The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part II: Chapter 5

Summary

Leaving Rogozhin, Myshkin goes to the Epanchin house and, finding no one at home, he goes to the Scales Hotel to try and find Kolya. He has no luck there either, so, as it is a bright and sunny day, he goes for a walk, wandering rather aimlessly around Petersburg. He feels restless and strained and has an extraordinary craving for solitude. Impulsively, he decides to buy a ticket to Pavlovsk but, just before he takes his seat on the train, he flings the ticket on the floor and goes out of the station. He is bothered and confused; increasingly, he feels that he is becoming absentminded and is mixing up his thoughts. Also he feels that he is being watched, exactly as he was sure that he was being watched in the station.

Myshkin recalls the sensations he experienced moments before his epileptic seizures. The infinite happiness, the vision of harmony were these dependent on lunacy, he wonders. The air has grown sultry and Myshkin strains to focus his attention on individual objects. He feels haunted by the image of Lebedyev's nephew and the talk concerning the murder of the Zhemarins. The idea of murder and Rogozhin, the crosses they exchanged, Madame Rogozhin's blessing, and Rogozhin's renunciation of Nastasya Filippovna all haunt the prince's mind. Almost certainly, his illness seems to be returning. He must absolutely convince Rogozhin that they are not and never were rivals for Nastasya Filippovna; he must free Rogozhin from this obsession. He must teach Rogozhin compassion.

Unexpectedly, Myshkin finds himself at the house of Madame Filisov, the sister-in-law of Lebedyev, and rings the bell. He is told that Nastasya is not there and that she has gone that morning to Pavlovsk. Myshkin leaves, feeling, once more, confused and agitated. He is absolutely sure that Rogozhin has been following him and that it is he whose eyes he sensed watching him when he arrived in Petersburg; he recalls Rogozhin's intense eyes during the visit; he is sure that those were the same eyes that were on him as he boarded the train for Pavlovsk. Now Myshkin is certain that Rogozhin was there, hiding, as the prince went to the Filisov house and asked for Nastasya Filippovna. And only hours before, Myshkin had given Rogozhin his word of honor that he had not come to Petersburg in search of Nastasya Filippovna.

Walking back to his hotel, Myshkin continues to brood. He chastises himself for giving credence to his forebodings; surely he has misjudged Rogozhin. It is not Rogozhin who is heartless but Myshkin who is guilty of the charge. As Myshkin reaches the gate of the hotel, a storm, which has slowly gathered during the afternoon, breaks and rain pours down. In the half-darkness, close to the entrance, Myshkin thinks that he discerns a man's figure, then it is gone. Can it be Rogozhin? Everything, he feels, will be decided now. He mounts the dark, narrow staircase, and in a niche he again sees the mysterious eyes. Myshkin seizes the man by the shoulders and turns his face to the light. It is Rogozhin; his eyes flash in the darkness and something gleams in his upraised hand. It cannot be happening. Myshkin cannot believe it. And a fearful scream breaks from him and he collapses in an epileptic seizure, staggering away and falling backward downstairs. The prince's head strikes the stone steps and he lies unconscious at the bottom in a pool of blood.

Kolya arrives at the hotel, hears talk of an epileptic and feels sure that it is his friend Myshkin whom they speak of. He goes to the prince, takes him to Lebedyev's, and three days later, Myshkin is taken to Pavlovsk.

Analysis

The storm that gathers in the afternoon has two counterparts: the madness building within Rogozhin and the nervous tension growing in Prince Myshkin; and as the thunderstorm breaks, Rogozhin attempts murder and Myshkin succumbs to an epileptic seizure. Nature parallels, in a highly dramatic sense, what is taking place within the principal characters. Dostoevsky is a master of mood building. From the beginning of this section, Myshkin has felt a fearful pair of eyes boring into him and since the visit at Lebedyev's his mind has been clouded by preoccupation. Rogozhin's house and the picture of Christ distressed the prince. His mind has become obsessed with murder: He told Rogozhin the story of the murder committed while asking God for forgiveness; he mulled over the murder Lebedyev had spoken of in the morning. Myshkin even toyed absently with the knife that Rogozhin would use later for his attempted murder.

We have been amply prepared for Rogozhin's attempt at murder and for Myshkin's attack of epilepsy, but Dostoevsky cleverly combines the two occurrences and one prevents the other. Myshkin and Rogozhin have been associated with the idea of murder ever since Myshkin saw Nastasya's picture; now Rogozhin tries to murder the prince because he fears that Myshkin will steal Nastasya from him. To Rogozhin, murder is a means of combating an enemy; he does not, like Raskolnikov (in Dostoevsky's earlier novel Crime and Punishment), formulate a theory concerning the "extraordinary man" who can transgress the law because he is extraordinary, gifted, and intelligent. Rogozhin kills as an animal might, selfishly and fearfully, because he feels cornered. He wants Nastasya so passionately that he will murder for her, in addition to the possibility already encountered that eventually he might even murder her in order to totally possess her.

From what we can gather concerning Myshkin's epileptic attack, Nastasya Filippovna is at least partly responsible. In Switzerland Myshkin was able to offer his deep and compassionate love to Marie and not lose his health. Nastasya, however, is no Marie. Marie was consumptive and dying; she was meekness and humility personified. Nastasya, like Marie, is fallen but her terrible pride rejects Myshkin's offer of absolute forgiveness. Caught between the fascination of man at his saintly best and man at his most sensual, Nastasya's role is that of an unstable pivot that moves the story in and out of chaos.

Myshkin's lucid description of what happens during an epileptic seizure is not due to Dostoevsky's ample imagination. Dostoevsky himself suffered from epilepsy and often speculated about the holy vision of perfection that he sensed just before losing consciousness. It is an ideal beauty, which Myshkin sees, the opposite of the black, hopeless mood of the Holbein picture in Rogozhin's house. Myshkin's epileptic vision of beauty is granted, but it severs him from the world. Like Myshkin, it would seem, it is too much an ideal, and serves as an inspiration, not an example. The epilepsy is Myshkin's flaw, the price he pays for being so incredibly good, the symbol of his differentness and his inability to cope with the demands of reality. Epilepsy labels Myshkin as an idiot but most people see Myshkin as an idiot not because of his epilepsy but because of his lack of self-protective common sense. Already Myshkin's crumbling into epilepsy seems graphic proof that absolute goodness inevitably fails in a society of hypocrisy, greed, and violence.

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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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