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Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky: Novel Analysis

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Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground is not only a hallmark of 19th century Russian literature, but also a literary embodiment of several philosophical ideals that are still discussed today. The novel is divided into two central parts, Underground and Apropos of the Wet Snow. Underground is an existentialist exploration of the consciousness and mentality of an unknown narrator. This narrator, often referred to as the Underground Man, represents a revolutionary type of protagonist in Russian literature. While previous texts have portrayed their respective protagonists as concerned with social conditions, Dostoevsky’s character is primarily focused on the meaning of his own existence and whether he has any sort of value or potential. This model explains why many historians have considered Notes from Underground to be one of the first truly existentialist texts. Apropos of the Wet Snow serves to take the ideas set forth by the narrator in Underground and demonstrate them through actual events that the narrator goes through. What this accomplishes is that it reduces the highly complex philosophies of Underground into relatable and understandable terms.

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Thesis: These two sections are connected by the consciousness of the narrator, and this further speaks on Dostoevsky’s style of writing.

Dostoevsky’s Underground provides the foundation for the stories told in Apropos of the Wet Snow. Told in the first person, this narrator pens a work analogous to a collection of diary entries in which he elaborates on not only his views of the world, but also his views of himself. From the introduction, the narrator appears disgruntled and bitter, yet it would be incorrect to limit him to this definition. He is a complex individual, demonstrated when he explains “It was not only that I could not become spiteful, I did not know how to become anything: neither spiteful nor kind, neither a rascal nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect” (210). What this reveals about the narrator is that his personality is a compilation of contradictory qualities that ultimately result in the absence of a concrete identity. Personally, this definition seems like an adequate reflection of people in general. It would be safe to assume that Dostoevsky painted his narrator in this way in order to exemplify a certain reality about human behavior. Unlike previous protagonists who were defined by certain traits, Dostoevsky’s narrator struggles with the fact that he does not embody a defined personality. This struggle is relatable, as we now consider the difficulty of defining ourselves to be both a realistic and expected aspect of life. The fact that Dostoevsky realized this concept and applied it to a mid-19th century work exhibits his revolutionary thinking. The author was clearly a critic of other writers that strived to establish their characters as ones that adhere to a confined set of characteristics. Through the narrator in this text, Dostoevsky creates an accurate portrayal of the existentialist battle that all of us fight on a daily basis.

Dostoevsky’s Apropos of the Wet Snow takes the psychological nuances of the Underground Man that were explored in Underground and applies them practically through various narratives. This second part of Notes from Underground can actually be seen as three separate tales joined together by the Underground Man’s consciousness. The first story describes the narrator’s encounter with an indifferent officer, the second story describes the character’s interaction with his former classmates, and the last story illustrates the Underground Man’s communication with Liza, a prostitute. As Dostoevsky navigates from one narrative to the next, the Underground Man increasingly struggles with his own reality. Therefore, these tales can be considered distinct stages of a complex psychological digression for the narrator. For example, the first story accentuates the Underground Man’s confusion and surprise in response to the officer’s failure to acknowledge his presence. The second story explores this idea even further, as the narrator’s schoolmates are aware of his existence, yet continuously exclude him from group activities, as represented by the group’s decision to visit a brothel without informing the narrator. The narrator desires to be accepted by his classmates as he believes this acceptance would serve as affirmation of a satisfactory reality that has previously eluded the character. This is confirmed in the episode where the Underground Man chases after the group, muttering “So this is it, this is it at last- contact with real life…” (274). Finally, the plot of the third story ultimately estranges the Underground Man from himself, resulting in an existential crisis that leads to the demise of his relationship with Liza. What this suggests is that Dostoevsky purposely chose this narrative-based outline to emphasize the growing internal conflict of the Underground Man. This further reflects on the calculated and meticulous style of Dostoevsky’s writing, and sets it apart from previous works that were less strategic and deliberate.

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