Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is one of the most powerful stories not only in classical Russian literature but also in Western European literature. This story shows Fyodor Dostoyevsky like a very good expert of human psychology. Dostoyevsky depicts one of the first antiheroes in classical literature, who is not romantic, who has so strong contradictions in his mind that motivate him to conflicting situations.
The novel consists of two parts. In the first part the narrator’s name is not mentioned and the main character describes himself like a sick, spiteful and unattractive man. He expresses his thoughts, and ideas. He attacks rationalism and free choice. He considers that a human apart cannot have his own will. Real and right life is to be passive, sluggish and inactive. The most interesting thing is that the hero is completely sure about his ideals and tries to convince a reader in them. The second part brings some other characters to show the main character’s inability to be part of the society. The Underground Man is completely beyond the society in which he lives or probably just exists. He is entirely sure that he is more intelligent and sensible than other people he meets in his life. The Underground Man has life full of shame and self-hate and this feeling of deficiency before other people clearly gives understanding that he has never had simple, happy relations with others. He builds his life, based on dramas and novels, because he doesn’t have his own experience to live real life like normal people. The discrepancy between real life and his hopes for life, which are based on stories, makes him weak and estranges more and more from society. The only feelings, which he has, are indignation, resentment, vengeance, abasement and degradation. The only way for the Underground Man to feel that he also takes part in life is to cause a conflict with other people and get in some way the feeling of abasement. This feeling gives him a taste of enjoyment and power. He satisfies himself humiliating other people actually weaker than he.
The hero of the Underground, the author of notes, is a collegiate assessor, recently retired after receiving a small inheritance.Now he is forty.He lives in a corner - wretched, horrid one in the outskirts of the town.He is also psychologically in the Underground because he is almost always alone in dreams and images, which are taken from the books.In addition, the nameless hero, displaying outstanding courage and intelligence, examines his own mind, own soul.The purpose of his confession is a kind of a test: can somebody be completely honest with himself and not be afraid to say the truth. He believes that an intelligent man of their time isdoomed to be spineless.Activity is for stupid and narrow-minded people.But the latter is the norm, and stronger consciousness is a real disease.The hero protests against identification of good and knowledge, against unreserved faith in the scientific progress and civilization. In fact in human nature there is not only the need for order, prosperity, happiness, but also the need for chaos, destruction and suffering.Palace of Crystal, in which there is no place for chaos, destruction and suffering, is unfounded as an ideal, because it deprives a person of freedom choice.And that’s why the Underground Man considers that Underground is better, because a person doesn’t have to pretend there.
In his twenty-four years, he served in the Office, and being spiteful official, rude, he hated and despised and, at the same time, was afraid of his ordinary “normal” colleagues.He considered himself as a slave, as any developed and decent man.He replaced communication with people with stronger reading; during the night he was leading a deprived life.
Once in the restaurant, watching the game of billiards he accidentally blocked the road to an officer.The officer was tall and strong, he silently moved the hero to another place.The Underground Man was about to start a decent, literary quarrel, but was afraid that it would not be taken seriously.For several years he dreamed of revenge, tried many times to not turn first, when they met on the Nevsky.When, finally, they ran full tilt, shoulder to shoulder, against one another, the officer did not pay attention to it, and the hero was fully avenged for everything. He was delighted. He was triumphant. He kept up his dignity; he did not yield a step, and put himself publicly on an equal social footing with him.
The human need for the Underground Man occasionally is to plunge into society to meet his single acquaintances: his superior at the office Syetotchkin and a former schoolmate Simonov.During the visit to the last, the hero learns about the upcoming dinner in honor of one of the classmates and decided to join the others.The Underground Man has fear of possible humiliation and resentment long before dinner: after all, reality of life is not governed by the laws of literature, and real people won’t fulfill their assigned roles in the imagination of the dreamer, such s to love him for his intellectual superiority.At dinner, he tries to hurt and humiliate companions.In response they cease to notice him.The Underground Man falls into the opposite extreme - a public self-humiliation. Companions go to a brothel, not inviting him along.Now, for the literary, he must revenge for his disgrace.He went to the brothel too, but his companions had already gone through the rooms of prostitutes.He was offered Lisa. He agreed.
After that, the hero starts a conversation with a girl. She was twenty years old; she is from Riga and has moved to St. Petersburg recently.He notices sensitivity in this girl and he decides to vent his anger on Lisa. He paints vivid pictures of prostitute’s terrible future and unavailability of happy family life for her.He reaches desired effect the girl is convulsive crying. He doesn’t know why, but he leaves his address. However, he feels a genuine pity and shame to Lisa for his cruel and unfair words. Three days later she comes.The hero opens his cynical motives of his behavior to the girl, but unexpectedly meets from her side the love and sympathy.He is also touched, but says that he cannot be good. But soon, ashamed of weakness, he takes advantage of Lisa, and for a complete triumph he sticks in her hand five rubles, like a prostitute. Lisa secretly leaves that money.
The Underground Man acknowledges that he writes his memoirs with shame. He fells just fear about deep relations with people.
The reader sees the Underground Man in his forty. He has a nihilistic point of view: he doesn’t have any desire to cooperate with others, and he has disdain for the whole society and everyone who lives in it. The age doesn’t influence his character. In twenty-four and in forty, he hates people, he is arrogant, shy, and unprejudiced, and he also still keeps some ideals. He worships literature, desire human attention, and wishes from others huge respect and admiration for his feelings and intellect. He is looking for the kind of idealism. In the second part of the novel, the reader sees the evidence, which confirms the hero cannot interact with other people and it’s a reason of his impossibility to start and form relationships with other characters of the novel. This impossibility leads to the end in any case and makes his Underground deeper.
From the very beginning the reader can see that this story is a true confession. The story is told from the first person. The main character is a nameless hero; he is telling his own story and addressing it to not real audience. It’s interesting, but the Underground Man is completely sure that the reader doesn’t like him, his thoughts and his way of life. The reader gets to know that the Underground Man lives alone in the outskirts of St. Petersburg and that he has bad health and poor moral qualities. The Underground Man believes that he has more intellect than others, because he prefers to reflect upon things but not act. All "direct" persons and men of action are active just because they are stupid and limited. He denies scientific ideas of the 19th century and, at some stage, finds them ridiculous and useless. That it is better to do nothing! Better conscious inertia! And so hurrah for underground!
Another thing, which the reader can notice, is that the Underground Man is full of contradictions. He wants to be openly honest and fair, but, at the same time, he doesn’t want to clear some information, which is hard to explain or he thinks it can be misunderstood. He depicts himself as spiteful and, then, says he cannot be spiteful because he just pretends to entertain himself. The Underground Man says that it is a crime to live after forty, but, at the same time, he is forty and his plans are to keep on living. To live longer than forty years is bad manners, is vulgar, immoral. He states that people who live longer than forty are fools and worthless fellows. But he is going to live to eighty. Though his plans are to keep on living, he insists that he is rather sick, but he doesn’t have any desire to visit a doctor. He tells the damp climate of St. Petersburg influences badly his health condition and the advice is to leave the city but he is not going to do that. He prefers to suffer and complain.
Dostoyevsky considers that all people have contradictions and in Notes from Underground he shows it like an example for everyone. People live in their own contradictions but not all have courage to admit that. Through the Underground Man Dostoyevsky shows the reflection of the society, and it doesn’t matter in what century a person lives in nineteenth or twenty first.
From the first page the Underground Man begins to describe himself. He affirms that his personality has many conflicting sides and agrees that most of these sides are very unpleasant and negative. He states he doesn’t have any morality and he doesn’t prefer to act. From his point of view, the people of action have limited mind. Then, he says he has conducted like a maliciious person for last twenty years. He started to act like that when he began to work in Office. When he was a collegiate assessor, his only desire was to make people unhappy and to make them feel uncomfortable. His excuses for such behavior are that in such miserable way he entertained himself.
The Underground Man says that he never liked his job of collegiate assessor. So when he inherited some sum of money from his relative, he immediately left his job and rented a poor room on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, where he lives alone. But he has a woman from the village who helps him with domestic chores.
The main character writes that his appearance is unattractive. And that’s why he lives in isolation completely alone. The reason for that is his appearance and personality. He closes in himself and rejects to interact with the society and the world. He believes that society, which has scientific thinking, is wrong.
The Underground Man has bad health, and needs medical care. It is dangerous for his health, but he prefers just to complain. He doesn’t want to leave St. Petersburg, though living in this city is expensive for him and bad for his health. It seems that he enjoys living in Underground. Through the story about the Underground Man’s past, his way of life, actions and deeds, it becomes clear that the character is an ill-natured and wretched person. The reader cannot find any positive statements in the novel. He blames himself, blames his city St. Petersburg, and blames all humans and mankind. And that is the reason that the mood of the novel at once becomes very grey and dreary.
The main character of the novel is a good example of a troublesome and unsure hero. It’s clear that the Underground Man is not the reflection of the thoughts and ideas of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky shows a huge chasm between his world vision and the hero’s. The reader easily can notice that Dostoyevsky speaks ironically of the events that the main character finds very serious. The Underground Man doesn’t accept almost all material and spiritual values and postulates of the society in which he tries to live, and this contradiction is one of the reasons of his conflicts with other people. But the main character tries to communicate and interact with people. For example, he thinks to start a duel during the dinner with his school fellows; another example, it is his cruel endeavor to save Liza, prostitute, from her life which is full of sin. Liza’s answer was quite positive and kind to the Underground Man, but he tries to hide very deep something good, which he has in his soul. He pushes her away because he doesn’t have any experience of love and care in his life. When Lisa goes away, he loses his chance to save himself from his Underground. The distance between the Underground Man and society is increasing and the main character begins to sink deeper in his Underground. He retired and now he is not occupied; he lives alone, in isolation in his poor apartment; he contradicts with his ideals and doesn’t want to take part in social life. Love means complete domination of another person for the Underground Man. But man is a frivolous and incongruous creature, and perhaps, like a chess player, loves the process of the game, not the end of it. Such idea predicts beforehand that he cannot start normal relations with Liza. His lack of love, happiness and care makes him vulnerable and destroys him inside. He cannot escape from himself. All his entire life, he suffers from loneliness. The main problem for him he is doomed to be unhappy because of his ideas and idealism.
Underground is an allegorical image. The Underground Man doesn’t have any relation to the revolutionary activity, because he finds any activity stupid and unnecessary. After some hesitation the Underground Man inclines to intellectual, reflecting weak will, but, at the same time, he envies people who don’t reason but simply and insolently act. Underground is another name for separateness. The key phrase is I am alone and they are all. The Underground Man’s main conception is the idea of personal superiority above others. The hero or, to say exactly, antihero (as he calls himself in the end of the novel) is unhappy and miserable but being a human he enjoys to torture other people.
A Palace of Crystal is an embodiment of future harmonious society and universal happiness, based on the laws of intellect. However, the hero is sure that there are a lot of people who can completely reject the universal harmony, based on rationality for the sake of causeless strong-willed self-affirmation.
Without any doubts the writer and the writer’s notes are fictional. However, the reader understands that such man with such contradictions can be easily found in any society. People have their contradictions. It is a fact. But courage is not to say truth for everybody to hear but to realize and to have internal power to change the way of life and thinking.
Related Literature essays
- Philosophical Journey or Suicidal Folly
- Gertrude and Ophelia
- Plowing the Dark by Richard Powers
- A Raisin in the Sun
- Tragedy of Mariam
- The Comedy of Camden
- Journal on I Know Why the Bird Sing by Maya Angelous
- Looking Backward
- The Development of Dante?s Love for Beatrice
- Honest Dishonesty of James Frey