Since I posted last week about miracles, I wanted to note a few more times they came up in Part II. First, Madame Khokhlakov, the “lady of little faith” from the audience with Zosima, tells Alexei about how the elder’s prophecy from the day before came true, “even literally, and even more than that.” Not only did the old lady receive word that her son was well, she found out he would be coming home in just three weeks. Madame Khokhlakov is insistent that the miracle “must be made known to everyone, everyone!” When Father Paissy hears of the miracle, he wants to keep quiet about it “until we have more confirmation, for there is much frivolousness among people in the world, and this incident also may have taken place naturally.” But the narrator notes that he does not really believe “in his own reservation.” It’s as though even in front of his brothers Father Paissy wants to appear to be an unbelieving realist, just on the outside, just for a moment, but the faith that causes him to believe in the miracle can’t quite allow it.
The other example comes from Ivan, at the end of his “getting acquainted” with Alexei. The so-called rationalist or atheist tells his younger brother:
[L]et this [eternal harmony and forgiveness], let all of this come true and be revealed, but I do not accept it and do not want to accept it! Let the parallel lines even meet before my own eyes: I shall look and say, yes, they meet, and still I will not accept it. That is my essence, Alyosha, that is my thesis.
Here Ivan proves himself not to be the unbelieving realist who the narrator says “will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles as well, and if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact.” Ivan does not doubt his senses or refuse to admit what he sees, no matter how outrageous. If parallel lines meet, he will admit it—but he won’t accept it. Yesterday in her comments section Bellezza described Ivan as “so cerebral”, as opposed to “emotional based.” In fact it is this habit of Ivan’s, of admitting things and refusing to “accept” them, that makes him strike me as unreasonable, irrational, and emotional. What can it even mean, “I admit it, but I don’t accept it,” other than an expression of anger, or fear, or what have you? And this, to me, so far at least, is the essence of Ivan’s character.
I suggested the other night a trilemma of “confused, unimaginative, or malicious” to explain Dostoevsky’s representation of Ivan. My uncharitable reading is malicious: Ivan would look Dostoevsky’s kingdom of heaven on earth straight on and say, “I admit it, but I do not accept it!” Men like him are the recalcitrant middle children of Russia who simply won’t say yes to the eternal harmony of brotherhood and have to make everyone so uncomfortable and unhappy in the process.