In Dostoevsky’s Demons and The Brothers Karamazov evil’s target is innocence. The evil person often harms children, sometimes just physically, but sometimes by corrupting the child and making her feel guilty (the canceled chapter “At Tikhon’s” in Demons). In The Brothers Karamazov’s Grand Inquisitor parable, innocence is evil’s target in a different way: evil turns adults into children. I’ll be arguing that Dostoevsky has something to tell us about why, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the suffering of an innocent child is so often seen as the signature of evil – and why totalitarianism treats grown-ups like children.
David Mikics is John and Rebecca Moores Professor of English at the University of Houston. He has written several books, including Slow Reading in a Hurried Age (2013); The Art of the Sonnet (2010), and Who Was Jacques Derrida? (2009). Mikics is also the editor of The Annotated Emerson and a regular columnist for Tablet Magazine. He is currently working on a book about Saul Bellow.