Meets at the Park Reading Group: Dostoevsky’s The Idiot

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Discussion Questions by Gabe Durham

1. Is it nice outside today? Discuss.

2. Dostoevsky once wrote that in The Idiot his idea was to portray “a beautiful man”. Do you think he meant to say “a handsome man” but just got confused for a second? Or can we read much of Myshkin’s awkwardness as a crisis of sexual identity? Briefly flip through the pages and try to find an instance of Myshkin wearing a dress or women’s undergarments or jewelry.

3. In Part One, Chapter Ten, Ganya tells Myshkin that “nothing offends a man of our day and our race more than to tell him he is not original, that he is weak-willed, has no particular talents and is an ordinary person.” Discuss how different 21st century Americans are from 19th century Russians. Is it nice that we have freed ourselves from this animal lust for originality and talent? Does our superiority make arcane books like The Idiot a pain to read or can we use these books as a self-esteem booster?

4. How about Myshkin’s proposal to Nastasya? Awkward am I right? Have you ever been suddenly stirred to publicly proposed marriage to someone? How’d that go for you? If your proposal was shot down, what reason was given?

5. Did anyone remember sunscreen? If so, would they be willing to share? Is anyone still peeling from last week? Compare and contrast each others’ tans and burns. Are you jealous of the woman who is always tan but never seems to burn?

6. Imagine a conversation between Prince Myshkin and the “underground man” from Notes From the Underground. Would Myshkin in his Christ-like patience be able to stand the guy, or would Myshkin fake a seizure to escape?

7. That general tells some whoppers! Discuss old men you know who lie to get attention. Do they know they are doing it? Have they ever, like the general, claimed to have met Napoleon as a boy? Or Teddy Roosevelt? Does Alzheimer’s actually exist or do many people just get mischievous near the end?

8. Myshkin, on the death penalty: “To kill for murder is a punishment incomparably worse than the crime itself.” Here we go, now things are about to get interesting. What do you think of the death penalty? Start by going around the room but then cede the floor to those with the loudest voices. (Note: Make sure everybody comes to a consensus on this one. None of that agree to disagree crap. If necessary, send that sunscreen around again.)

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