Another Round of Theme Songs

by Albert Ho, Greta Matzner-Gore, Carlota Rodriguez-Benito, and Sarah Russell

The personalities of the brothers Karamazov reflect their time and place (late nineteenth-century Russia), but they are also to some degree universal. One can imagine meeting some like Dmitry (the passionate profligate), Ivan (the tortured intellectual), Alyosha (the would-be saint), or Smerdyakov (the angry reject) in the United States today. Last year, I asked my students to choose one of the brothers Karamazov and find a “theme song” for him, i.e. a contemporary song or piece of music that captures his personality. This year, we did it again! My students posted links to their “theme songs” to our course’s discussion board, alongside short explanations of how their song captures their chosen character’s personality. In class, we put it to a vote. Here are the “theme songs” we voted best for the brothers, introduced by our student winners.

ALYOSHA

Student: Carlota Rodriguez-Benito

Theme Song: Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”

Explanation: I chose Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” for Alyosha. I think that this song represents the saint-like aspect Alyosha has of helping people. This song is about getting a message from a higher power. In this context, it is a reggae song and Bob Marley sings “Don’t worry about a thing, because every little thing is going to be alright.” I feel that this is the same message that Alyosha tries to convey many times, being a spiritual son and the peacemaker. Father Zosima helps him see the word as it is in this song, with good and no worrying, all will be just fine.

IVAN

Student: Albert Ho

Theme Song: Adam Lambert’s Cover of “Mad World”

Explanation: I find this song to fit Ivan well – it’s melancholic, insecure, doubtful, and lonely. Throughout much of the book, especially when Ivan argues, whether in “Rebellion”, “The Grand Inquisitor”, or against Zosima and others – Ivan crafts logically impeccable arguments which is in deep contrast with his wavering heart. He wants there to be a God, for religion to be just and true, he craves it, as he finds partial resolution in Alyosha’s kiss mirroring Jesus in “The Grand Inquisitor.” However, his overwhelming need for things to make sense makes it impossible for Ivan to ever be truly reconciled. Thus, being as cerebral as he is, Ivan sees a Mad World where religion doesn’t make sense, people’s actions don’t make sense, and being intellectually superior to everyone only creates further isolation and the inability to empathize and be empathized with, which is a key element of religion in Dostoevsky’s works.

True, in much of the book Ivan is proud, direct, and dismissive – but underneath the armor I believe he is the Grand Inquisitor waiting to be kissed by Jesus.

“I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It’s a very, very
Mad world, mad world”

SMERDYAKOV

Student: Sarah Russell

Theme Song: Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” 

Explanation: Smerdyakov is a character surrounded by death. Stinking Lizaveta died giving birth to him, he killed cats as a child, and he played an important, if not the most important, role in Fyodor’s death. In addition, his name means stinking which is associated with decay. This song has a disturbed, creepy sound to it and is all about welcoming death. “Let the bodies hit the floor” is exactly how Smerdyakov feels about Fyodor. Additionally, the song says “Beaten Why For, Can’t Take Much More” which describes Smerdyakov’s motivations for wanting Fyodor dead. He has been beaten and abused his whole life and is thus resentful towards everyone.


This is the second installment of “The Brothers’ Theme Songs” and you can read the first here. The activity is brought to you by Dr Greta Matzner-Gore and her students at the University of Southern California. 

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