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The Idiot

Dostoevsky


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 philosophy.

Can such goodness survive in the human world?

Salinger

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.

Who doesn’t want a better world? Right?

Well, it’s 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 too did.

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.

Camus

Prince 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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Comments

  1. That last line. A rebel is an idiot with a clear vision. Somehow rebellion seems fashionable nowadays. That is why most fizz out before anything concrete can be achieved. The vision is often lacking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Are there rebels today? Not in Camus' sense. Those whom we see are protestors, not rebels. These protestors are advocates of mediocre morality.

      Delete
  2. What a relevant post comparing Prince Myshkin and Caulfield! Reminds me of Shakespeare talking of how fools are not what they appear to be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The post didn't come out well. I was interrupted at least 6 times while writing it. I started writing it yesterday and finished it this afternoon with very annoying interruptions in between.

      Delete
  3. Hari OM
    I think you post came out perfectly well... and oh how we need more true and worthy rebels in this world!!! YAM xx
    I=Introspection

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Consoled to hear that.

      Let there be more genuine rebels so that the world becomes a better place.

      Delete
  4. A rebel is an idiot with vision - quite nicely summed...however conscious / not being conscious matters.. i don't know this book. Seems interesting. However there are many rebels in youth without any cause!

    Dropping by from a to z http://afshan-shaik.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Salinger's 'Catcher in the Rye' was a runaway bestseller in the 50s.

      Delete
  5. Now this "A rebel is an idiot with a clear vision" I could work towards. O! How I wish I'd dedicate the rest of my days to live out that last line --but I'm no prince! I could try--No?

    Fantastic read Tomichan. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you're already there, Arti. Your heart is in the right place. What better vision can there be?

      Delete
  6. What a comperative analysis! Take a bow for your keen eye and discerning mind to see the relevance of the characters living in the printed words to the real world of life.

    ReplyDelete
  7. //A rebel is an idiot with a clear vision.// thought about Gandhi!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And rightly so. The British must have found him comical in the beginning.

      Delete
  8. The last line of your post sort of sums it up nicely and is pretty impactful , I must say. I read the Catcher In The Rye last year and could understand the confusions of a 16 year old in a world with layers and layers of expectations.

    Visiting from A to Z

    Jayashree writes

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found it tragic that Salinger stopped writing after 'The Catcher'. He became Holden Caulfield!

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