Skip over navigation

The Idiot

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Part III, Chapters 4–7

Part III, Chapters 1–3

Part III, Chapters 8–10

Summary

Prince Myshkin returns from the park with Rogozhin to find a large company on his veranda drinking champagne. Even though Myshkin told Keller earlier that it was his birthday and that there was champagne in the house, he did not expect people to gather. The prince is even more surprised to see Burdovsky and Radomsky among the guests.

Radomsky tells Myshkin that he wishes very much to be his friend and that he has something important to discuss with him after the party dissolves. Everyone seems very merry. Lebedev gives long speeches on railroads and moral corruption. Everyone listens to him and jokes, and only Myshkin takes him seriously.

Suddenly Hippolite speaks. He says that last night he wrote his thoughts down and that he would really like to read to everyone what he wrote. He gets out a large envelope and reads his "Essential Statement." According to the statement, Hippolite has hated Myshkin intensely for five months, but recently this feeling has not been as strong. Hippolite frequently has bad dreams; in one, a horrific monster that was about to sting Hippolite, but Hippolite's dog bit the monster in two before falling to the monster's sting. When Hippolite first learned he had consumption, he had a desperate desire to live, so he decided to live through others—that is, by learning about the lives of others, which he did through Kolya. Hippolite could not understand how those people who had their health could be poor or unhappy. He hated and mocked them, especially his neighbor upstairs, Surikov, whose child froze to death because of their poverty.

Hippolite's statement goes on to say that around the same time, Hippolite was walking on the street one day when he noticed the man in front of him drop a billfold. He followed the man home and found out he was a doctor who lived with his wife and a newborn baby. The doctor was deposed from his position and had come to St. Petersburg to explain what had happened to him, but all of his petitions were denied. Hippolite said he would try to help the doctor because one of his colleagues in school, Bakhmutov, had an uncle with a high governmental position. Thanks to their collective efforts, they helped the doctor. This episode convinced Hippolite that individual actions can indeed change the world.

The statement gives the example of an "old General" who helped convicts so much that he became known by convicts across the whole country. Hippolite says that doing a good deed is like planting a seed that may grow in unknown directions. Hippolite says that Rogozhin visited him and that he then returned Rogozhin's visit. Holbein's painting of Christ just taken down from the cross shocked Hippolite: it made him think that if death and torture could ruin the best of men, then nature was a dumb and impersonal monster with incredible strength. Hippolite decided that his last true act of free will was suicide, so he planned kill himself at sunrise in Pavlovsk with a hand pistol. As for his religion, Hippolite believes in afterlife, but he refuses to worship God or nature, which has excluded him from happiness and the joy of its creations.

After Hippolite finishes, the others seem rather unimpressed with his statement and begin to leave. Lebedev demands that Hippolite give up his pistol, so the boy gives Kolya the keys to the pistol box. Then, when people are no longer watching him, Hippolite goes outside and attempts to kill himself. His effort is unsuccessful because he forgets to put a firing-cap on his pistol.

The guests all leave by three o'clock. Myshkin walks to the green bench, the place of his meeting with Aglaya. He falls asleep and dreams of Nastassya Filippovna.

Analysis

During the gathering at Lebedev's house, Lebedev speaks extensively on diverse subjects such as railroads, moral corruption, and cannibalism. Most people who join the conversation do so in a half-serious tone, primarily to maintain the amusing banter. Only Myshkin answers Lebedev earnestly and seriously, which surprises Lebedev and the others. Most of what Lebedev says is in fact nonsensical, and he is fully aware this. Lebedev does, however, mention one seemingly serious idea: that the law of self-destruction is just as strong in human beings as the law of self-preservation. This idea is particularly interesting when we consider how it applies to the characters in the novel. Certainly, for Nastassya Filippovna, Rogozhin, and Hippolite, self-destruction is a very strong force, in some cases even stronger than the instinct of self-preservation. Rogozhin suggests that Nastassya Filippovna is marrying him because she knows he will kill her sooner or later. Rogozhin leads a life that borders on self-destruction, while Hippolite, even with his intense desire to live, attempts to commit suicide. It seems that the opposing forces of self-preservation and self-destruction coexist and work against each other within many characters of the novel. As the novel progresses, then, we should take close note of whether and when other characters also act in a self-destructive manner.

Hippolite's "Essential Statement" further contrasts him with Myshkin. Hippolite says he has once heard the prince say that beauty will save the world. Indeed, Myshkin sees God as delighting in his creations; even he himself often extracts joy from God's creation. For example, when Ganya apologizes to him in Part I, the prince feels joy in realizing that Ganya is not a wicked man. Myshkin frequently laughs with others, seeing beauty in many things and people. His feelings of pity and compassion toward others can be described as beautiful—the kind of beautiful sentiment that might save the world from suffering and self-destruction. The prince's vision of beauty sharply contrasts with Hippolite's vision of horror and ugliness, symbolized by the monster in his dream. Hippolite views nature as a dark, dreary monster about to consume him. He refuses to delight in nature's creations because he feels nature has cheated him. Everything in nature is happy and harmonious, while Hippolite is an outcast who must suffer and die. It is not surprising, then, that he refuses to worship nature. He says that he prefers Meyer's wall to all the beautiful green trees in Pavlovsk, which remind him of everything from which he is excluded and which he will soon no longer see at all. Hippolite's attempted suicide is his way of protesting nature and life itself.

Ironically, Hippolite is not the only outcast of nature; Myshkin remembers a time when he was in Switzerland and he, too, felt estranged from nature and its creations. The prince's response to this feeling, however, is very different from Hippolite's. Indirectly, however, Hippolite conveys the idea that people should delight in life. As a man who is condemned to die, much like the man of whom Myshkin speaks in Part I, Hippolite expresses the idea that people who are alive and healthy should take every opportunity to make themselves happy and enjoy life. Indeed, despite the negative outlook he has for himself personally, he espouses the belief that those who are able should live life to the fullest.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us