Notes from Underground By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part 1: Section 11

Summary

The Underground Man concludes that, in the final analysis, to do nothing — to be consciously inert — is the best thing an intelligent man can do. Even though he envies the normal man, he would not change places with him. For the present, a life underground is more advantageous, even though he admits that he thirsts for something different. And he would feel better if he believed what he has written.

He knows that his audience will object that he is being ridiculous in writing these things if he never intends to let anyone read what he has written. But he counters this objection by asserting that every man has some memories which he would tell only to his friends; and there are some memories which one would tell no one except himself; and, finally, there are some which one will not admit even to himself. Furthermore, the more decent a person is, the more secrets he has which he represses from himself. Only lately, says the Underground Man, has he decided to remember some of his early adventures. He says that a true autobiography can never be written because any author will always lie about himself (so as to impress his readers), yet the Underground Man's autobiography will be honest because he is writing only for himself. The reason he addresses an imaginary audience is that this form of writing is the easiest for him. And it is necessary to get his ideas written down so that he can criticize himself more objectively and gain some type of relief from writing. At present, he is particularly oppressed by one memory which he hopes to rid himself of by narrating it. And besides, he is bored; writing will give him something to do.

Analysis

In this final section of Part 1, the Underground Man returns to his earlier credo: a man of acute consciousness can do nothing — "conscious inertia" is best for an intelligent man. He does not mean that inertia is that which an intelligent man should seek; instead, in such a scientific society, it is forced upon him. As in Section 10, the Underground Man is seeking "something quite different, quite different, for which I am thirsting, but which I cannot find." That "something different," we know from his other writings, is a reemphasis upon the basic teachings of Christ which were being rejected in favor of scientific rationalism.

When the Underground Man questions the validity of everything he has written — "I feel and suspect that I am lying like a cobbler" — he introduces a problem central to Dostoevsky's view of writing and one which characterizes Dostoevsky as a forerunner to the modern novel of psychological investigation. The statement "I am lying" should not be taken as a rejection of what the Underground Man has said, but as a philosophical questioning as to whether any writer is capable of presenting the reality of one's thoughts and of one's psychological motivations. Unlike such realists as Turgenev or Balzac, Dostoevsky was not concerned with presenting external reality — that is, depicting a scene from life with such verisimilitude that no one would ever question its accuracy. In contrast to this type of fiction, he wanted to plunge into the depths of a reality hidden from ordinary sight, to investigate the validity of contradictory human impulses and hidden psychological drives.

But if this is a confession, how can we know that the Underground Man is telling the truth? Because unlike Rousseau in his Confessions, who lied in order to impress people, the Underground Man is writing only for himself, and there is no need to lie to one's self. The paradox is that many people, however, do lie to themselves. The Underground Man parries this psychological fact with the counter argument, later supported by Freud, that only decent people lie to themselves and repress unpleasant things about themselves. In fact, "the more decent one is, the greater the number of things" repressed. Paradoxically, then, since the Underground Man is not decent, is indeed spiteful, then we can accept his version as being close to the truth. Furthermore, the story related in Part 2 stands as proof that he is not lying because no "decent" person would reveal it if he acted as degradingly and as spitefully as does the Underground Man. Finally, as Freud recommended as a treatment, the Underground Man thinks that by writing out his experiences, he can view them with more critical objectivity. Thus, the next part will narrate a reminiscence which oppresses the narrator, but which, by writing it down, he hopes to purge himself of.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Dostoevsky was condemned to be shot by firing squad because he




Quiz