This section contains 1,777 words
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Myshkin is the main character and the "Idiot" of the title. The main reason they call the Prince an idiot is that he suffers from epilepsy, and the time he spent in a mental hospital has given him little knowledge of the outside world. From the beginning, he displays such openness with people, it prompts laughter in disbelief. In the opening chapter when he makes his way to St. Petersburg, he tells his new acquaintance, Rogozhin, his business in Russia and the problems he has had recovering from his illness without once wondering if Rogozhin is trustworthy.
The Prince's trust of people and his ability to forgive, even when they break his trust, paints him as a Christ-like figure. Dostoevsky further emphasizes this characteristic when the Prince moves to Pavlovsk. While he is recovering from a seizure, a variety of people visit him asking for money and advice. The Prince is always willing to help, yet in the end, it proves his downfall.
Few of his friends value his friendship and merely look to take advantage of his good nature. He moves into Lebedev's home, and Lebedev helps his friends write a scandalous article about the Prince in order to extort money. His only real friend is his relative, Madam Yephanchin. Unlike the other characters, she acknowledges the Prince is not an idiot, and they develop a close friendship. The Prince often leaves Madam Yephanchin exasperated by the way he allows the other characters to take advantage of him. It becomes such a problem for Madam Yephanchin that she refuses to allow Aglaya to marry him.
Aglaya is one point of a love triangle that also involves the Prince and Anatasia Filippovna (Nastassya). The Prince is sincerely in love with Aglaya but has very compassionate feelings for the femme fatale Anatasia Filippovna. His need to look after people and set them on the right path means he ends up arranging to marry Anatasia. However, there is another love triangle involving Rogozhin, the Prince and Anatasia Filippovna, which proves destructive. Anatasia, who cannot cope with her love for Myshkin, runs off with Rogozhin on the day of the wedding. The Prince runs after them and meets Rogozhin in St Petersburg. Rogozhin takes him to his house and shows him Anatasia lying dead in his bed, stabbed to death. The Prince shows his dominating characteristic of forgiveness by staying with the murderer Rogozhin and stroking his hair until the police find them in the morning.
The Prince's subsequent mental deterioration ends the book, showing such an inherently good person is not fit for an unkind and selfish society. The fact the other characters call him an Idiot more than proves the lack of trust they have in themselves and others, feeling that the genuine love they have for the Prince can only mean he is stupid. Dostoevsky's title is actually ironic, and he presents the Prince as a highly perceptive and sensitive person. The Prince understands how people think and feel, and even when their intentions are not honorable, he always responds with compassion.
Anatasia Filippovna (whose nickname is Nastassya) is a femme fatale, yet Dostoevsky also presents her as one of the book's tragic figures, alongside the Prince and Rogozhin. Totsky took her in after a fire killed both of her parents. He paid for her schooling and raised her in his household. As she grew up, her beauty attracted her to Totsky as a woman and she became his mistress. However, her unpredictable character frightened Totsky and, worried she would ruin his reputation, arranges for her to marry Ganja. During the novel, Anatasia proves too clever for her guardian, and beyond living her life for just money and position in society, she runs off with Rogozhin.
The other characters show distaste for Anatasia throughout. The men are attracted to her beauty, but fear her personality, and the women think she is shameless. Varya throws this exact insult at her when Rogozhin offers her money to marry him. However, she is not at all as she seems, and beneath her bad behavior, Dostoevsky paints a sensitive and troubled individual. When she argues with people, she usually wins by using her deep knowledge of people's weaknesses or scaring them with her instability. Yet, Dostoevsky adds complexity to her character by occasionally showing her true emotions in the midst of a disagreement. For example near the end of the book, Aglaya confronts her with such passion that Anatasia loses her usual coolness and comes across to the reader as frightened. Such a display of her true feelings is too much and she faints.
Anatasia Filippovna is an outsider, misunderstood by everyone apart from the Prince and Rogozhin. In this respect, some of her behavior is a reaction against this isolation from society. Like the Prince and even Rogozhin, society forces her to be fearful of a character, the reader could construe as mentally unstable. The only way she can cope with who she is is through marrying a similarly unstable personality
In many ways, Rogozhin is the antithesis of the Prince. Unlike the Prince, he has black eyes and black hair, and his spontaneity and inner demons are in contrast to the Prince's passive nature. At the same time, no two characters have a closer bond. Their love for Anatasia Filippovna is one reason, but their own love and hate relationship is close to brotherhood. In the meeting, before Rogozhin attempts to kill the Prince, they actually refer to each other as "brother," swapping crosses and talking about their closeness during their time in Moscow. In fact, when Rogozhin attempts to murder the Prince, the reader has the feeling he is attempting to kill the part himself that he can only articulate through aggression.
Dostoevsky emphasizes this point with Rogozhin's religious paintings, hanging in the hall of his otherwise dark and dismal house. This suggests that like the Prince, Rogozhin is a religious man, but his feelings for God conflicts with his dark and cruel nature. In the same chapter, he introduces the Prince to his ill mother, who blesses the Prince. Turn back to the first chapter where Rogozhin talks about the awkward relations he has with his family, then together these two scene express a religious guilt from which he cannot escape. At the end, when he kills Anatasia Filippovna, he seeks out the Prince knowing he will forgive him of his sin.
Aglaya is the youngest and most beautiful of the Yephanchin daughters. Her father and mother have great plans for her, intending Aglaya to marry the perfect man. However, Aglaya shares her mother's eccentricity and stubbornness and wants to do as she pleases. Unfortunately, these characteristics mix with great immaturity. For example, she is deeply in love with Prince Myshkin, yet often treats him badly, calling him an idiot and saying she will never marry him. The characters all blame the Prince for losing Aglaya, but it is because of her inability to grasp the complexity of situation that the Prince goes off with Anatasia Filippovna.
Dostoevsky initially presents Ganja as a scoundrel. He wants to marry Anatasia Filippovna purely for financial reasons and hits his own sister when she questions his decision. In fact, he runs his household, which includes his own father, with an iron fist. However, as the novel moves on, Dostoevsky shows these characteristics as mere pretense and when Ganja does have the opportunity to prove he is a real scoundrel, he cannot go through with it. Dostoevsky shows this when Anatasia Filippovna throws 100,000 roubles into the fire. Instead of taking it out, Ganja stares at the money, eventually fainting. Even when Anatasia leaves the money by his unconscious body, he later gives it back. His relationship with Prince Myshkin is also like this. Initially he calls the Prince an Idiot and a gossip and at one point slaps him in the face. However, when the Prince is having problems with Burdovsky, Ganja steps in and resolves the situation.
Dostoevsky describes General Yephanchin as a self-made man, who has now built enough of a fortune to be considered part of high society. He loves his wife, Madam Yephanchin, but he is also afraid of her and often avoids her for long periods when he has done something wrong. He is also the first character the Prince meets in St. Petersburg. It is because of the General's kindness towards Myshkin that the Prince gets the chance to meet everyone else.
Madam Yephanchin is a distant relation to Prince Myshkin. She immediately takes to Myshkin like a son and hates to see the other characters use him. However, she is very eccentric and stubborn and is quick to get angry. Sometimes her disagreements make no sense. For example, she is angry with the Prince for not marrying Aglaya, though she tells him he cannot marry her anyway.
Alexandra is the eldest daughter of the Yephanchins. She has a talent for music.
Adlaide is the middle child of the Yephanchins with a talent for painting. She is engaged to Prince S.
The young Hippolite visits the Prince with Keller and Burdovsky in order to extort money. The Prince takes pity on him because he is dying from consumption. Hippolite rejects the Prince's pity, yet still comes back to visit. Hippolite dislikes that people are happy when he is miserable and dying.
Totsky is Anatasia Filippovna's rich guardian. He once made Anatasia Filippovna his mistress, but now he is scared of her and the rumors she could spread about him in society. He tries to get rid of Antasia by arranging a marriage between her and Ganja.
He is part of Rogozhin's gang and later becomes good friends with the Prince, renting out a room to him in his apartment in Pavlovsk. Lebedev is not trustworthy. He helps write a scandalous about the Prince and later tries have the Prince committed to a mental institute.
Ptitsyn is a friend of the Ivolgins, who eventually marries Varvya.
With his lies and cheating, General Ivolgin is a disgrace to his family. The one close relationship he has is with his youngest son, Nikolai. At the end of the book the General dies from a stroke.
She is the put upon wife of General Ivolgin. Her good heart leads her to help Hippolite.
Varvya is a strong-minded woman. She is very much against her brother marrying Anatasia Filippovna, but encourages him to marry Aglaya. She marries Ptitsyn.
Nikolai is a 15-year-old boy, who becomes great friends with the Prince.
Keller is an ex-boxer, who writes the scandalous article about the Prince. The Prince later makes Keller his best man.
This section contains 1,777 words
(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)