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The Idiot
The Idiot
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
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The Idiot Theme of Compassion and forgiveness

Myshkin's insistence on forgiving everyone who has wronged him in some way is possibly the least comprehensible thing about his behavior, at least as far as everyone else is concerned. Not only does he immediately forgive verbal abuse, deceit, and even violence directed his way, but he then goes out of his way to try to help the people responsible. His compassion in The Idiot overrides any feelings of self-esteem or dignity—but it is also this tendency that makes him the only character in the novel to see Nastasya as anything other than a wasted life.

Questions About Compassion and forgiveness

  1. Does anyone else in the novel struggle with trying to forgive someone? Does he/she succeed or fail? What are the consequences?
  2. In the world of the novel, is Myshkin right to feel compassion toward Ippolit? Burdovsky? Rogozhin? Why or why not?
  3. The novel raises a huge problem with just going around and forgiving people. People get mad at not having had to do anything to earn forgiveness. This desire to atone for—i.e., make up for—doing wrong seems like a fundamental human trait. Does anyone in the novel actually atone for anything they do? Is there anyone who works on earning forgiveness?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Over and over again, compassion is shown to be a harmful emotion in the novel. There is absolutely no one the prince encounters who does not try to take advantage of him in some way.

The novel is essentially a conflict between Myshkin, who feels deep compassion for Nastasya, and Nastasya, who cannot feel compassion for herself.

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