Prince Myshkin is one of the
many unforgettable characters created by Dostoevsky. He is the eponymous
protagonist of the novel, The Idiot. He is all goodness. Innocent
to the degree of being naïve, he is a misfit in society. He is not aware of the
manners and elegances of aristocracy though he claims to be a prince. People
laugh at him because he appears to be an idiot to them. He laughs with them at
himself. Prince Myshkin has no ego hassles. His psyche is not tainted by
ordinary human vices such as envy and greed, selfishness and hatred.
He can go to
a party uninvited just because he wishes to attend the party and meet people.
At worst, he will be ejected. People will laugh at him, no doubt. But he
doesn’t mind all those consequences. Even when someone slaps him, all that he
does in return is to tell the assailant that he should be ashamed of himself.
He never indulges in gossips and small talk. He’d rather discuss religion or
goodness survive in the human world?
A century after Prince Myshkin was offered to readers in Russia, J D Salinger presented a 16-year-old hero who wanted to preserve the innocence of children from the perverted adult world. Holden Caulfield, Salinger’s young hero, is not as innocent as Prince Myshkin, however. He is a confused young adult. But his longing for a better world is genuine.
want a better world? Right?
not so simple as that. As the narrator of The Idiot says, “From the
beginning, all the world over, lack of originality has been reckoned the chief characteristic
and best recommendation of an active, business-like and practical man, and at
least ninety-nine per cent of mankind – and that’s a low estimate – have always
held that opinion, and at most one percent looks at it differently.” In other
words, people don’t think differently from what’s accepted by the average
persons all around them. If you want a better world, you need to think
differently from the average people. If you do think differently, you are
likely to end up in a loony bin – as Prince Myshkin did and as Holden Caulfield
Albert Camus suggested rebellion instead of Myshkin’s angelic naivete and Caulfield’s facile longing. Rebel against the mediocrity around, against the absurdity of existence, free yourself from the clutches of the silly morality imposed on you by Ram, Shyam and Hari. “Become so very free that your whole existence is an act of rebellion,” Camus said.
Myshkin’s very being rebelled against the silliness of mediocre morality. But
it was an unconscious rebellion. So he couldn’t sustain it. Caulfield’s was an
immature rebellion, though a more conscious one than that of the Prince. Camus
is asking us to choose rebellion with mature thought behind it. Rebellion, in
Camus’ sense, is not simply saying No to a system. It is the creation of an
alternative system. A rebel is not a destroyer. Far from it, a rebel is a creator,
an architect of primordial innocence. A rebel is an idiot with a clear vision.
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