Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 626
The wisest of all, in my opinion, is he who can, if only once a month, call himself a fool—a faculty unheard of nowadays.
Although Ivanovitch is accused of being mad, he shows wisdom in his embrace of humility, which he refers to as a lost virtue. He goes on to state that in the old days, a person would at least once a year realize he was a fool, but that has now disappeared. Foolishness and wisdom are confused now, he says, and he contends this is done on purpose.
Something strange is happening to me. My character is changing and my head aches. I am beginning to see and hear strange things, not voices exactly, but as though someone beside me were muttering, “bobok, bobok, bobok!”
Bobok means little bean or nonsense/gibberish, and as the title indicates, is at the heart of this story. What is "bobok?" Is it really nonsense or is it a little bean that will grow and produce a harvest? How do we distinguish the nonsense or madness from what is wise?
I looked into the graves—and it was horrible: water and such water! Absolutely green, and . . . but there, why talk of it! The gravedigger was baling it out every minute. I went out while the service was going on and strolled outside the gates.
In his work, Dostoyevsky doesn't shy away from describing death with all its unpleasant aspects and this story is no exception. Ivanovitch uses unpleasant imagery to describe the graves and the smell of the corpses, as well as the heaviness of the coffins, breaking his own rule about "decorum" in writing. Ivanovitch almost offhandedly juxtaposes these images with a statement of enjoying, with others, a hearty lunch, as if people are not as upset by death as they might claim.
He explains all this by the simplest fact, namely, that when we were living on the surface we mistakenly thought that death there was death. The body revives, as it were, here, the remains of life are concentrated, but only in consciousness. I don’t know how to express it, but life goes on, as it were, by inertia.
In the above quote, the obsequious lower court official Semyon Yevseitch Lebeziatnikov explains to higher ranked Klinevitch the opinion of the philosopher Platon Nikolaevitch as to how the corpses, though dead, can still communicate with one another. Clearly, death in this story is not the end. It is ominous, however, that life goes on by inertia, suggesting change will be difficult and that what we are in life follows us into the grave.
The great thing is that we have two or three months more of life and then—bobok! I propose to spend these two months as agreeably as possible, and so to arrange everything on a new basis. Gentlemen! I propose to cast aside all shame.
Klinevitch, in this quote, shows he completely has missed the philosopher Lebeziatnikov's point that the dead are granted a two to three month reprieve to try to reclaim their souls from the moral stench of living. Instead, he grasps eagerly onto to the idea that he has a few more months of life and determines to enjoy it and to do so without any shame. The others agree with this sentiment, showing that the moral depravity they took with them to the grave is not likely to be shed.
I shall go to other tombs, I shall listen everywhere. Certainly one ought to listen everywhere and not merely at one spot in order to form an idea. Perhaps one may come across something reassuring.
Ivanovitch says he will seek other graves in order to perhaps find conversation more ideal—or is that simply a rationalization?
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