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Encyclopedia > The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man is a short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky written in 1877. It chronicles the experiences of a man that decided that there was nothing to live for in the world, and therefore was determined to commit suicide. A chance encounter with a young girl changes his mind. Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (Russian: Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский, IPA: , sometimes transliterated Dostoyevsky,Dostoievsky, or Dostoevski  ) (November 11 [O.S. October 30] 1821 – February 9 [O.S. January 28] 1881) is considered one of two greatest prose writers of Russian literature, alongside close contemporary Leo Tolstoy. ...


Plot summary

The story opens with the narrator wandering the streets of St. Petersburg. He contemplates how he always been a ridiculous person, and also how he has recently come to the realization that nothing makes any difference to him anymore. It is this revelation that leads him to the idea of suicide, and the narrator even reveals that he had bought a nice revolver months ago with the intent of shooting himself in the head. Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербу́рг, English transliteration: Sankt-Peterburg), colloquially known as Питер (transliterated Piter), formerly known as Leningrad (Ленингра́д, 1924–1991) and... Suicide (Latin sui caedere, to kill oneself) is the act of intentionally taking ones own life. ...


Despite the dismal night, the narrator looks up to the sky and sees a solitary star. Shortly after seeing the star, a little girl comes running to him. The narrator gathers that something is wrong with the girl's mother, but he shakes the girl away and continues to his apartment.


Once in his apartment, the narrator sinks into a chair and places his gun on a table next to him. He hesitates to shoot himself because of the nagging feeling of guilt that plagued him ever since he eschewed the girl. The narrator grapples with internal questions for a few hours before falling asleep in his chair and descending into a vivid dream.


In his dream the narrator shoots himself in the heart. After he dies, he still has awareness of his surroundings, and he gathers that there is a funeral and he is buried. After an indistinct amount of time in his cold grave, water begins to drip onto his eyelid. The narrator begs for forgiveness, and suddenly his grave is opened by an unknown and shadowy figure. This figure pulls the narrator from his grave, and then the two soar through the sky and into space. After flying through space for a long time, the narrator is deposited on a planet, one much like Earth, but not the Earth that he left through suicide.


The narrator is deposited specifically on what appears to be an idyllic Greek island. Soon, the inhabitants of the island find him, and they are happy, blissful, sinless people. The narrator lives in this utopia for years and years, all the while amazed at the goodness around him.


One day, perhaps in jest or frivolity, the narrator tells a lie. This begins the corruption of the utopia. The lie engenders pride, and pride engenders a deluge of other sins. Soon the first murder occurs. Factions are made, wars are waged. Science supplants emotion, and the members of the former utopia are incapable of remembering their former happiness. The narrator pleads with the people, he begs for martyrdom, but they will not allow it.


Then the narrator wakes up. He is a changed man, thoroughly thankful for life. The first thing he does is help the girl that he pushed away earlier. He later becomes a preacher, and spends the rest of his days trying to recapture the truth he witnessed in his dream.


References

  • Magarshack, David, The Best Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky, (New York: The Modern Library, 2005), xi-xxvi.


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