Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 4 Chapters 3 4 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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

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Summary

Chapter 3

The Ivolgin family is concerned with General Ivolgin's erratic behavior, which has gone beyond his normal antics. Lebedev has been avoiding the prince, but now they have a conversation, and Myshkin learns the missing wallet has reappeared with the money, first under a chair and then in Lebedev's frock coat, although for three days he has been pretending not to see the missing wallet, since he wants to torment the general. He intends to let up and "find" the wallet on the following day. The prince is beside himself, saying the general is asking for forgiveness and relying on Lebedev's delicacy, while Lebedev continues to humiliate him. Lebedev promises to relent.

Chapter 4

General Ivolgin announces he has broken off his friendship with Lebedev because Lebedev told him a ridiculous lie about getting shot during Napoleon's occupation of Moscow in 1812, losing his leg, and then burying it. Meanwhile Lebedev clearly has both legs and would have been too young to take part in the war, so he is making fun of the Ivolgin. The general now launches into his own absurd story about himself as a child during the French occupation of Moscow and claims to have served as a page to Napoleon. As the story becomes more and more ridiculous, the prince gets increasingly uncomfortable, although he pretends to go along. Later the general is embarrassed by his performance and blames the prince, saying he can't accept humiliating "tokens of compassion." Thus, he breaks with the prince. Shortly after—in fact on the day he storms out of the house after fighting with Ganya—he has a major stroke.

Analysis

Lebedev's malice and cruelty are on display in his refusal to let his friend off the hook about the theft. General Ivolgin returns the money, but Lebedev cannot forgive him too easily and prefers to make him sweat. Lebedev is a comic figure, but he's also a malicious trickster who likes to create chaos wherever he goes. In some ways he is more like an archetype than a character, a demonic force who toys with people's weaknesses and sensitivities. It is inevitable that the general is heading for a fall. His whole life is a lie, from beginning to end. He cannot open his mouth without making up a story, and Lebedev mocks him by telling him a ridiculous tale of how he lost a leg during French emperor Napoleon I's (1769–1821) invasion of Russia.

Not to be outdone by Lebedev, the general makes up his own fantastical tale of how, when he was a child, he served as Napoleon's page. When he tells this story to Prince Myshkin, who is constitutionally incapable of telling a lie, he has a hard time hiding his incredulity. The reader is now approaching the novel's dénouement, and here is the first instance of how Myshkin's extravagant compassion does more harm than good. The general knows he is being humored out of pity, and thus he cuts himself off from Myshkin. Additionally, he can no longer hide from his own absurdity and the knowledge that his life has been, for such a long time, a series of lies. As a result, he has a stroke and eventually dies.

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