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The first social problem that the Underground Man comes across is utilitarianism. The narrator questions the utilitarianism theory, which holds that the best action is the one that brings the highest benefits with minimal negatives.
According to the narrator, utilitarianism should be redefined to entail a form of free will that covers, “one’s own free unfettered choice, one’s own caprice- however wild it might be, one’s own fancy worked up at times to a frenzy…most advantageous advantage” (Dostoevsky 20). This aspect explains why he does not visit a doctor for the treatment of his liver problem because suffering is his ‘free will’.
Another social problem is Russian Romanticism. According to the narrator, Russian Romanticism seeks “to see everything and to see often incomparably more clearly than our very most positive minds do” (Dostoevsky 40). This perception is intolerant and fastidious in the eyes of the Underground Man.
What he does wrong
The most outstanding wrong that the Underground Man does is to remain inactive. He confesses, “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 does not gather the courage to do anything. For instance, even though he is suffering from a liver disease, he does not gather the courage and energy to visit a doctor. In a bid to justify his inertia, he resorts to over analysis of every situation.
When he sees a young man thrown out of a window in a tavern, he prepares for a fight, but after meeting the responsible officer, he does not confront him due to lack of “moral courage”. This aspect leads the narrator into doing wrong things. He sticks to an unsatisfying job just to pay bills and “live, at least somehow, a little” (Dostoevsky 13). In addition, he is derisive towards beauty, stateliness, and literacy, and thus he criticizes everything that falls in his way.
Moreover, he does not know how to win affection and love. He follows his former schoolmates to a bar even though he knows he is unwanted. After no one realizes him, he insults his friends openly and hopes to win affection thereafter. He uses the wrong approach whilst trying to talk Lisa out of prostitution. Instead of understanding why she is a prostitute, he resorts to lecturing her on the vagaries of prostitution.
In a recap, the Underground Man is indecisive, and thus he ends up doing everything wrongly. For instance, even though he gives Lisa his address, he laments that decision later and when she visits him, he ends up insulting her.
The view of himself
The underground man views himself as useless. He opens his notes by stating, “I am a sick man…I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man” (Dostoevsky 1). This assertion underscores how the narrator sees himself. This form of self-perception is the root of every wrong decision that he makes. At one point, he notes that he is intelligent; however, this virtue attracts shame. He says, “I am to blame, first, because I am more intelligent than everyone around me” (Dostoevsky 6).
The man is correct in his assessment because a person is a product of his or her thoughts. From his self-assessment, the narrator is a reflection of his thoughts and this aspect explains why he does what he does; hence, his assessment is right.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Notes from Underground. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1993. Print.