The Idiot Themes

This Study Guide consists of approximately 46 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Idiot.
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Religion

Religion plays a big part in this book. Most of the characters see themselves as religious and mistrust anyone who claims to be atheist. Dostoevsky shows this when nihilists visit the Prince, and the characters all turn on them, claiming they are nothing but scoundrels. Interestingly, these nihilists are part of the younger generation, which the older characters reject because they think their liberal ideas are destroying traditional Russian values.

However, it is the Prince and Rogozhin who embody religious spirit. Prince Myshkin is a Christ-like figure, evident through the way he both looks and acts. From the beginning, Dostoevsky describes him as having a light complexion with a kind and dreamy look in his eye. As a person, he forgives everybody and has exceptional levels of understanding. Most notably, he forgives Rogozhin for trying to murder him. When the book moves into the middle section, the characters all come to the Prince for either friendship or forgiveness, as if his word will cleanse their souls.

Because of their spiritual beliefs, Rogozhin and the Prince both seem to understand each other and twice the Prince refers to him as a brother. When they stand next to a religious painting in Rogozhin's house, they swap crosses, and Rogozhin then takes the Prince down to his mother, who blesses him. They do all this with an intense religious belief that none of the other characters share.

Love and Marriage

In the novel, there are three love triangles. First, Ganja fights Rogozhin for the hand of Nastassya. Secondl Natassya falls in love with both the Prince and Rogozhin. Third, the Prince finds it difficult to choose between Aglaya and Natassya. In the end, all three love triangles prove destructive. Ganja loses a lot of his pride and confidence; the Prince goes insane; the police imprison Rogozhin for murdering Nastassya and Aglaya runs off with a Polish count.

It seems as though Dostoevsky is promoting the security of marriage over the instincts of love. He shows that the characters that are married, such as the Yephanchins, are happy in their lives and in themselves. Although Dostoevsky claims they are in love, it comes more from mutual respect than either passion or lust. As a result, they want their three daughters to marry wealthy, handsome and kind men, who can provide a secure family life. For example, they do not want Aglaya to marry the Prince because of his epilepsy. In comparison, Nastassya will not marry the Prince because she thinks he is too good for her, and that she will ultimately destroy him. She knows she is the one who wants to be destroyed, and in that way, Rogozhin is the perfect match.

Acceptance of the Other

The three main characters are all outsiders who struggle to fit into Russian society throughout the novel. The Prince finds friends, but only because he is such a forgiving and kind person, and others know they can easily take advantage of him. For example, Lebedev helps to write scandalous letters about him and even tries to get him put back into a mental hospital. In fact, most of the other characters view the Prince as an eccentric, rather than one of them. The Yephanchin's, for example, adore his company, but refuse him permission to marry Aglaya.

Rogozhin is a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. He does have friends, but they do not necessarily stay with him out of pure friendship, and no doubt if his passion got out of hand, they would runaway. Nastassya is the femme fatale of the book and at the beginning almost every male character falls in love with her. However, Nastassya's self-destructive streak loses her most of her friends.

In general, the other characters are fearful of the three main protagonists because they never quite know of what they are capable. The Prince, for example, has a habit of breaking into long, rapid speeches. They tolerate this behavior, and even encourage it, because it entertains their dull and repressed lives, but they are just as quick to disregard his as crazy. With no chance to find acceptance, the three main characters increasingly follow their own instincts, even though they know they are heading towards disaster.

This section contains 703 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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