"His mind and heart were flooded with extraordinary light; all torment, all doubt, all anxieties were relieved at once, resolved in a kind of lofty calm, full of serene, harmonious joy and hope, full of understanding and the knowledge of the ultimate cause of things."
In Part II, Chapter 5, Prince Myshkin describes an epileptic fit. He says that in the instant just before a fit, his conscience is plunged into darkness and he enjoys a momentary feeling of supreme feeling and understanding of life. At that point, he is able to sense all the harmony and beauty of life. In this sense, epilepsy places Prince Myshkin into a higher state of being, even if only for a brief while. The prince's particular ailment not only distinguishes him from others, but it also represents his higher sensibilities of the world and its most important values. In addition, it suggests that he has grasped a far more profound understanding of life and its meaning—joy and brotherly love, for instance—than any other characters in the novel.
"Full of pure love and always true To his one exquisite dream, N.F.B.—these letters he drew In blood upon his shield."
In Part II, Chapter 7, Aglaya Yepanchin recites Pushkin's poem "The Poor Knight" in front of her family, Myshkin, and a few other people. The poem is about a medieval knight who dedicates his love to the vision of perfect beauty, Mother Mary. He fights in her name and finally, dies, alone and insane, in his castle. Aglaya suggests that Myshkin is very much like the poor knight, except that the prince's ideal is Nastassya Filippovna and not Mother Mary. Therefore, Aglaya exchanges the initials A.M.D. (Ave Mater Dei) for N.F.B.—Nastassya Filippovna Barashkov. Aglaya begins reciting the poem in a mocking tone, but soon her tone changes to a serious one. Later, she tells the prince that in reading the poem she was attempting to show him that she understood his feelings for Nastassya Filippovna. The poem invites us to consider how well the model of the "poor knight" fits the character of the prince. Perhaps Aglaya has come close to guessing the essence of Myshkin's character. In reality, however, she has not entirely succeeded. The prince is idealistic, but his ideal is his selfless love for others, not merely Nastassya Filippovna. Myshkin's relationship toward Nastassya Filippovna is merely an expression of that ideal. In addition, unlike the knight who fights the Muslims with his ideal expressly in mind, the prince is not consciously aware of his ideal. He lives it in his every word and action because he feels it, because it is at the core of his being.
"There's more wealth, but there's less strength; the binding idea doesn't exist anymore; everything has turned soft, everything is rotten, and people are rotten."
In Part III, Chapter 4, Lebedev gives several verbose speeches on diverse subjects such as religion and moral corruption. At the end of one of such speech, he discusses moral corruption in the world, which he says has become rampant. It is ironic that Lebedev himself, one of the most corrupt characters in the novel—a drunkard, liar, and rogue—is the one who identifies the problem of moral corruption. Indeed, for him there are virtually no morals and without a rigid code of behavior. However, the problem of moral corruption within the novel extends much further than Lebedev's character. For example, Totsky is so rotten that he can seduce a young girl and feel no moral qualms about it afterward. Ganya is corrupt in his vain ambition for money and social status. General Yepanchin lusts after Nastassya Filippovna and presents her with expensive pearls in an attempt to win her. Burdovsky and his gang are nasty in their insolence and rude calumnies of the Prince. The novel is full of morally corrupt characters who are part of the symbolically rotten world. Throughout, the character of Prince Myshkin stands in sharp contrast to this corrupt world.
"What is in all this beauty for me when every minute, every second I am obliged, forced to know that even this tiny gnat, buzzing near me in the sunlight now, is taking part in all this banquet and chorus, knows its place in it, loves it, and is happy, and I alone am an outcast"
In Part III, Chapter 7, Hippolite speaks of his feelings toward nature, which he says has excluded him from its happy "banquet." Expected to die of consumption within several weeks, Hippolite feels angry at the thought of his premature death. He feels alienated from the world and from nature. Unlike Prince Myshkin, who, in his idiocy, is likewise alienated from other people yet chooses to embrace nature, the resentful Hippolite rejects nature by attempting suicide. Hippolite feels cheated by nature, and this feeling enrages him. Hippolite's anger sharply contrasts with the Prince's delight contrasted by the Prince's delight in nature as God's creation and his delight in his fellow men.
"I don't understand how one can walk by a tree and not be happy at the sight of it! Or to speak with a man and not be happy in loving him? There are so many things at every step so beautiful."
During the engagement party at the Yepanchins' in Part IV, Chapter 7, Prince Myshkin speaks about his feelings on life and religion. He expresses his infinite joy of seeing the products of nature, namely the earth and men. He loves these examples of God's creation and he delights in their ultimate beauty. In addition to characterizing the prince in his love for nature and humanity, this quotation emphasizes Dostoevsky's exploration of beauty. In his compassion toward others and his humble joy, which he derives from people and from love, Myshkin exemplifies spiritual beauty. Hippolite mentions that the prince once told him that he believes that beauty can save the world. Indeed, if more people performed such beautiful actions as helping a friend or forgiving an enemy, perhaps the world could be cured of its corruption. By attempting to create Myshkin as a truly beautiful individual, Dostoevsky gives us an ideal that can serve as an example for the kinds of feelings and actions that can combat the moral corruption of the world and ultimately make it a better place.
Take a Study Break!