The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Dostoevsky’s The Dream of a Ridiculous Man begins with the narrator believing that he is ridiculous and mad, and certainly depressed. He thinks of killing himself but when he goes home and contemplates this some more, he instead falls asleep and dreams.

In his dream, the narrator kills himself and flies to a place where people are idyllic and filled with love. He lives there for many years at peace, but then eventually and accidentally teaches them to lie. As soon as he does this, their society falls apart—people fight, kill, hurt animals, and keep slaves. The narrator tries to tell them to revert back to what they know, but they don’t want to. They say they choose knowledge over feeling. When the narrator wakes up, he realizes that he can teach people to be loving. He says:

“The chief thing is to love others like yourself, that's the chief thing, and that's everything; nothing else is wanted—you will find out at once how to arrange it all.”

This short story is a philosophical look at life and humanity. Dostoesvky illustrates the idea that humans are essentially good and if we choose love, our society can function peacefully. Yet he also counters this with the realization that we choose knowledge and put our own needs above others. The narrator is depressed before he has this realization, but afterwards, even though he knows life will not now be perfect, he is optimistic and filled with purpose.

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