Although The Idiot quite plainly deals with the havoc that the arrival of an innocent man can have on an established society, in reality, the level of innocence that Myshkin displays fluctuates wildly throughout the text. Sometimes he is so clueless that he carelessly reveals what are obviously secrets, and other times he is insightful and clever enough to figure out another person's whole psyche after meeting them only once. Innocence is portrayed as a changing quality, and although many characters profess to admire Myshkin's purity of heart, there are none who would actually want to be like him.
Questions About Innocence
- Why does Myshkin's level of understanding about what is happening around him shift from scene to scene? Is there a method to the kinds of things he can immediately intuit and the ones that blindside him? Is he more or less intuitive right before his seizures?
- What do you think of the ending? Has Myshkin returned to his original state of blank innocence? Is that a good or bad thing? Why?
- Why does Mrs. Epanchin react the way she does to seeing him (cutting short the family's trip abroad)?
- If Myshkin is the most innocent character, then who is the most experienced? How would you go about figuring that out?
Chew on This
Myshkin's particular brand of innocence manages to disarm those around him because he is male and not nearly as bound to a traditional social role. Were he a female character in the world of the novel, the same qualities would mark him as dangerously unstable.
Even though Aglaya is pitted against Nastasya as innocence versus experience, Aglaya is experienced enough to cut right to the heart of Nastasya's meddling in Aglaya and Myshkin's relationship.