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  • Writer's pictureAlex Sun

Some Interpretations on Dostoevsky's The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

In the short novel The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, Fyodor Dostoevsky depicts vividly an engaging dream of a “ridiculous” man. While narrating the story, he implicitly conveys to readers his thoughts on happiness, desires, and the eventual meaning of our life.

Though the story itself is very straightforward to understand, the opinions of Dostoevsky seem to be obscure and hard to extract. For this reason, I have seen many interpretations, and each makes sense. On my part, I think what Dostoevsky wants to say through this passage is that the happiness is the simplest and also the hardest thing to achieve. It’s the simplest thing because one doesn’t even need to make efforts and strive to get happiness, just like those people on that planet in the dream. It’s also the hardest because the pursuit of meaningless consciousness hinders one’s discovery of his own happiness, and it’s people’s natural inclination to be curious and to seek knowledge. Dostoevsky also underscores, at the end of his passage, that if there’s a really a law or formula of happiness, then it’s “to love others like yourself. That’s the chief thing, and that’s everything; nothing else is wanted.”

“I suddenly dreamt that I picked up the revolver and aimed it straight at my heart – my heart, and not my head.” Dostoevsky stresses that the dreamer shot at his heart but not head, but why does he has to make that emphasis? At the end of the previous chapter, Dostoevsky also writes “Dreams seem to be spurred on not by reason but by desire, not by the head but by the heart.” In our common sense, heart represents or embodies our desires and emotions, whereas head symbolizes our reason and consciousness. Dostoevsky wants to implicitly show to readers that the dreamer goes to and comes back from another planet with a brand-new heart, and his old heart has died. However, his consciousness is still the same as before, which later beget the planet corruption.

“That came to me of themselves, they surrounded me, kissed me.” “how beautiful they were!” “I feel as though their love is still flowing out to me from over there.” Since the ending of Chapter III, Dostoevsky’s choice of words has become positive and radiant. He depicts vividly a place with no violence and full of love and harmony. The protagonist is a person with no social popularity and is considered as a “ridiculous” man in his own society. The gloomy world seen by the dreamer on our earth and this Utopia create a striking contrast. It’s highly possible that this utopian world is also, in Dostoevsky’s mind, an ideal world to live in. The happiness of those people is also an element Dostoevsky wants to find in the modern society.

“They desired nothing and were at peace; they did not aspire to knowledge of life as we aspire to understand it.” “But their knowledge was higher and deeper than ours; for our science seeks to explain what life is, aspires to understand it in order to teach others how to love, while they without science knew how to live.” “They has no temples, but they has a real living…” Those people, though they don’t know, are spiritually happy and accomplished. Dostoevsky showcases that being happy requires no knowledge and consciousness. After all, the ability to turn happy is free and comes with no cost. All of these harmonies and beauties vanished when the dreamer taught a person how to lie. Those people become violent and hypocritic. They think their understanding of science and their provincial consciousness can give their justification. As described by Dostoevsky, “Knowledge is higher than feeling, the consciousness of life is higher than life. Science will give us wisdom, wisdom will reveal the laws, and the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness.”

Dostoevsky shows that the consciousness does not boost but ruin the happiness. Then, for our modern society, should we just go back to our primitive form and enjoy that crude happiness? Dostoevsky is not that radical and he also does not suggest that. I think what he tries to show is that we shouldn’t forget our eventual goal while making scientific and societal development. Our eventual goal of all of the works we have done is the pursuit of happiness, which is incredibly easy to obtain.

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