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Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky Literature Analysis Essay

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Updated: May 1st, 2020

Dostoevsky notes that the Underground Man not “only may but must exist in our society, taking under consideration the circumstances under which our society has generally been formed” (1). The Underground Man is banned from the society in which he lives. As the main character, the Underground Man exemplifies the antihero in many aspects. First, it is important to define the “antihero” concept as “a protagonist who lacks the attributes that make a heroic figure, as nobility of mind and spirit, a life or attitude marked by action or purpose, and the like” (“Dictionary.com” par.1).

In both the movie and book, Notes from Underground, the main character fails to portray the attributes of a hero. A hero stands out by making and executing heroic decisions. However, the Underground Man’s inactivity and indecision disqualifies him from becoming a hero. This paper highlights how the main character in the movie and book, Notes from the Underground, exemplifies antihero.

The book, just like the movie, starts with main character’s words, “I am a sick man…I am a spiteful man…I was uncivil” (Dostoevsky 1). From these sentiments, we can see a hopeless man who does not have any goals. He is looking for a path to enable him to live in peace; unfortunately, his inactivity and indecision cannot yield the desired results. He is so paralysed by having to select what to do that his decision is not to choose. His over analysis of every situation makes him hypocritical of every situation and thus he does not know what to do.

For example, when he says, “for the most part I preferred being alone not trying to justify… no that’s a lie…” (Dostoevsky 42), it becomes clear that he is very confused about himself. In addition, the man knows that the only reason he cannot execute any task is personal doubts, which emerge from over analysis of everything. Therefore, this form of confusion, which leads to indecision and inertia paint the Underground Man as an anti-hero as heroes take charge of their lives and circumstances to direct the plot of a story or movie.

In addition, heroes overcome their situations and personal differences to establish working relationships in their lives. However, the Underground Man does not have any normal loving relationships with other people. For instance, when he follows his friends to a club rand realises that no one cares about him, he resorts to abusing his friends openly, which forces them to leave in a huff. A hero mends differences in a bid to espouse admirable characters, but there is nothing to admire in the Underground Man.

The Underground Man is embroiled in a life full of shame and loathing. For instance, he only remains in the civil service job just to pay the bills. He does not enjoy his work or life. He lives with a liver disease, but he cannot make the decision to visit a doctor for treatment because to him, doctors should not exist. In addition, he is so inactive that he cannot even those in need like the boy thrown out of window in a club. Even though he gathers the courage to move into the tavern and confront the person responsible, once he sees the officer he cringes and fails to confront him due to lack of ‘moral courage’.

In addition, the Underground Man regards himself highly as opposed to all other people. However, this view is hypocritical as his ‘intelligence’ leads to inactivity, as opposed to the ‘lack of intelligence’ as portrayed by his friends. He even doubts his version of intelligence by saying, “perhaps I really regard myself as an intelligent man only because throughout my entire life I’ve never been able to start or finish anything” (Dostoevsky 15). He has no experiences that give him hope and expectation. All of these qualities are those of an antihero.

The Underground Man starts a journey to escape from reality when he visits the brothel. There he asks for someone with whom he can have special time together, but in essence, he is looking for an individual to take him away from reality. Therefore, he selects a desperate woman, Lisa, because he thinks that he can escape from real life with her. He also feels that Lisa resembles him. When he sleeps with her, he has no feelings at that moment. He simply thinks about what his friends have done to him, and so he uses Lisa to escape each pain in his heart.

In other words, the Underground Man cannot sustain a romantic relationship and thus he decides to buy love by engaging Lisa. Unfortunately, the man cannot sustain even ‘purchased’ romance as after giving Lisa his address, he laments that decision. Therefore, when Lisa shows up at his apartment, he resorts to chauvinistic tirade where he abuses her both physically and verbally.

However, in confusion, the man runs after Lisa to seek forgiveness only to realise that she is gone forever. At this point, a hero would have looked for ways to reconcile with Lisa. However, the underground man resorts to self-justification by noting that he abused Lisa for her own good. Lisa’s appearance in Notes from Underground makes it evident that she is the Underground Man’s tool to escape reality. He uses her as box where he can lock away all of his problems and feelings. He confesses what he is doing when he says, “I cannot be good.” which highlights his conflict with his feelings about Lisa.

Finally, the Underground Man does not achieve his aim. He continues to live a miserable life because he is his own problem. He lives in self-denial, as he cannot appreciate the fact that his view of life is twisted. In addition, his view concerning himself is pathetic as shown by the words uttered at the beginning of the story and movie as aforementioned.

The hatred towards women, friends, and life at large emerges from the self-loathing nature of the Underground Man. He creates an irreconcilable distance between himself and the real world in the quest to avoid reality. At one point, he notes that he is tired of the underground life, which is a clear indication of a man tired of escaping the reality.

He admits, “I want to test whether it’s possible to be entirely frank at least with oneself and dare to face the whole truth” (Dostoevsky 33). This escapist nature paints the Underground Man as an antihero. Even though one can interpret his mission to make decisions based on truth and facts as heroic, the man defies all traditional heroic values like romance and superiority, and thus he is an antihero.

Works Cited

2014.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Notes from Underground. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1993. Print.

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