Book Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
I would rather call this short story a lament on the following grounds:
a) It admits it cannot change things but proceeds to tell us what it thinks anyway.
b) It starts off on a morose note and diligently maintains the tone throughout.
However this is not an ordinary lament. It’s an out and out Christian lament that rages against science, rationality and man’s relentless quest towards greater understanding. It denounces earth as a place where the “consciousness of life is higher than life, where the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness”. And other Christian mumbo jumbo. As a man of science, I can’t abide by such talk even if it’s Dostoyevsky who’s doing the talking.
This is how the plot unfolds. The unnamed protagonist has been looking at the darker side of things since he was a seven year old kid. Let’s call him Gloominov. Gloominov wears apathy as armour and finds little pleasure or meaning in mundane trivialities. One particularly gloomy evening, as he is walking down a particularly gloomy street, the sight of a lone star studded in an inky sky imbues him with a clear purpose. He decides to shoot himself in the head with a shiny new revolver he bought two months ago for the very same purpose. Just then a little girl appears at his feet. She tugs at his pants and grovels and pleads with him to save his dying Mamma. In his deathly haze, he proceeds to discard morality as a useless burden that people who intend to live any further carry inside their equally worthless souls. He shoos her away callously following which she runs across the street to plead with another passerby she catches sight of.
He reaches home, sets his revolver on the table, settles himself down comfortably on his armchair and is ready to carry out the act. He then feels an unexpected pang of regret. He remembers the little girl. He decides he has to settle that matter first. He gropes around his mind to find some justification for his reprehensible deed earlier. Thus contemplating, sleep catches him unawares and he dozes off in his armchair. It is then that he glimpses the truth. An undeniable truth that will change his life and is supposed to change ours. An epiphany within a dream.
Here I won’t give out any more spoilers. It’s important that Dostoyevsky do this job. It should suffice to say that after waking up from this dream, Gloominov gives up on his gloom and takes to the life of a preacher who vows to sing an undying song of love and brotherhood. He preaches forth his dream well knowing that it will be dismissed as a hallucination, as dementia, as naivete. Rightly so, for dismissing it is what I’m going to do anyway.
To some extent, the titular ridiculous man is Dostoyevsky himself who was raised in a pious Christian family and fingered the Gospel in his cradle. He is the nihilist turned prophet, the madman, the preacher who is compelled to narrate a tale of truth, love and harmony. For this, he is aware that he is condemned to the ridicule and contempt of the multitude who subscribe to a different version of the truth. The masses who claim that in suffering lies beauty, who love themselves more than others and who utter lies like it is the most natural thing in the world to do.
The writing is powerful and the imagery is stunning as Dostoyevsky navigates artfully across the protagonist’s disturbed mind. Which is why I give it three stars. However ultimately, this right here is a tale that climbs up a moral pedestal and flatly refuses to get down. At best, it is Christian balm for the soul distressed.
Here’s a link to a pdf of the story: http://www.colorado.edu/studentgroups/shortfiction/RidiculousMan.pdf