Underground Novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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The Note from Underground Literature is the first person to narrate or confess a hyper-conscious, hateful man who lived 'underground.' Throughout Fyodor Dostoevsky's Underground Man book, the reader learns that the Underground Man was against the rationalism and utopianism of his day. Early socialist and logical egotists have suggested that imposing rationality alone is sufficient for a just and ideal universe (Wells 1). The Socialists believed that violent activity among human beings was the product of a false sense of benefit (Coverley 5). If the people of the world acting in their best interests, they would always avoid destructive and irrational deeds. Reason helps in the understanding of natural laws that govern human behavior. Therefore, it becomes easy to attain Utopia. The underground man opposed reasons and rational application in human life and advocated freedom to choice including human suffering in search of happiness. The paper argues that every attempt to build Utopia leads inexorably and predictably to Dystopia.

Humans are Irrational Creatures

The opening of the novel describes the Underground Man assessing his character. He did not consider himself worthy or attractive, sick, and truly spiteful. The man from his character generalizes about the human nature. He is opposed to modern man’s opinion claiming that the 19th-century intelligence cannot define a person’s character. The Underground Man argues against the ideas that human beings can naturally or rationally improve their desires in life indicating that the world is bloody and cruel. Besides, Underground Man compares human beings to animals (Dostoevsky 40). People can be mice or bulls and the underground man had thoughts that people treated him like a worthless fly. The similes in the story equate human beings to animals with no individual dignity. The idea is demeaning and a big blow to a man’s ego. Therefore, the man is not a unique creature but evolved from other species of organisms as everyone else. Humans are cruel, foolish, despicable, and irrational creatures.

Opposing Reason and Rational Thinking

The Underground Man opposes reason and rational thinking. He perceived these values as oppressive, and that underestimated the human desire for free will. The human has the capability to exert their will, even if it means running against their collective interests. He asserts that human should not value reason as illustrated in his masochistic characteristics. Instead of submitting to the law of reason that affirms dentists and doctor’s ability to cure a toothache and liver disease, the underground man decides to suffer in silence. The pain was unbearable but he could not give up into socialist’s ideas.

The underground man considers himself a cruel man and believes so. “I am a sick man. I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man.” (Dostoyevsky 3). However, he feels pleasure when he harms and annoys others. The underground man from the text irritates former schoolmates, have fantasies about how he would slap Zverkov. Also, the underground man makes Liza cry after her prostitution and devastating life. The malice from the underground man is a barrier used to separate him from the mainstream society. The Underground Man is a sadist to some extent, but at times he becomes a masochist. In masochist state, the man derives pleasure through pain. The underground man would ensure he undergoes through painful and awkward social situation. The pain from a toothache was enough to offer pleasure. Underground man’s feelings from the strange satisfaction found in despair and suffering were the primary reason for spitefully inflicting pain on himself and other members of the society.

The underground man pain inflicted on other members of the society and on himself. The man rebelled against oppressive rationality by acting neither in a manner that brings personal benefit to him nor to others. The underground man defied rationality, personal will, and aspirations rather than let logic drive his life. The world will never achieve Utopia with such character that brings suffering to fellow humankind. The example is paradoxical and almost absurd, but it is useful in describing Underground Man’s view and human nature. Dostoevsky highly suspected the utopian socialist and worried of their efforts to codify rational behavior in human. Dostoevsky feared that socialist was ignoring the complexity of the human beings. Freedom preached by proponents of Utopia aimed at attaining complete uniformity or totalitarianism.

Poor Decision Maker

The Underground Man could not make decisions and act with confidence due to the intense degree in observing consciousness. He watches “overly acute consciousness” and is crippled by his intelligence. That notwithstanding, he tends to over-think, and question everything and is impossible to settle on primary causes that allow next course of action (Dostoevsky 9). He could imagine the consequences that could befall him for his actions. He is aware of the counter arguments to use against those who oppose his actions. Additionally, the gentleman is conscious of a multiplicity of motives informing every decision made. He views human being as complicated in every choice they make than it appears o the surface. The complication around the man is evident through decisions made in doubts. Doubtful situations lead to impossible decision making as it is not possible to determine the next course of action.

In early days, the moral and religious imperatives in existence allowed people in doubt to gain confidence in determining actions and decisions. Modernity, however, dissolved absolutes in imperatives. People acting with confidence have narrow minds and too stupid to question their actions according to Underground Man (Dostoevsky, 112). According to him, the logic is the only remaining absolute where educated population observe laws of science and reason but do not take some time to question them. Therefore, Underground man and Dostoevsky believed that it is misguided to mindlessly and blindingly follow the laws of reason (Breger, 57). Total inaction is not the best strategy for people observing consciousness according to Dostoevsky. Rather, he believes that active people with fixed mind and not flexible is dangerous compared to inactive people whose mind can change and move stands.

The life of the Underground Man was full of imaginations but never followed them through to take the necessary actions. In Part two of the novel, he thinks of how he would slap Zverkov as he walked towards the brothel. ‘I am going there!’ I cried. ‘Either they shall all go down on their knees to beg for my friendship, or I will give Zverkov a slap in the face!’ (Dostoevsky 104). The man arrived late, and Zverkov had left the scene. The lack of taking actual actions leads the readers to inertia and boredom. Dostoevsky in the reading raise unanswerable questions about the pathetic character, Underground Man. There are people in the world who look unaware of a just society and always act abnormally. They cause chaos, conflicts, and war. Intelligence and education lack meaning where people cannot act accordingly. The author questions whether it is possible for the intelligent and acutely conscious people to have a functional life in the society today. These people have no place, as their actions are contrary to reason and lead to Dystopia in the society.

Man Is both Rational and Irrational

Dostoevsky argues that human beings are made up of both rational and irrational parts. Also, if a man functions logically, the next action will be predictable. “Merciful Heavens! But what do I care for the laws of nature and arithmetic, when, for some reason, I dislike those laws and the fact that twice two makes four?” (Dostoevsky 16). According to Dostoevsky, man is unpredictable in his action (17). Some people enjoy life and accrue happiness in suffering. In socialistic societies, man’s security and happiness is assured, but in the book, characters deny some men the right to suffer to improve their life. The great idea in the fiction is that suffering, at least according to Dostoevsky, help man attains a higher stature in the world (17). Therefore, man replicates all sins and through suffering become attuned with primary humanity elements. Consequently, if Utopia eliminates pain, man will lack a vital ingredient that assists him in improving life and becoming a greater person.

Dostoevsky fears that man living in utopia will end up becoming a mechanical being (Dostoevsky 32). An individual should become more than just a piano key or an organ stop. Moreover, the man is meant to have well-regulated mechanism just like a clock. A person, according to Dostoevsky, had the greatest thing, the freedom of choice (33). The man can choose anything he wished including suffering or things that can destroy man. When Utopia takes away the freedom, a human ceases to be a man. A person in this state can be compared to an ant. In other works, Dostoevsky talks of man’s freedom. In the novel, such as The Grand Inquisitor, the main character offered man happiness and security, but when Jesus came, he gave total freedom to people on the Earth. The man voluntarily chose Christ at whatever cost. Dostoevsky novels’ central theme is freedom to man.


The Underground Man can be a rebuttal to Chernyshevsky’s novel What Shall We Do? The story advocated Utopian society establishment by rationalism, socialism, and utilitarianism principles. Chernyshevsky proposed that man should have the needed security to have a happy life. Dostoevsky was afraid that socialistic and rationalistic societies would eliminate human freedom that was the greatest possession. Dostoevsky became an advocate of human freedom: to refuse, choose, and do one prefers. It was a great gift to man, and as such, the rationalistic, scientific, and utilitarian society would replace man’s freedom with happiness and security. Dostoevsky attacked Utopian socialist, as a person with happiness and security would lose his freedom. His thoughts were equating to doctrines of determination and fatalism that contradict freedom of man to determine and control his destiny. The world will never attain Utopia with opposition from people like Dostoevsky who oppose happiness but instead advocate freedom including human suffering.

Works Cited

Coverley, Merlin. Utopia. Pocket Essentials, 2010.

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, Richard Pevear, and Larissa Volokhonsky. Notes from Underground. Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

Paris, Bernard J. Dostoevsky's Greatest Characters: A New Approach to "Notes from Underground", Crime and Punishment, and the Brothers Karamazov. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Breger, Louis. Dostoevsky: The Author as Psychoanalyst. Transaction Publishers, 2009.

Wells, H. G. A Modern Utopia. Floating Press, 2009.

September 01, 2021
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