The Idiot by Dostoevsky discussion

Questions for Discussion

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message 1: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
I will be posting here questions for discussion (mostly psychological in nature) that I've prepared for my in-person discussions of The Idiot.

message 2: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod

THE IDIOT by Dostoevsky, books one and two
Questions for Reflection: A Psychological Approach by Tracy Marks

1. How might Myshkin and Rogozhin reflect Dostoevsky dualistic experience and symbolically be two parts of the same person?
2. How are Myshkin and Nastassya similar?
3. Why do you think that Myshkin is drawn to magnetically to both Nastassya and Rogozhin?
4. What are some of Myshkin’s positive qualities?
5. What are his deficiencies, which cause conflicts for himself and others?

6. In creating Myshkin, Dostoevsky was attempting to portray a truly “beautiful person”. Do you believe that Myshkin really a good and beautiful person? Why or why not?
7. What are some of the reactions people might have to a very pure, self-effacing, generous person such as Myshkin?
8. Why do you think he has such a strong influence on other people?
9. In what ways might he bring out the worst in people rather than the best?
10. What positive influence does he have on others?

11. Why is Myshkin so drawn to suffering people?
12. Myshkin seems to lack healthy self-protective defenses which would lead him to make healthier choices regarding his companions. What might a healthier way be for Myshkin to deal with such persons as Nastassya, Rogozhin, Lebedev and Aglaya?
13. Speculate – How might Myshkin’s early life influences – being orphaned, having had (possibly) a violent father, being taken under the wing of the upright Pavlischev, raised by two elderly single ladies etc., having epilepsy – have contributed to who he is now and why he acts the way he does?
14. How might Myshkin’s altruistic and Christlike behaviors be in part an attempt to redeem himself?


message 3: by Tracy (last edited Mar 17, 2018 03:32PM) (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
continued from previous post

15. Early in the book, Myshkin narrates his experience with Marie, and how he helped children respond lovingly to her. In what ways does this incident illuminate Myshkin’s behavior?
16. In what ways are Myshkin’s interactions with others characterized by the Jungian concepts of “shadow” and “bright shadow”?
Psychological concepts that help in understanding Myshkin:
(Freud and Jung)

projection – a psychological theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. Often as a result of projection, they may be drawn to people who express their own denied feelings, thoughts and behaviors.
(Carl Jung)
shadow –an unconscious aspect of oneself which the conscious ego does not identify, usually associated with the “dark side” of oneself – dark because not illuminated by the light of consciousness and because it is most often used to refer to negative qualities
bright shadow or golden shadow - the facet of the shadow related to positive qualities which we deny in ourselves and admire in others

17. How do the concepts of agape (universal love) and eros (erotic love) relate to Myshkin and Rogozhin, and their inability to fully grasp the others’ feelings and motives?
18. Comment on Myshkin’s response the Ganya hits him, and Myshkin withdraws, covering his face and crying out, “Oh how ashamed you will be afterwards.” How would most people respond, and what conclusion can we draw about Myshkin regarding his response?
19. In book two, Lizabeta says to Myshkin, “Aren’t you ashamed to deal with such worthless people?” Aglaya’s reaction is similar to her mother’s – they judge him for lacking the same quality. Clearly Lizabeta and Aglaya have different responses regarding shame than Myshkin. How so?

20. How would you characterize Lizabeta and her daughter Aglaya?
21. Dostoevsky’s portrayals of his key female figures are all similar in some ways. What qualities do Lizabeta Evanchin, Aglaya and Nastassya have in common?
22. How do you understand Nastassya and her erratic behavior?

continued in next post

message 4: by Tracy (last edited Mar 17, 2018 03:33PM) (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
continued from previous post

23. How do you understand Nastassya’s expression of admiration for Myshkin, combined with her refusal to marry him, her running off with Rogozhin, and yet her lack of commitment to him? What about her odd behavior regarding Evgeny Radomsky?
24. Comment on the statement: Many of Dostoevsky’s characters seem to live on the edge, suffering from sudden volcanic eruptions from their unconscious self – in some ways an emotional corollary to epilepsy.
25. Some critics regard Myshkin as possessing compassion but not passion, and Rogozhin as expressing passion but not compassion. But regarding some beliefs and experiences, Myshkin is passionate. How so?

26. Would you consider Myshkin a helper in a positive sense or a meddler or both? Why?
27. When I imagine a picture of Myshkin, I see only the upper half of a person, with everything below waist level missing. In what ways does this make sense?
28. How might General Ivolgin’s (“stolen”) story about throwing a lit cigar and a dog out the window reflect Dostoevsky’s conflict about one’s “fiery passions” and one’s “animal self”?
29. How is or isn’t Myshkin like the hapless knight or Don Quixote?

30. Comment on how the theme of facing death (a key influence in Dostoevsky’s life) occurs in several ways in the book -- the experience Myshkin narrates about the person reprieved from death, the symbolic “death” of Myshkin’s (and Dostoevsky’s) epileptic attacks, Ippolit dying. How are these experiences similar or different?
31. Do you think that Burdovsky was guilty of deception or an innocent victim of his lawyer, his cohorts or gossip about his father? Why?

32. Why might Rogozhin have chosen to exchange crucifixes with Myshkin and sought to bond with him, while simultaneously feeling jealous and murderous toward him?
33. What significance does the uninspiring painting of the dead Christ have?
34. So far in your reading, what do you think Dostoevsky’s message might be about the character of Myshkin? Is he presenting Myshkin as a positive or negative role model, or a little of both? How so?

message 5: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 16 comments Tracy,
I am impressed with all the questions you have asked. I would love to take one of your courses if I lived close by. I am reading this book on a more superficial level than I ordinarily do, but justify it because I want to read more Russian literature and am so pre-occupied with other demands on my time.

That personal justification being said, let me continue. I am intrigued by your question regarding Myshkin. "... I see only the upper half of a person, with everything below the waist missing."

This make sense to me in that I know individuals who live this way. In my opinion, they deny their more hidden sides and are attempting to live a life of high merit. They truly believe that they are making progress by focusing only on what their beliefs, whether motivated by religious or secular influences, tell them is the appropriate way to live a better life, upper half versus below waist.

Our upper selves are in continual conflict with our lower selves. I think it is the business of life to reconcile these two apparently divergent parts of us. However, they are not really divergent. Rather they are part of a whole. To deny one is to deny the whole of who we are. How the prince fits in here, I have not yet figured out. Why D is using epilepsy as a tool in explaining the prince is something I have not yet figured out.

message 6: by Tracy (last edited Mar 23, 2018 12:12PM) (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
Epilepsy was a big part of Dostoevsky's own life, and undoubtedly contributed to his own intensity and "living on the edge" characters, so he probably could identify most with Myshkin if he gave him epilepsy. Maybe Dostoevsky meant Myshkin to be Dostoevsky-like in some respects but also more Christ-like like Dosto's ego ideal.

I think the lower part of Myshkin's body is Rogozhin!

message 7: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 16 comments What you say makes sense.

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