The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part II: Chapters 3-4

Summary

Myshkin's next call is to a house he has wanted to visit for some time — that of Rogozhin. And he is not surprised when he sees it, for the house is large and dark and full of tiny rooms and winding corridors. Rogozhin himself opens the door. He is pale and seems frightened to see the prince but welcomes him, and the two men talk of the times they spent together in Moscow.

Myshkin then mentions to Rogozhin that he has recently experienced strange sensations. This morning, for example, he felt as though he were being watched as he arrived in Petersburg; the feeling, he says, is very much like the sensations he experienced five years ago, when he suffered from epileptic seizures.

The two men talk a bit longer, then Myshkin abruptly speaks of Nastasya Filippovna. He tells Rogozhin that the two men should not be enemies, that he does not wish to marry Nastasya. Myshkin explains the circumstances of Nastasya's coming to him, pleading with him to save her, but he says that he has never been in love with her. He cares for her and pities her, and he has tried to persuade her to go abroad for her health, but he emphasizes that he has never fancied himself her suitor. It is true, Myshkin confesses, that he thinks that marriage between Rogozhin and Nastasya would be disastrous, but he has considered only Nastasya's happiness. Myshkin offers to leave then but Rogozhin objects and asks the prince to stay awhile longer.

Rogozhin says that he is no longer angry with Myshkin and that he believes what the prince say's but that when Myshkin is absent, doubts begin to build. He has been terribly shamed by Nastasya and, unlike Myshkin, he has no pity for her; she laughs at him — with other men — and would marry him with no more thought than she would give to changing her shoes. She has made a mockery of him, Rogozhin says.

Myshkin wonders at Rogozhin's determination to marry Nastasya. To this question, Rogozhin is silent. His "terrible gaze," however, frightens the prince. Rogozhin continues. In Moscow, he discussed marriage with Nastasya; she insulted him and he beat her severely. She threatened him with a knife, but, says Rogozhin, used her insults more cunningly, and the next morning she was quite calm and told him an anecdote about an emperor and the Pope of Rome, the point being that she fancied Rogozhin as wanting to humble her. She would agree to marriage anyway. A week later, she ran away to Lebedyev's, her explanation being that she must remain her own mistress.

Myshkin confronts Rogozhin with the idea of Rogozhin's love and hate being indistinguishable, and Rogozhin asks Myshkin if he thinks that he (Rogozhin) will murder Nastasya. Myshkin does not answer; instead, he considers the possibility of Nastasya's enjoying the suspense of impending murder, and also enjoying Rogozhin's over-passionate nature. He breaks off then and says that if Rogozhin did not have such passion, he would be very much like his late father. Rogozhin looks at his father's portrait — that of a stern, taciturn, distrusting man — and says that Nastasya has made exactly the same observation.

The conversation returns to the subject of murder and Rogozhin surprises Myshkin by saying that he thinks Nastasya has consented to marry him for one reason: out of spite. He further surprises Myshkin by saying that Nastasya is very much in love with the prince, but that she will not marry him because she fears that she would disgrace him. The situation is driving her mad, Rogozhin says.

Myshkin disagrees; the idea comes from Rogozhin's enormous jealousy. He toys with a knife Rogozhin has on a table, then apologizes and prepares to leave. Passing into a large room of paintings, Myshkin's attention is caught by a copy of Holbein's "Christ in the Tomb." He has seen the original, he says, and has never been able to forget it. It is a picture that might make some people lose their faith, he remarks, and, unexpectedly, Rogozhin agrees.

On the doorsteps, Myshkin turns and suddenly tells Rogozhin a story about a man who cut his best friend's throat for a silver watch on a yellow bead chain, lifting his eyes to heaven during the murder and asking for God's forgiveness. Rogozhin laughs hysterically and Myshkin continues with another story. He has bought a cross for himself, he says; a drunken soldier offered it to him, assuring him that it was silver. The cross was obviously tin, but Myshkin bought it anyway. Impulsively Rogozhin asks for it, insisting that he and Myshkin exchange crosses. He will give Myshkin his gold cross and they will be brothers, he cries. The exchange is made and Rogozhin takes Myshkin to meet Madame Rogozhin, a senile old woman who understands nothing that happens. Rogozhin asks her to bless the prince, "as though it were your own son," and the old lady makes the sign of the cross three times over Myshkin. Back at the landing, Myshkin wishes to embrace Rogozhin but Rogozhin demurs, assuring his new brother that he won't murder him for his watch. Then he embraces Myshkin and says that Nastasya belongs to the prince; he gives Nastasya to Myshkin, then vanishes into the house.

Analysis

Duality — the attraction and conflict of opposing natures — is one of Dostoevsky's main concerns in these two chapters. As already has been noted, the idea of an individual holding within himself a continual clash of wills fascinated Dostoevsky. He presents in The Idiot a variation of this theme: the separate, opposing natures not within a single main character but as two main characters. Rogozhin's character is made up of extreme sensuality and a powerful self-will, while Myshkin's character is basically meek, good, and submissive. These opposite qualities Dostoevsky believed to be eternally at war, and in this novel Rogozhin and Myshkin represent these forces, compulsively drawn to one another and eternally unreconciled.

When Myshkin visits Rogozhin's house, it is the first time that the two men have been alone together and it is also the first time that we are able to gain deeper insight into Rogozhin. We have seen Myshkin in the company of the Epanchins and the Ivolgins, and he seems a rounded character; we are able to understand, if not wholly agree with, his actions. Rogozhin, on the other hand, has been something of a mystery; now his character is being drawn in sharper strokes.

Thus far, we know that Rogozhin is a handsome young man, surly, highly emotional, and inclined to go deathly pale in a crisis. He and Myshkin, men of opposing character, met on a train opposite one another. Now, Myshkin, who has just returned from the fresh clean air of Switzerland, approaches the gloomy house of Rogozhin (it seemed "to be keeping something dark and hidden"); the antitheses are emphatic. Myshkin and Rogozhin talk easily together and certainly each of "them seems to have unique insights into the behavior of Nastasya Filippovna (who is a combination of the qualities of both men) But neither of the men understands the other when the afternoon is ended. Rogozhin is animal-like, instinctive, and uneducated; he cannot accept Myshkin's explanation that the prince pities Nastasya Filippovna and that he has no sexual desire for her and wants only her happiness. The concepts are too vague and idealized for Rogozhin's understanding. To him this seems to be a clever ruse of Myshkin's; if not, then why would Myshkin return to Petersburg? Rogozhin cannot accept Myshkin's sexless goodness because he is cursed by a terrible urge for Nastasya.

Myshkin's observation that Rogozhin's love and hate are indistinguishable is correct but the prince (as blind to his own flaws as Rogozhin is to his) does not recognize that Nastasya Filippovna is a woman, early oriented to sex. She is fascinated by Myshkin but his good deeds are driving her mad, in the same way that Rogozhin's inherent evil is. She cannot find sexual satisfaction with Myshkin, but she needs his protective, forgiving nature — though not in excess. After too long a tune with Myshkin (and too long without his sexual love) she feels unworthy of his honor, heavy with guilt because of her past, and so she is driven hack to Rogozhin's punishing, dangerous love.

Myshkin is correct; he and Rogozhin are not rivals, but Myshkin's ideal is never understood and as long as the prince is near Nastasya, Rogozhin will consider him a rival. His jealousy is possessive; his love is primitive and includes killing, if necessary. The Holbein picture is symbolic of his dark despair.

Symbolically, the exchange of crosses between Myshkin and Rogozhin signifies the merging of the two men into one. The two natures, however, can never be truly merged; even as "brothers" they will remain enemies because their values are at opposite ends of the moral spectrum.

As the chapter ends, Rogozhin means to find out if Myshkin is lying or not; whether the prince really desires Nastasya herself, or her happiness. He says that he will not bother her again, reasoning that if Myshkin believes him, he will leave Petersburg. But if Myshkin believes that at last he is free of Rogozhin's rivalry, he will race to Nastasya's flat, believing himself to be the victor in this game of love. If that happens, we discover, Rogozhin will be waiting and will murder the prince.

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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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