The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Science and rationalism are not the boundaries of life: The ridiculous man, especially through his encounter with the poor, sad little girl and his dream of paradise, learns what for him is an overriding truth. He discovers that there is more to life than mere logic and scientific reality: love, goodness, pity, and a higher realm infuse the universe and are all-important.

Life has meaning and evil can be combated: The ridiculous man is initially going to commit suicide, thinking life is meaningless. However, his encounter with the poor young child convinces him that he has a contribution to make to the wider society.

To pursue a holy life means being considered ridiculous or a madman: In a theme expounded upon much more at length in his novel The Idiot, Dostoevsky shows that it is precisely for trying to live a genuinely Christlike life that the ridiculous man is considered ridiculous or crazy. Both in heaven—when it degenerates to evil and the man wants to bring paradise back by sacrificing himself—and back on earth, the man is considered ridiculous for his Christlike love and caring. (Likewise, the "idiot" is called that because he tries to live in a Christlike way.) Dostoevsky thus condemns his society for pretending to be Christian while, in actuality, living as if Christianity is so ridiculous only a crazy person would enact it.

Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" is a short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky that explores the themes of madness and the perception of society regarding those who are deemed "crazy." However, the perception of the madman, or "ridiculous man," is also articulated in the story. The madman believes that it is society that is mad, because the madman believes he is the one who possess the truth. The story examines the importance of subjective experience and multiple views on mental illness.

The story also has the theme of existentialist dread. The narrator accepts the fact that he is considered "ridiculous" but does not care because he believes life is meaningless. This leads to his decision to commit suicide. The plan is interrupted after a chance encounter with a young girl. He feels sympathy for her impoverished existence, and this shows him that he is still capable of emotions.

Another theme is the concept of evil. After his fantastical dream of a destroyed civilization, he realizes that evil is not a natural trait of humans, and that people still have the chance to revert back to their innocent state.

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