The Onion, a Fable from The Brothers Karamazov

Here is a won­der­ful fable about for­give­ness and evil from The Brother’s Karamo­zov by Fyo­dor Dostoyevsky:

You see, Alyosha,” Grushenka turned to him with a ner­vous laugh. “I was boast­ing when I told Rak­itin I had given away an onion, but it’s not to boast I tell you about it. It’s only a story, but it’s a nice story. I used to hear it when I was a child from Matry­ona, my cook, who is still with me. It’s like this. ‘Once upon a time there was a peas­ant woman and a very wicked woman she was. And she died and did not leave a sin­gle good deed behind. The dev­ils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and won­dered what good deed of hers he could remem­ber to tell to God; ‘she once pulled up an onion in her gar­den,’ said he, ‘and gave it to a beg­gar woman.’ And God answered: ‘You take that onion then, hold it to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Par­adise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.’ The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her; ‘Come,’ said he, ‘catch hold and I’ll pull you out.’ And he began cau­tiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sin­ners in the lake, see­ing how she was being drawn out, began catch­ing hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kick­ing them. ‘I’m to be pulled out, not you. It’s my onion, not yours.’

As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burn­ing there to this day. So the angel wept and went away. So that’s the story, Alyosha; I know it by heart, for I am that wicked woman myself. I boasted to Rak­itin that I had given away an onion, but to you I’ll say: ‘I’ve done noth­ing but give away one onion all my life, that’s the only good deed I’ve done.’ So don’t praise me, Alyosha, don’t think me good, I am bad, I am a wicked woman and you make me ashamed if you praise me. Eh, I must con­fess every­thing. Lis­ten, Alyosha. I was so anx­ious to get hold of you that I promised rak­itin twenty-five rou­bles if he would bring you to me. Stay, Rak­itin, wait!”