Educational polyphony for a contemplative under tragic tension: implications from the early life of Smerdyakov in The Brothers Karamazov

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Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote masterpieces describing the exploitation and victimisation of the socially disadvantaged who were affected by industrialisation in the 19th century. In The Brothers Karamazov, Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov (hereafter, Smerdyakov) plays a critical role in various spheres of the story. His birth was the result of the rape of Lizaveta Smerdyastchaya by Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov (hereafter, Fyodor). Tragically, Lizaveta died immediately after the delivery. Grigory and Marfa, Fyodor’s serfs, adopted Smerdyakov, who then also grew up as a serf. Eventually, Smerdyakov murders Fyodor, and accordingly, this destined act turned Smerdyakov into a hybrid of goodness and evilness, being described by the narrator as ‘a contemplative’, which makes the story quite complicated and tragic. Despite his complexities, Smerdyakov remains one of the least-discussed characters in the studies hitherto. Hence, this paper has two aims, the first of which is the discussion of the meaning of the early life of Smerdyakov by revealing a tragic tension within him. It will also discuss education for a contemplative like Smerdyakov from the perspectives of polyphony as advocated by Bakhtin–as it is important to view the contemplative as an indispensable protagonist and understand them through listening.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)364-374
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Beliefs and Values: studies in religion and education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • a contemplative
  • Dostoyevsky
  • educational polyphony
  • Smerdyakov
  • The Brothers Karamazov

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