In re: Dostoyevsky

Having greatly enjoyed Crime and Punishment, my wife and I are immersed in The Brothers Karamazov.  I just finished a segment in which Alyosha tries to give two hundred rubles to the man his brother Dmitri insulted and beat up.  At first it seems the man will accept the money, which he needs more than desperately, but in a sudden access of pride, he throws the money on the ground and stomps angrily away.

I was moved to think that the moral is: There are good deeds that cannot be performed.  It is an odd thought, is it not?  We are brought up to think that good deeds are always possible and it is our responsibility to perform them when the opportunity presents itself.  But human nature is such that a determination not to be the recipient of charity, say, can make impossible the fulfillment of a charitable person’s desire to give it.  In other words, charity is not a one-way street.  Both the donor and the recipient must agree to it.

As I think about it, I recall many fictional situations in literature in which charity is refused on the grounds that it requires too much of a sacrifice of personal image, a sacrifice of “honor” (which, as we also know from literary example, covereth a multitude of sins).  Still, the fact remains.  There are good deeds that cannot be performed.

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