Study Guide

The Idiot Sacrifice

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Sacrifice is a virtue that is often goes hand in hand with humility. But in the The Idiot it functions like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there are those whom sacrifice teaches how to tap into their inner reserves. On the other hand, there is nothing but incomprehension and hostility for those who sacrifice their whole being—an act that strikes us as borderline unbalanced. The novel doesn't seem to offer a non-problematic way of walking the fine line between useful abstaining and total self-annihilation.

Questions About Sacrifice

  1. Many of the characters are shown passing up potential wealth: Ganya and the 75 grand, and later the 100 grand; Nastasya and the riches from Totsky, and later the necklace from General Epanchin; Myshkin and the larger part of his inheritance; General Ivolgin and the stolen 400 roubles. Pick a few of these and compare them.
  2. What role does the sacrifice play in each character's life? Does it have lasting effects? If so, what are they? If not, why not?
  3. Think about the idea of "throwing one's life away." Nastasya does this literally by going willingly to be Rogozhin's victim. Aglaya and Myshkin do this figuratively by rejecting everything in their lives except for their attachments to harmful people. Ippolit is urged to do this by those who argue he should just shut up and die already. Can any of these actions be considered sacrifices?
  4. What is the difference between self-sacrifice and self-destruction? Are the two mutually exclusive?What about the characters who take sacrifices from others? Totsky and Rogozhin immediately come to mind, but can you think of others? What do they have in common? How do they react to their role as the recipient of a sacrifice?

Chew on This

Although what is stressed most about Jesus's life is his self-sacrifice, in The Idiot the characters who want to give themselves over to one cause are not held up as role models, but are instead looked at as wasteful or selfish.

Characters who sacrifice based on social or public pressure end up better off than those whose give something up because of an internal or emotional need.

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