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Written by Timothy Sexton
The Absolute Corruption of Society
Prince Myshkin is too good for a world like this. That is the ultimate message of the novel from which can be extrapolated the far more expansive theme that this world is good too corrupt for anyone to achieve very much goodness. Or, looked at from another perspective: those who attain goodness of a majestic level can expect to live a life of misery, unhappiness and failure. A dark theme o be sure, but just look at the title and you get an idea of the existential dilemma being proposed.
The Existential Dilemma
You have the choice to pursue a life of goodness. To stand face to face against the corrupting influences of the choice made by the rest of the world. In that choice comes the certainty that you shall be thought an idiot. As well as the certainly that the choices you make will hand you a life that most people will look at as being idiotic. The choice is yours, Dostoevsky, makes clear. Nobody enforces a choice of being corrupt or not upon you. Likewise, a life of pure goodness can only arrive as a choice. The existential dilemma hangs upon this knowledge because essentially you can either be an idiot or be absolutely like every single other person. You can either be you as a unique individual or you as a carbon copy of humanity. The implicit accusation here being, of course, that a copy not only isn’t unique, but may not even be fully human.
Innocence Is not Ignorance
Prince Myskhkin is not just good, he is an innocent among wolves. The wolves look upon his innocence as having a direct corollary to ignorance. In other words, the only person who could possibly exhibit such an innocent outlook toward a corrupt world is a person with no knowledge of that corruption. In reality, the good Prince is even more attuned and aware of what lies in the hearts of others. The fact that Rogozhin has a murderous intentions does not fly beneath his radar nor does the darkness that drives may around him. His innocence should not be confused with ignorance and the greater theme at work here is that one need not be a fool—or an idiot—in order to be good.
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