The Dream of a Ridiculous Man
"The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" (Russian: Сон смешного человека, Son smeshnovo cheloveka) is a short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky written in 1877. It chronicles the experiences of a man who decides that there is nothing of any value in the world. Slipping into nihilism with the “terrible anguish” he is determined to commit suicide. A chance encounter with a young girl, however, begins the man on a journey that re-instills a love for his fellow man. It was first published in A Writer's Diary.
The story opens with the narrator wandering the streets of St. Petersburg. He contemplates how he has always been a ridiculous person, and also, how recently, he has come to the realization that nothing much matters to him any more. It is this revelation that leads him to the idea of suicide. The narrator of the story reveals that he had bought a revolver months previous with the intent of shooting himself in the head.
Despite a dismal night, the narrator looks up to the sky and views a solitary star. Shortly after seeing the star, a little girl comes running towards him. The narrator surmises that something is wrong with the girl's mother. He shakes the girl away and continues on 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 a nagging feeling of guilt that has plagued him ever since he shunned the girl. The narrator grapples with internal questions for a few hours before falling asleep in the chair. As he sleeps, he descends into a very vivid dream.
In the dream, he shoots himself in the heart. He dies but he is still aware of his surroundings. He gathers that there is a funeral and he is also buried. After an indeterminate amount of time in his cold grave, water begins to drip down onto his eyelids. The narrator begs for forgiveness. Suddenly his grave is opened by an unknown and shadowy figure. This figure pulls the narrator up 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 then placed on what appears to be an idyllic Greek island, identified as the earth before the Fall. Soon the inhabitants of the island find him, and they are happy, blissful, sinless people. The narrator lives in this utopia for many years, all the while amazed at the goodness around him.
One day the narrator accidentally teaches the inhabitants how to lie. This begins the corruption of the utopia. The lies engender 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 to return to their former state, or at least to kill him for his role in their Fall, but they will not allow it.
The narrator then awakens. He is a changed man, thoroughly thankful for life and convinced of man's basic goodness and potential for incredible love. He dedicates his life to teaching the promise of a Golden Era, a time on earth where everyone loves his brother as he loves himself.
At the conclusion of the story, the narrator states that he tried to find the little girl, and that he will go on and on, presumably with the intent of atoning for his past lack of kindness.
A BBC production called "The Dream" (1990) was adapted by Murray Watts from "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man". "The Dream" is a monologue. The director was Norman Stone ("Shadowlands") and it stars Jeremy Irons. There is a short animation movie adapted from the story by Aleksandr Petrov, also titled The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.
- Magarshack, David, The Best Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky, (New York: The Modern Library, 2005), xi-xxvi