Study Guide

The Idiot Power

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Of course, because The Idiot is set in the 19th century, there are the usual culprits who abuse the economic or class superiority they have. In this novel, however, a lot of power is also wielded by the ostensibly powerless characters who use their victim or outsider status as a way to cause social disruption. These have-nots represent the danger of shaking things up for the haves, which protects them from the usual manipulations of those in power.

Questions About Power

  1. Which of the main characters is the most powerful? The least powerful? How can you tell? What do you mean by the word "powerful" when you answer this question?
  2. What is the difference between the kind of power of someone who has a physical advantage or a desire to hurt someone (like Rogozhin, or the lieutenant at the vauxhall, or Keller) and the kind of power of someone who becomes a symbolic or philosophical leader (like Ippolit, or Myshkin, or even Princess Belokonsky)?
  3. Can you find examples of these people wielding their form of power and compare them?
  4. Are there any characters who start out completely powerless and then attain a great deal of power? How about the other way around?

Chew on This

Power is shown to be fluid and easily transferrable from person to person. Those in close relationships are constantly experiencing shifts between who is the more powerful. It is the ability to cope with this back-and-forth that makes or breaks the relationship.

Paradoxically, the most powerful people in the book are those who are most able to renounce it.

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