The idiot is a standard, apparently ‘normal’ character in the twentieth‑century central European novel. Tis naturalness is explained in part by the contemporary social organization of Europe, where many small communities neighbour large urban centres: in these small communities the idiot is a familiar character. This largely sociological explanation does not, however, provide a sufficient answer to the question of why the idiot became a literary figure, that is to say, a popular ‘cultural product’, in this place and time. According to the nineteenth‑century medical definition these beings live on the edge of the world of humans and the world of beasts, defying any attempt at precise categorization, just as they defy medical treatment. This definition offers a possibility for literature to find in the idiot – a figure of an uncertain identity oscillating between two worlds and by nature alien to the very idea of belonging anywhere – a figure ‘with qualities’ personifying the rejection or impossibility of any constant identity. Other hypotheses concern the ethics of the character and function that the author has determined for the idiot in the plot: the idiot would thus represent the absolute victim of the catastrophe of the twentieth century, which especially affected central Europe because of the absolute weakness and deprivation of the character. There is also another, opposite, yet complementary perspective – namely, that although the idiot, thanks to an undefined identity, could represent the last site of resistance to a world gone mad. It is first necessary, however, to understand why that is. A comparison of two characters, one created by Jaroslav Hašek in the Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za světové války (The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the World War, 1921–23), the other by Józef Wittlin in the planned trilogy Saga of the Patient Infantryman (of which only the first part, Sól ziemi, Salt of the Earth, was published, 1935) may help us to achieve a more precise definition of these different approaches and to determine what the idiot has contributed to the literature of central Europe.