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The Idiot

The Idiot

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Philosophical Viewpoints: The Non-Divine Christ Theme

By setting up Myshkin as a Christ figure, but not giving him supernatural or divine powers, Dostoevsky tests the possibility of a "perfectly beautiful" man existing in the artificial and duplicitous present. As expected, the experiment sheds a bright light on the way society has moved away from the virtues of humility, simplicity, and love for fellow man that are the tenets of Jesus's teachings. Nowadays (in Dostoevsky's time, that is) it only serves to make Myshkin a laughingstock. The Idiot's ultra-dark ending suggests that only the very young, who still have the capacity for idealism, can be saved.

Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints: The Non-Divine Christ

  1. Take a look at one or more of Myshkin's parables (like the story of Marie, or the braying of the donkey, or the tale of the condemned man) and compare this to one of Jesus's famous parables (like the Good Samaritan, or the Prodigal Son, or the Rich Man and Lazarus). How are Myshkin's parables similar? How are they different? Do they each have easily identifiable morals?
  2. Is it possible to make a list of everyone who learns something from Myshkin? What do these people have in common? Why? Do the negative characters benefit from him in any way? Ganya? Varya? General Ivolgin?
  3. Is Myshkin actually the perfect person? Try to find aspects of him that make him "better" than those around him. Are there ones that make him worse? In what way?
  4. Why is Myshkin shown to be outside of organized religion? He specifically avoids answering a direct question about whether he is Christian, and in general is not invested in Russian Orthodox traditions. What does this say about the character and his role in the text?

Chew on This

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

Myshkin's selflessness, as shown in his love for Nastasya, is actually just as harmful as the selfishness of those around him. Even if he had succeeded in saving her, he would have hurt a much larger number of people.

Myshkin is less useful as an ideal for the other characters to aspire to, and more useful as a way for the novel to demonstrate the intrigues of a small circle of people through the eyes of someone who refuses to cooperate.

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