The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapters 15-16

Summary

Everyone except Nastasya Filippovna is aghast at the entrance of Rogozhin and his noisy, drunken followers; strangely, Nastasya seems satisfied. Indeed, she tells her guests that they will all be witnesses to "this final scene."

Rogozhin has brought the 100,000 rubles he promised and, pale and trembling, he places the bundle of notes before Nastasya. The money is Nastasya's cue: she reminds them all that she was bid for at Ganya's, the initial bid being 18,000 rubles. A price on her is not in itself unusual, however; she has always been used or equated with money, she continues. Nastasya says that she is disgusted by money; it brings out the basest element in all men, for all men are greedy.

Nastasya announces that she intends to change: Her new life will begin without a penny and, under those circumstances, no man present will accept her for what she is.

Myshkin objects. He would not consider Nastasya's worth in any terms other than what he feels to be the true character of Nastasya Filippovna; she is honest, he says, and, because he loves her, he would marry her and would work. But because this speech is ridiculed by smiles and snickers, Myshkin stops and reveals that he is perhaps not as poor as he seems. He has been promised an inheritance and he produces the legal notification. Ptitsyn (familiar with the lawyer Myshkin names) examines the legal document, then declares that Myshkin is indeed rich — worth more than a million and a half rubles.

Momentarily, Nastasya Filippovna is forgotten. But only momentarily. In the midst of the loud congratulations, Nastasya proclaims that she accepts Myshkin's offer of marriage. Rogozhin is staggered by the decision and offers to give up everything for her. Nastasya mocks the proposition but Myshkin does not. He tells Nastasya that Rogozhin loves her very much and that she has been capricious. In spite of what has happened, Myshkin offers his understanding and a total dismissal of her past: the prince will always respect her.

Nastasya calls to Rogozhin; he must stay, she says, for she has decided to go away with him. Prince Myshkin is wrong; she is corrupt and low. She readies herself to leave, then makes one last, grand gesture.

She taunts Ganya and dares him to expose his greed before them all. She orders a fire to be lit, then tosses in Rogozhin's bundle of 100,000 rubles: If Ganya removes the package from the fire with his bare hands, the money is his. For a time, Ganya cannot comprehend the absurdity of what is taking place; then he faints.

The money is pulled from the fire and Nastasya declares that it is Ganya's anyway; his vanity was greater than his greed. She bids them all goodbye and she and Rogozhin rush outside, where the troikas are waiting. Myshkin follows, rushing headlong into the street; he hails a sleigh and follows after the bells of Rogozhin's troikas.

Analysis

The events of these last chapters of Part I are so melodramatic that it might have become comic were it not for the deep suffering that we feel within Ganya, Rogozhin, Nastasya Filippovna, and Myshkin. Nastasya's reign as Totsky's beautiful mistress is over and she is not a little relieved because the last few years have been a sham. Yet, however well one might interpret what is now taking place, Nastasya Filippovna cannot deceive herself. She is being cast off; she is twenty-five years old. Where does a discarded mistress go? What does she do?

Once she has left Totsky's patronage, Nastasya is aware that she will be looked upon as a fallen woman; once she was a courtesan, now she is a whore. What's more, Nastasya has no more respect for herself, and her only weapon against the world is her fierce pride. Thus, on the brink of an uncertain future, she thrusts wildly into the party, watching her guests jump and cower in awe of her. Only Myshkin, of them all, realizes that she is convulsing, that her actions are almost death throes of a sort, and that she is gasping for life, grasping for an escape from the intolerable situation before her.

We move from the "game" of confession to being witnesses to Nastasya Filippovna's real confession as she makes certain that everyone present knows that the 100,000 rubles that Rogozhin has brought is a top bid that began at 18,000 rubles. She lacerates herself, rating her worth only in terms of money and damning men for not being able to deal in any other exchange.

And why, finally, can she not accept Myshkin's offer of constant love and honor? Whimsically, she does accept at first; she will be a wealthy woman. She accepts to startle the guests and because here is one more instance of her being bought. But in the end she cannot accept Myshkin's offer because, although he might forgive her, she could never forgive herself. Myshkin believes the best of everyone; Nastasya Filippovna has known enough scoundrels to know that her sense of reality and Myshkin's can never mesh. In addition, Myshkin is a child; he worships her but he is devoid of sensuality and Nastasya exudes that quality. She would destroy Myshkin's faith in her, in himself, and in mankind; it would be almost murderous if she were to marry the prince.

Nastasya leaves with Rogozhin not because he offers her money, mountains of it (she flings the money into the fire), but because he offers her nothing (he'll give up everything if necessary). Rogozhin is an ignorant man but, like Nastasya, fierce in his passions. And, like Myshkin, he has a fortune. Most important, he does not revere Nastasya as though she were a saint (which Myshkin does); he desires Nastasya sexually; and he does not forgive her or tell her that her soul is pure and that her suffering has given her glory. He takes her selfishly, as she is, with no philosophizing. With Rogozhin, Nastasya can remain a woman, complete with her sensuality and her sin.

Before leaving, Nastasya has a final fling of revenge on the money-oriented Totsky and Epanchin. The test of greed she taunts Ganya to perform is to punish those two men and Ganya, to have the pleasure of seeing how absolutely material man is. After all, Myshkin has exhibited himself as a noble knight and Rogozhin as an animal — both natural inclinations, if extreme in these cases. Now she wants to see how deeply man loves money, neither purely nor lustfully, but only greedily. The scheme does not wholly succeed, but almost so. Ganya is overcome because of the monstrous dare, but the other guests are more than adequately revealed to be exactly the base and greedy people Nastasya believed them to be.

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At the end of Part III, Nastasya and Rogozhin each ask Myshkin the same question. What was it?




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