Analysis

Chapter 11 resolves the dramatic tension that builds in the preceding several chapters. The chapter begins with Kolya's reaction to the scandal and his opinion on the prince's response to Ganya's slapping him in the face. Kolya tells Myshkin that, unlike many of the others, he approves of the prince's behavior. In accordance with the conventions of society at the time, the prince should have challenged Ganya to a duel in response to the slap. However, Myshkin did not do so. Kolya's naïveté regarding the duel contrasts with the common societal view of Ganya's action and Myshkin's response. The prince's unconventionality is also evident when he asks General Ivolgin to take him to Nastassya Filippovna's home even though he has not been invited. After Myshkin loses hope in the General taking him, the prince insists that Kolya show him to the woman's house instead. Kolya expresses surprise that the prince would go there uninvited and not properly dressed. Once again, through Kolya's response to the prince's actions, we are informed about how most characters in the novel react to the prince. Kolya, though he acknowledges the societal perspective, sides with Myshkin, even reassuring him by saying that Nastassya Filippovna will surely like the prince's originality in coming uninvited.

A common method of characterization Dostoevsky uses in the novel is looking at how particular characters describe other characters. Often we see that the characters project their own personalities upon others. For example, in Chapter 11, in describing Nastassya Filippovna, Ganya projects his own personality on her in calling her a weak, irritable, and vain woman. All of these are qualities that describe Ganya very well, but that completely miss the mark in describing the real Nastassya Filippovna. She acts not out of vanity, but rather out of spite and despair. Ganya is also wrong about Nastassya Filippovna loving him or about her being sure of his love for her. She is not fooled by his pretense of affection, nor does she feel anything but utter contempt for him.

Much like in the previous chapter, when the prince is able to see through Nastassya Filippovna's behavior to her essence, in Chapter 11 the prince guesses Ganya's essence perfectly on the mark. Though it is too painful for him to admit himself, Ganya is indeed just an ordinary, average man. Indeed, Ganya wishes more than anything else not to be average. This dissatisfaction with himself is likely the primary reason for his ambition. While Myshkin sees Ganya's essence immediately, he fails to see that Ganya wishes to deny it. Thus, the prince does not really understand why Ganya is so displeased to hear what Myshkin says about him. For the prince, being ordinary is much better than being evil, so he feels very joyful to have learned that Ganya is capable of an earnest apology, as it suggests that he is not wicked.

Chapter 12 introduces the character of Hippolite. From the very beginning, Dostoevsky draws a sharp contrast between Hippolite and Myshkin. Unlike Kolya, Hippolite does not approve of the prince's response to Ganya's slap; in fact, such behavior enrages him. Hippolite is yet another character on the verge of destruction. He is near death, battling consumption. However, unlike Nastassya Filippovna or Rogozhin, Hippolite feels no affinity towards the prince.