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Pessimism and Bitterness in Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground: Critical Analysis

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Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground depicts a man who is deeply rooted in a lifestyle of pessimism and bitterness. He is highly governed by his own taxing philosophies. The Underground Man lives by the precedent of his own conceptions on how life should be lived. His understanding of the way people should interact socially and how individuals should be engaged emotionally has been thought through intensively. He is highly contradictory in his rationalization of his own practices, but appears to rather scorn in his own self-pity. The Underground Man has a tendency for feeling sorry for himself and rather than take part in society naturally, he forcibly places himself in encounters that will play to his mental demise. So this leaves me with an array of intriguing questions for my audience, suppose the Underground Man realized that there is no ‘stone wall’ or obstacle. What would he do, and why? And why was he such a spiteful man brimming with pride and a superior sense to dominate?

The Underground Man presents a captivating blend on the archetypal argument between fate and freewill. Fate does not involve delightful will, but a man who has free will, is indebted to the laws of mathematics and science. As we are aware, two plus two equals four which is a fact no matter what. One cannot ever change the immutable laws of nature, like gravity or mathematics, but one can rage against them, and in doing so, evolve to the highest heights of one’s capabilities. A historical example of defying the odds would be the Wright Brothers. Forseeing the laws of gravity which hold people to the Earth did not help the Wright brothers in flying over the Earth, rather, raging against this law of nature through bravery and modernization was the reason for their success. For one’s life to have meaning and validity, actions must be understood as non-robotic; an answer to this question must not only be unknown, but more importantly, undecided. He then goes on to say that “consciousness, for example, is infinitely higher than two times two.” As we continue to read, the underground man’s consciousness which desires to rid itself from the notion of acceptance produces an ironic situation. As readers, we understand through words and upcoming chapters, his story has already been decided. The underground man can not make conscious decisions because they have already been made for him. The underground man is crafted solely from the author’s experience. This announcement marks the shift from part one of the book to part two. In part two the underground man writes about his past (20 years ago) as an experiment designed to gain understanding about his true nature and the logic that governs it. His hope is to realize where his path took a wrong turn and what, if anything, can be learned from it.

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The underground man continually is questioning how free will is applicable with such laws. In this regard, the underground man asserts that the only means in which a person can achieve free will is through hitting his skull against a stonewall. (Which is in no ways suggested). A man can change the laws of nature to be free if he tries. If an individual functions with respect to the natural laws or reason, it is possible to predict all that a human would ever do or think. As a result, a man operates against nature laws and reason to demonstrate his free will. From the perspective of the Underground man, a person’s will is to destroy, leave reason, and suffer for being free. If a man realizes that there is no stone wall, life would be good as he would not destroy or suffer from trying to change the nature’s law or reason. Apparently, a stone wall obstructs the direct actions of human beings, but in this case, man hates the effects radiating from the stone wall. If the stone wall that the laws of nature, was not there, the underground man would fulfill all his desires because he would not be bound to natural laws. This stone wall represents so much I think to not only the Underground man but to every individual in our society. This is seen as a plateau, a roadblock that we will undoubtedly be faced with multiple times in our life but in order to reach the next level we must surpass and conquer the feat. The “stone wall” is a threat or a broken man’s promise in order to see the dedication we possess and the free will that will come from the situation. As this text reaches a more profound meaning we see that the Underground Man is plagued by the proponents of a society which thrives on reason and rationality. The idea that behind every question and thought there lies a calculated and precise answer that is highly valued in the face of civilization.

As we advertised above, we see that there is one definitive principal theme that stands superior amongst its peers. That theme being Spite. In the very first paragraph we see a quote from Dostoevsky “I am a sick man, I am a spiteful man, I’m an unattractive man. I think there is something wrong with my liver.” Stating a few lines down that if he refuses to consult a doctor it is purely out of spite. We see him as a man who is mentally and physically sick because he can not conform the ideas currently popular in his society. This again points to the Underground Man’s theory of man’s contradictory nature, a nature which prevents him from fitting into the scientific mold which the rationalists have fashioned for him. With the Underground Man being as spiteful as he has demonstrated it poses the question where “Is it really possible to convince your mind/body to not feel pain and make a miserable experience and enjoyable one?” As the text goes on it relates a man’s moan to pain and the metaphysical implications. He almost goes on to suggest that the moans protest the futility of pain. The simple minded man as he states would simply accept pain for what it’s worth and go on living that way as a normal part of life but a man with a higher intellect and a stronger sense of consciousness takes the time and searches for answers and reasoning on where the purpose of the pain is coming from. The moans are almost trying to shed light and figure out a way to cope with the pain and suffering. Spite has allowed the Underground Man a false sense of self, an overwhelming bravado, an arrogant approach to life which has negatively affected the people surrounding him. As a side effect of the enlightened mindset of society, Underground Man develops a level of consciousness in which his pride and spiteful ways directly leads to his break with Liza and the consequences that stem from that break. We see this precedent distinctively when the underground man is asked to join for dinner. The Underground man decides to combat that social institution of attending the event only when asked by the other guests in order to arrive at the end for his own sadistic inclination. Accordingly, he imagines duels and arguments as the only way he can participate in the social world. He has shown us time and time throughout the context of this story that he is incapable of having one on one meaningful conversations, unless it is abusive, rudely sarcastic, or completely pointless. There is no substance to the Underground man.

With my stance being firm in the ground a counterargument does offer itself a validity of points. While the Underground man can be perceived as a dark person by the majority of his audience, he also has shown us how to feel pity for him. This man has allowed his audience to feel mixed emotions and an array of thoughts as a reader, he comes with no identity, no name, basically someone who is alienated from society. The Underground man can be seen as a very thoughtful person, he is far from the societal “norm” but this is only because he has been preserved and inexperienced. Do we feel bad for the Underground man because he was never given a fair chance to thrive? Him being unaware how to act due to his alienation from society and therefore his difficulties become surfaced. Although this all may be true, I feel no pity for this man. As I had previously stated above, human beings during the course of our life experience individual hardships and carry burdens which tend to cause setbacks and people become unaware of how detrimental that can be on a day to day basis. Many of us, especially in this day and age, are surface creatures and have very little intellectual understanding of someone’s emotional mindset. We see his domination tactics in many scenarios most specifically after he retired from his civil service job. It is indeed his job which makes him feel as if he has power and gives him the joy of dominating. He thrives off of humiliation as he mentions, “When petitioners came up to my desk for information, I snarled at them and felt indescribably happy whenever I managed to make one of them feel miserable..” Humiliating is what gives the underground man happiness, this is his duty in his opinion to earn this sense of power and gratification. The underground man will forever present a mystery for his readers and give us mixed emotions on how to resonate towards his antics, but maybe that is because we all have the underground man’s characteristics living in us.

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Pessimism and Bitterness in Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground: Critical Analysis. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from
“Pessimism and Bitterness in Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground: Critical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
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