Dostoevsky's Underground Man is an attempt to offer an example of the true result of egoism, as opposed to the rational egoism of Western European Enlightenment literature. It became the intellectual fashion at this time to believe that natural law was the only law, and that if men acted according to what was in their natural best interests, society would be better off. With Notes From Underground, Dostoevsky sought to fight against the moral corruption of the Russian people by these naturalist European theories. The Underground Man is a true egoist who makes full use of the free will that the rational egoists deny, and because of that is shown to be morally reprehensible. I think it is a mistake to read the Underground Man as being in intellectual agreement with the rational egoists, with emotional contradictions. It seems to me that he feels his form of egoism to be truer and fuller than the form represented by the "good men" who (claim to) act according to the laws of nature. Even a man as sick and wicked as the Underground Man wouldn't be believably human unless he had a moral conscience, even if he doesn't behave according to it.
[...] If the character of the rational egoist is the good, decent, of action,” the Underground Man is incapable of emulating because that form of egoism is a false, or impossible trait, then the Underground Man represents the form that egoism would actually take in most men. Egoism is here shown to turn men into vile, spiteful, despicable, mentally crippled creatures who hurt themselves and those around them for no practical purpose. He has isolated himself out of shame and contempt, (of himself and others), because isolation is an easier option than change. [...]
[...] Though it may appear that Dostoevsky is using a similar tactic, he is not using the confession of the Underground Man as a fleeting anecdote. The Liza story takes up quite a bit of the total work, and has had a profounder effect on the Underground Man than Marion had on Rousseau. Further, while Rousseau uses his confession of his crime against Marion as a method for justifying other aspects of himself, and even comes to characterize it as not a crime at all, the Underground Man uses every opportunity available in his confession to take full personal responsibility for his crime against Liza, while exploring and deploring his motivations during every step of his crime. [...]
[...] This is the way he saw even the rational egoism of the Europeans, who sought to claim that by acting according to natural laws and personal best interests, society as a whole would benefit by the standardized employment of reason. (Scanlan 553) The Underground Man carries each of these egoistic traits to the point of obsession. He is fully isolated, and his self-solicitousness is apparent in his preoccupation with his own aims and satisfactions. His placement of his I in opposition to all other I-s is apparent in his inability to love Liza, despite her love for him. [...]
[...] An insult - why it is purification; it is a most stinging and painful consciousness.' “(Dostovsky 41) The older Underground Man sees these justifications as fantasies, because he believes his younger self to have been out of touch with reality. Though the older Underground Man retains his egoism, he considers himself and wants to confess his responsibility based on a greater understanding of reality. (Rosenshield 331) An example of the necessity and possibility of his redemption lies in his attitude toward his crime against Liza. [...]
APA Style referenceFor your bibliography
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee