Study Guide

The Idiot Part 1, Chapter 6

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Part 1, Chapter 6

  • Myshkin hems and haws a little bit, but he's Mr. Tell-All, so he pretty quickly gets to telling his love story.
  • Oh, but there's a twist. It wasn't romantic love at all. No, the greatest love of Myshkin's life was the gang of kids he befriended in the Swiss village where he was being treated.
  • Psych.
  • Okay, before we get too much further into this chapter, let's get into the right mindset. Remember all that stuff we were saying about the Non-Divine Christ? Well, what you have to think about when reading all this stuff about Myshkin's adventures with Marie, the destitute girl in the Swiss village, is the story of Mary Magdalene, that prostitute whom Jesus stuck up for by telling everyone to back off (this is the where the famous line "let him who is without sin throw the first stone" comes from—Jesus is literally telling people to stop stoning this girl). So yeah—we've got Mary/Marie, and we've got prostitution/extramarital sex, and what's more, we've got yet another one of these pseudo-parables that sound like what would happen if you took Jesus's parables and rendered them as nineteenth century realism.
  • Anyway, Myshkin really loves the children. He believes that they are our future. He wants to teach them well, and let them lead the way. Mostly, he wants to show them all beauty they possess inside. But unlike Whitney Houston, he has no interest in giving them a sense of pride, because they are kind of obnoxious as it is.
  • No, what Myshkin does is tell it like it is to the kids. We don't get too much detail about what this might be, but all the village grownups have their undies in a twist about it, so we're guessing he's telling kids the truth about sex, violence, or relativist morality.
  • He just really loves teaching, that guy.
  • Meanwhile, in the town is this sick old woman who lives with her daughter, Marie. They are totally poor and destitute, and mostly make their living by doing scut work for the village.
  • A traveling salesman seduces Marie and then abandons her a week later.
  • (Shmoop brain snack here: just remember, being a non-virgin means that Marie is totally spoiled goods, as far as conservative nineteenth century morality goes.)
  • Marie drags herself back to the village, where everyone, including her mother, starts treating her worse than dirt. And she's totally buying into this and rather than getting resentful actually expects this kind of treatment.
  • It's very sad.
  • So the old mom dies, and now Marie has nothing and starts to starve. She sometimes gets fed by the cowherd when she sneaks out to the pasture and helps with the cows. But she also has nowhere to live, and she gets sick. Okay, ready for Shmoop's patented armchair diagnosis? We're going with good old tuberculosis.
  • The kids all see how the grownups are treating this girl and they imitate what they see, throwing rocks at her and being mean to her.
  • But then Myshkin starts telling them about her life, explaining how deprived and depressing it has been, and how miserable she is now, and generally getting them to see her from a different point of view.
  • And the kids really absorb the message, and start bringing her food and clothes, and stop being mean to her.
  • Also, for some reason the kids think that Myshkin is in love with her. This might be because he kind of made out with her behind a tree while giving her some charity stuff. It's hard to tell what really happened, but as Myshkin says, it wasn't love—it was just pity.
  • Which, awwww. So sweet. Nothing cheers someone else up like being kissed out of pity.
  • Finally, Marie dies.
  • The funeral is mostly deserted—except all the kids come and even try to carry the coffin.
  • After this, Myshkin is no longer allowed to hang out with them, and they are forbidden from seeing him. But, they still find ways to meet in secret to hear whatever new things he has to teach them.
  • At last, though, Myshkin realizes that he has to leave town completely to go back to Russia. The kids see his train off and he thinks long and hard about how much easier he gets along with children than with grownups.
  • Wow, cool story, bro.
  • Myshkin snaps out of it, and then does this really weird thing where he reads the faces of the Epanchins.
  • The oldest sister's face is happy and sympathetic, the middle one's is sweet and slightly sad, and the mom's shows that she is also kind of like a child.

The Idiot Part 1, Chapter 6 Study Group

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