Can a saintly, naive, kind, selfless, loving, childlike person survive and thrive in the world the live in? The Idiot, attempts to answer the same question and this post in a humble attempt to understand this Russian classical masterpiece.
(Spoilers ahead! But considering the book is not about the story, it is meant for understanding, so it should be okay)
The protagonist Prince Myshkin a.k.a the Idiot is a 25 year old orphan suffering from epilepsy. The story begins when he returns back to Russia after years of incomplete treatment in Switzerland. St. Petersburg awaits him an encounter with the beautiful Nastasya who has a deeply troubled past; Rogozhin, lustfully and passionately in love with her (like most men in St. Petersburg), who believes in taking whatever he wants with force; and the innocent, childlike Aglaya who grew up in a very protective environment and dreams of one day stepping out and exploring the “wonderful” world she is deprived of.
Turns out, everyone Prince Myshkin encounters falls for him for his naivety, his exceptionally good understanding of the world and his frankness- even Nastasya and Aglaya. The Prince, on the other hand, falls for Nastasya as well, but not just for her beauty, but because he wants to help her (in a non-sexual way). Nastasya in her self-destructive mode (because of her troubled past) runs away with Rogozhin. The Prince later starts liking Aglaya, but choses Nastasya over her. Which eventually leads to destruction of all souls and a tragic ending of the story.
To begin with, the book is not very easy to comprehend. Neither is much material available on the internet to help you understand it. It took me considerable time (months) to read and understand this book. Here is what I understood-
The book has highlighted a contrast between morals and reasonableness. Here, I am associating morals with being kind hearted, loving, not calculative, naive, and selfless, not necessarily an imbecile. On the other hand, reasonableness is associate with being very logical and pragmatic. It can be observed in the book that, although being moral (or “good”) is always appreciated but the world also at the same time looks at it as a source of weakness. Such people are often labelled as fools or idiots. Reasonable people on the other hand, are considered as strong and formidable. In reality, however, neither is the case; but that is how the world perceives them.
For instance, love, it is always beyond reason. One may fall in love with anyone, irrespective of how perfect to imperfect they are or how convenient or inconvenient is it to love them. One may fall in love with the most boring person and find them the most extraordinary; the possibility is endless and of course beyond any logic or reason. Yet such love, despite being so pure is often either short-lived or ends in heartbreak. Do you know why? Because the harsh reality is, the world does not “only” run on love. It must be backed up by reason to survive.
A reasonable person, on the other hand, would be someone who is prudent. For instance, a person who chooses someone after judging all the pro and cons or decides to be with a person based on certain criteria, not just because he/she likes the other person, is- reasonable or judicious.
It is neither good, nor bad to be either. It is a personal choice. Moreover, what is good or bad depends on circumstances and much more. Precisely, it can be concluded that it is not a sign of weakness to be moral (or any of the attributes associated with it), it’s just that it might not be sustainable unless it is backed up with reasonableness.
The only adaptation I managed to watch is the one available on YouTube with English subtitles. It had about ten episodes, each one an hour long. Moreover, it is very close to the original book. So if you are an explorer and like to experiment with what you watch or want to read the book but don’t have the time, this is probably what you should watch.
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