The Idiot Study Guide

The Idiot Study Guide

Original title:
Идиот

Despite such a title, the main character is a perfectly healthy man. Dostoyevsky ironically portrays the attitude of the society to the hero, whose only flaw is his kindness, open-heartedness and naivete. He is young, handsome and rich - moreover, he is the Prince. Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin just lacks the skill of deception and plotting that is so valuable amongst the upper-crust society. So, his every acquaintance inevitably sees him as mentally challenged just because Myshkin speaks from his heart, openly telling his opinion.

Dostoyevsky made this character overly good, setting a goal of creating the image of the “positively good and beautiful man”. But the Prince is just too good for the society he lives on. He finds himself immersed in countless plots, conflicts, intrigues and decadence. The immediate passions and desires drive the people around him and Myshkin, who is unable to understand the depth of the human sins, is used as a pawn by merely everyone.

Myshkin clearly shares some traits with Jesus Christ and, metaphorically, he is Christ, showing the author’s opinion that if the Savior came to the world in the modern times, he would be considered either a madman or a stupid person. Through the personality of Myshkin and his experience the author reveals his most personal parts of worldview, his own moral and spiritual values and philosophical ideas.

The narrative is heavily criticized for being too fragmentary without any reasons, but in this novel Dostoyevsky, as he admitted himself, didn’t know well what would be the ending of his story, so he revised the main plotline multiple times, ending up with a somewhat chaotic structure. It makes the seemingly simple idea hard to understand, while the different events of it are so weirdly tangled. Nevertheless, this style became a feature of the novel, an artistic method that makes The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky so unique.

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