19). This response suggests that people who suffer from the malady of death have nothing to live for, a lack of faith so to speak, and thus don’t fight to stay alive. There is a spiritual malaise going on inside the person. Simply stated the malady of death can be thought of as life without love. Love of others, love of themselves, love of God, love of this world, a person who suffers from the malady of death is missing some or all of these “loves” which make life worth while.
The first real look that we get of Ivan comes in Book V when he’s having lunch with Alyosha. He tells stories of the suffering of children and points to the horrors of unjust human suffering. He is unable to reconcile this and can not come to terms that there could possibly be a loving God whom would allow this to happen. What differs between Ivan and Alyosha is that Alyosha looks at himself and asks how he can help make humanity’s suffering happier. An example would be how he brought Ilyusha’s friends to be by him as he approached death. His immense distrust of humanity causes him to become detached from people leading to his inability to love others. The injustice of the world has caused Ivan’s faith in God to dwindle out. This is what provided the readers with the fact that Ivan lacks faith which is the building block to living a life without hope and love. Faith is presented as a positive, agreeing belief in God as Zosima and Alyosha have. This leads to a love of mankind resulting in kindness and forgiveness. Ivan can not obtain this due to his doubt. In return this doubt leads to the rejection of God.
Ivan also tells the story of The Grand Inquisitor which leads to the idea of free will and security. Dostoevsky presents the idea of free will as a choice or choices given to mankind. It seems as though he presents free will as a curse because it places a burden on man to reject securities and comforts in hope of eternal salvation. People have the choice to have faith in God and follow him or be damned forever. Ivan states that people are too weak to make the choice between security and eternal salvation and therefore are doomed to unhappy lives. Ivan, in his story of The Grand Inquisitor, argues that because God rejected the Devil’s temptations he won free will for humanity, but took away security. According to Ivan these three temptations are the three limitations of faith. To him it’s as if Christ is asking the impossible because humans are afraid of the unseen. He reasons then that even if there is a God, he’s an evil one. All of this continues to build Ivan’s lack of faith leading him on the path to living in the malady of death.
Another major theme found in The Brothers Karamazov which affects Ivan’s feelings is the idea presented by Zosima on moral responsibility. Zosima, along with Alyosha, state that everyone is responsible for the actions and sins of others. Ivan sees this concept as completely ridiculous. Ivan can not conceive how he is, in any way, responsible for anyone besides himself. This brings in the ideas of “all is responsible for all” versus “all is permitted.” If there is no God (as Ivan seems to be leaning towards believing) than Ivan says that all is permitted. Zosima argues that humanity is a whole where Ivan sees it as individuals. When Ivan learns of what Smerdyakov’s revelation is regarding the murder of Fyodor he sees how people are involved in one another’s lives. This is too much for him to bear and has hallucinations of the devil. In these hallucinations the Devil seems to mock Ivan’s insecurity. After Smerdyakov’s confession to Ivan, the world and Ivan’s views of it come crashing down on him and he can not handle the burden of it.
Ivan is a very analytical thinker. His intelligence seems to be to blame for is downfall. Ivan battles internal conflicts and his way of processing ideas and events lead to his suffering. Ivan is overcome with doubt and is unable to believe in God’s existence. Ivan doesn’t believe in the immortality of the soul causing him to argue that good and evil are deceitful ideas and people may do whatever they wish without concern for mortality. The mere fact that he believes this shows that his view of humanity is not a good one. This causes him to separate himself from humanity leading to his inability to love and suffering from the malady of death.
In conclusion, I argue that Ivan did indeed suffer from the malady of death. His lack of faith leading to his inability to love God and humanity has caused his suffering. The unresolved internal conflicts going on in Ivan leads to him over analyzing humanity and the world. This leads to his doubt and anger causing him to have no faith resulting in him being unable to love. The malady of death is simply that, the inability to love. Ivan is suffering from this and this is leading to his demise. At the end of the novel Ivan seems to be coming to terms with the idea of all being responsible for all. Ivan feels responsible for Smerdyakov’s action, yet he can not comprehend this quite yet and falls mad. We do not know how Ivan turns out after he is taken into Katerina’s care. It may be possible that he comes to understand Zosima’s and Alyosha’s teachings and accepts God and humanity, but from what we know about Ivan it seems as though these views and the concept of faith are too much for him to handle and he will never be cured of the malady of death.