Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 2 Chapters 3 4 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 2, Chapters 3–4 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 3

Prince Myshkin leaves Lebedev to visit Rogozhin's house, a three-story building. Rogozhin's own apartment, where he lives with his mother and brother, is large and gloomy and clogged with old furniture. Myshkin reiterates that Nastasya Filippovna ran away from Rogozhin twice in Moscow—the first time running to the prince—but she ran away from him too. Myshkin asks when the wedding will take place now that they are in Petersburg, and Rogozhin retorts it doesn't depend on him. A union will destroy both of them, Myshkin says, but he has no intention of hindering it. Myshkin avows that he loves Nastasya out of pity, but Rogozhin says he himself has no such pity. Nastasya hates him, laughs at him, and disgraced him by having a liaison with another man while they were in Moscow. In Moscow, after a particularly brutal tongue-lashing, Rogozhin admits he beat Nastasya black and blue but then stayed on his knees in her room and refused to eat while he begged forgiveness. Eventually she promised to marry him again, although not right away. Rogozhin insists Nastasya is in love with the prince but is afraid to ruin him. "This is all jealousy ... all illness," Myshkin says, as he absentmindedly picks up a small knife on the table. Rogozhin quickly snatches it away from him. The prince asks whether it is a garden knife, recently purchased, and Rogozhin becomes uncomfortable with his questions.

Chapter 4

As the two men walk back through the rooms, Myshkin notices a painting, six feet wide and ten inches high, which portrays Jesus just taken down from his cross. Myshkin says it's a fine copy of Hans Holbein's painting and then remarks that "a man could even lose his faith from that painting!" Rogozhin agrees, saying, "Lose it he does," which upsets the prince, who was joking. Rogozhin asks Myshkin if he believes in God, noting that many people in Russia have become atheists. He responds with four parables and then says religious feeling cannot be squared with reasoning, people's actions, or atheism. He says, "There's something else here that's not that, and it will eternally be not that," and it is more easily observed in the Russian heart. Rogozhin asks to exchange his gold cross for the prince's tin cross, which he bought out of kindness from a drunk. Nonetheless, during the exchange Myshkin notices there is still a spite on Rogozhin's face. He then brings Myshkin to his aged mother and asks her to bless him. Before the prince leaves, Rogozhin embraces him and says, "take her, then, if it's fate!"

Analysis

Rogozhin's house is an emblem of his disordered mind and, as noted by critic Roger Anderson, "a place filled by motifs of primitive retention and greed ... a symbol of an underlying urge to accumulate without discrimination." Rogozhin is as much a materialist as Totsky or General Epanchin, but his greed manifests as his need to possess Nastasya Filippovna. Prince Myshkin tells Rogozhin that he has no intention of interfering in his pursuit of Nastasya, but if this is the case, then why has Myshkin come to Petersburg at all? Rogozhin's fierce envy of the prince is palpable. It doesn't matter that Myshkin's love for Nastasya is based in pity; what Rogozhin cannot bear is that Nastasya loves the prince. Rogozhin hates not only the prince but also Nastasya, for humiliating him—but mostly for rejecting him.

Rogozhin is Myshkin's double, a negative image of him: Rogozhin is an atheist and a devil, and Myshkin is a devout Christian and a Christ figure; both are the same age and love the same woman, but Rogozhin loves Nastasya only as flesh, while Myshkin loves her only as spirit. These two spiritual brothers are like Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam in the Hebrew Bible's book of Genesis. Their relationship is symbolized by the exchange of crosses initiated by Rogozhin, who clearly means to kill his kin if he gets the chance. Myshkin senses what is coming, which is why he asks about the knife. In confronting the dead Christ, these "twin brothers" alternatively find a reinforcement of faith and a confirmation of atheism.

The painting, titled The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, by Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497–1543), a copy of which hangs in Rogozhin's house, is a central motif of the novel. This stunning work of art is horrific in its rendering of the corpse of the dead savior, reflecting neither Jesus Christ's divinity nor his coming resurrection. Quite simply, the painting is a true depiction of a corpse that once contained a human life. A central theme in the novel is that the knowledge of death to some degree poisons the happiness of any conscious being, and that the experience of other people's deaths as well as of one's own dying constitutes the tragedy of human existence. There is absolutely no solution to this problem in Dostoevsky's worldview, other than choosing to have unshakeable faith in God and the resurrection of Christ. Yet Dostoevsky did not have unshakeable faith and notes in a personal letter that doubt tormented him his entire life and lived alongside his faith. The skeptical side of Dostoevsky's nature is voiced in this novel by Rogozhin and Ippolit, another of Myshkin's doubles, who is introduced in Part 2, Chapter 9.

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