Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 3 Chapters 7 8 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 3, Chapters 7–8 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7

Ippolit says he has a pistol and has decided to die in Pavlovsk, at sunrise, in the park. He claims he has the right to end his "sentence" on his own terms. He claims to believe in eternal life, but he sees no reason to humble himself before annihilation. Surely "someone there" will not be offended "that I don't want to wait for two weeks." Since the ways of providence are unknowable, he believes he shouldn't have to answer for something he has not been allowed to understand. Furthermore, if it had been in his power not to be born, he would have passed on "existence on such derisive conditions." He declaims: "I still have the power to die, though I'm giving back what's already numbered."

The company seems to be partly scandalized and partly repulsed by Ippolit's manifesto, and some of those assembled even make fun of him. Lebedev demands he hand over his pistol, and the boy gives him the key to his gun case. But Ippolit has the gun in his pocket, and he runs out and shoots himself in the temple. However, he forgot to put a cap in the weapon, so it doesn't fire. He lapses into hysteria, and they put him to bed. After this drama Prince Myshkin walks around the park and then falls asleep on the green bench where he is supposed to meet Aglaya. He dreams Nastasya Filippovna has committed a terrible crime until Aglaya wakes him up.

Chapter 8

Prince Myshkin tells Aglaya of Ippolit's antics the previous night and observes that Ippolit wanted everyone to say they loved him and that he should not kill himself. Aglaya accuses him of having "no tenderness, only truth."

She wants him to help her run away; she is tired of being "bottled up." She berates Myshkin for proposing to Nastasya Filippovna and running after her. He tries to explain that Nastasya lacerates herself out of self-hatred. He loved her at first but then only pitied her. Aglaya reveals to Myshkin she has been getting letters from Nastasya, imploring her to marry the prince, and says Nastasya is in love with him. Aglaya asks him if he came back for Nastasya's sake, and he admits he did. This puts her into a rage, and she demands he return Nastasya's letters and tell her never to write again. She also says she's eloping with Ganya. Just then, Mrs. Epanchin arrives.

Analysis

Ippolit's argument that he has a right to kill himself is a powerful statement against the archetypal God who speaks in the Hebrew Bible to the everyman, Job, about why bad things happen to good people. God tells his servant Job that it is not for a man to question God, but rather for man to remember that his knowledge is finite. Therefore, he should accept with submission what God chooses to heap upon him. Ippolit claims to be a believer. But perhaps he is simply mocking the whole idea of imagining a God who has a hand in the creation and maintenance of heaven and earth. Ippolit is the precursor of Ivan Karamazov, another Dostoevsky character and would-be nihilist. Ivan, who appears in Dostoevsky's final novel, The Brothers Karamazov (1879–80), tells his religious brother: "It's not that I don't accept God, Alyosha, I just most respectfully return him the ticket." Similarly, Ippolit wishes to return the ticket. Why should he endure his maimed life longer than necessary and bow humbly to his annihilation? In fact, not only does he have a right to kill himself, but he also has the right to say that existence is no great gift from God, given that creatures are born mortal and suffer all their lives before they die.

The people at Myshkin's party are repulsed by Ippolit because he is forcing them to confront their own mortality as well as insisting that they feel some sorrow for his immediate predicament. For an ordinary person it is difficult to show compassion for someone who already feels sorry for themselves, and this is the situation Ippolit has put himself in. Certainly, his acquaintances would have felt sorry for him if he had killed himself, but he botches his suicide attempt.

In Aglaya's meeting with Prince Myshkin it becomes evident that she is in love with him and feels terribly envious of Nastasya Filippovna. Aglaya is egotistical and immature—still a child—and unable to understand the kind of love Myshkin feels for Nastasya—pure pity, or sorrow for the pain of another. Previously she has tried to make sense of his relationship with Nastasya by equating Myshkin with the poor knight who pursues a hopeless ideal, but this is not an accurate representation of his motives. As much as he tries to help Aglaya feel compassion for the unhinged Nastasya, he ultimately fails. The prince's dream that Nastasya has done something terrible is a premonition of how she will bring about her own death by running away with Rogozhin one last time.

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