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Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 4 Chapters 5 6 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 4, Chapters 5–6 | Summary



Chapter 5

As it turns out, Prince Myshkin and Aglaya are not engaged, although everyone anticipates that Aglaya's fate is soon to be decided. She and the prince continue to spend time together, and after she gets angry at him for beating her at cards, she sends him a hedgehog as a reconciliation gift. Later, she confronts him so that he admits he loves her, and he proposes. Her parents conclude that Aglaya is in love with the prince as well, despite her contrary and erratic behavior. She is continually quarreling with him and making fun of him.

On his part the prince is simply happy to see her every day. When Myshkin runs into Ippolit in the park, he complains about the Ivolgins and then turns to the subject of his impending death. He asks Myshkin, "How will it be best for me to die?" The prince answers, "Pass us by and forgive us our happiness!"

Chapter 6

The Epanchin parents plan a party to introduce Prince Myshkin to society. Princess Belokonsky will be there, and since the approval of this socialite counts for a lot in their circle, they hope she will act favorably toward the prince so he can be received as Aglaya's fiancé. Aglaya jokingly tells Myshkin to break her mother's precious Chinese vase but then warns him to keep his conversation light.

The next morning Lebedev tells Myshkin he has intercepted a note Aglaya sent to Ganya (referred to in Part 4, Chapter 2). The prince is horrified and asks Kolya to deliver the sealed message. When Lebedev hears about General Ivolgin's stroke, he rushes over to the house and tells Nina Alexandrovna it is all his fault.

That evening at the Epanchins' party, things begin well, and the innocent prince is impressed by the charming and elegant society people. But the narrator says, "The majority of the guests, despite their imposing appearance, were ... rather empty people."


The tragic aspect of The Idiot is most apparent in Part 4, Chapter 5, in which Prince Myshkin is happier than he has ever been in his life. Aglaya has forced him to confess his love, and now he knows she loves him too. Her parents have resigned themselves to their union, and he, not one to live in the future, is simply happy to see Aglaya every day. Despite his great happiness the prince remains in touch with his deep well of compassion. When Ippolit asks him the best way to die, he advises him to forgive his fellow beings for their happiness. Myshkin does not feel guilty to be alive and happy and likely facing a long future. Rather, he feels sorrow for Ippolit, who must die soon. Myshkin understands that a dying man might feel envious and resentful of those with good prospects, which is why he asks Ippolit for forgiveness. Ultimately, all must face the march toward death, sooner or later, and Myshkin's compassion is based in the knowledge that he and Ippolit are not different but simply living at different points in time, vis-à-vis death.

The prince is apprehensive about meeting society people, especially because he has heard negative things about them. But in his innocence he takes these polished and urbane people at face value, not realizing they are like actors, running their lines in the same play they have performed many times. The narrator says: "It would never have occurred to [Myshkin] that all this simple-heartedness and nobility, sharp wit and lofty dignity might only be a splendid artistic contrivance." Inevitably, the prince's purity of heart must unmask them and lead to an embarrassing scene.

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