It’s quite clear that many elements in “Dream of a Ridiculous Man” are manifested in Brothers Karamazov. A particular vein of this manifestation that I observed was in the nature of the suffering of the ridiculous man and characters in BK. In both stories, Dostevsky connects one’s personal suffering with that of another, and argues that it is in extending beyond oneself and sharing in that other’s suffering that one truly loves. Suffering is then not only an important facet of life but a necessary one—not only in the sense that to be human and dwell on earth is to suffer but that it is through suffering that redemption and regeneration can be realized.
The ridiculous man is saved by the girl, but more particularly, by her suffering. Her suffering arouses feelings inside of him that he cannot ignore because of human awareness of another’s suffering. It distracts him from his own suffering, and piques in him compassion, the other half of the expression of love. Indeed, without first loving the girl as a human being, the ridiculous man could not, frankly, give a damn that she was suffering (feel compassion). I think that the crux lie in what exactly he was supposed to do then, being aware of her suffering. The story changes and ends with his consideration of this other person, this girl’s suffering. It changed the story mainly in that it was heading towards a certain conclusion (his suicide) and ended in its opposite (his redemption). He admits in Part II: “The little girl, in fact, had saved me, for by these questions I put off my own execution.” He is saved by her suffering—not his own, but hers. These “questions” are actually the product of his conscience contemplating his feelings of suffering and compassion. Enigmatically, he saves himself by saving her, or at least by desiring to save her. At the story’s end, he proclaims that he found the girl and will endure. If he had not found the girl, he would not have been fully redeemed because his feeling would not have culminated in a good deed, but he still would have learned this most valuable lesson—that saving oneself is in saving another. Another aspect of this mode of thought is found in the ridiculous man’s dream. Part of the reason why he feels so awful about the woes of the alien people is not only that he recognizes their suffering, but that he is responsible for it. He undoubtedly feels some of that same responsibility for the little girl’s suffering. It spurs in him the question of why did he not save her, and this causes him to forego self-inflicted execution and ultimately save her, thereby redeeming and regenerating himself.
It is interesting then, to take a look back at some of the characters in BK. Mitya says: “I want to suffer and be purified by suffering (509). It is interesting that he mentions purification here, as if suffering is a way to mitigate guilt, and his in particular. The narrator mentions similarly on page 508 that Dimitri is engulfed in ecstasy because he wants to bear the suffering of the “wee one.” I think that Ivan deals with his guilt and suffering in a similar manner by deciding to defend his brother’s innocence. It is a way to mitigate his own guilt in his father’s death—he thereby has to share in his brother’s suffering. I think that one of the essential differences between the two brothers is that Mitya whole-heartedly believes in the rightness of what he’s doing whereas Ivan thinks that to save his brother and share in guilt is virtuous, but does not believe in it. In other words, he thinks that it is virtuous but does not believe that there is such a thing. “Everything is permitted” and therefore nothing is actually good, right, and virtuous.
The paradox: that humans are inherently selfish but can only be saved by saving another. It is then a matter of sacrifice. By sacrificing, we gain. I think this may be another paradox because I do not know if we concretely gain. I also do not know if Dostoevsky shows how exactly these characters that shared in another’s suffering gain because of it. Perhaps that is not of importance at all. I am sure that I am missing something but I do not understand why one would choose to suffer if their livelihood did not improve in the least bit, but only worsen because of their chosen suffering. Maybe the idea is that by universal sharing of burden there is always someone there to bear some of yours?