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Irrational Underground Man

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  1. Introduction
  2. The numerous ways of interpreting Notes from Underground
  3. The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of arbitrary
  4. The Underground Man choosing against his best interest
  5. The Underground Man's allusion to Napoleon
  6. Determinism and free will
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

?I am a sick man? are the opening words to Fyodor Dostoevsky's novella Notes from Underground. For the narrator, the Underground Man is both figuratively and literally sick ? his liver hurts but he will not receive treatment from doctors. Indeed, only a ?sick man' would choose to let his liver rot. Yet there is a strange philosophy embedded within the Underground Man's words: through irrationality, spitefulness and arbitrariness he will pronounce his existence. His purpose for existence is his freewill.

[...] The Underground Man provides a stream-of-consciousness of a victim of a toothache. seems I'm disturbing you, tearing at your heart, preventing anyone in the house from getting any sleep. Well, then, you won't sleep; you, too, must be aware at all times that I have a toothache.?' ?Disturbing' is a key word that is at the crux of the passage; so long as he is disturbed by the pain of the tooth ache, he must ?disturb' others with his moans. [...]


[...] In Robert Louis Jackson's 1981 book titled, The Art of Dostoevsky: Delirium and Nocturnes, he writes ?Through spite, irrational will, and caprice, he [the Underground Man] seeks freedom from these laws, laws that have been humiliating him ?more than anything else.' He seeks to escape from the inwardly experienced and outwardly perceived rule of Determinism.? (Jackson, 60) The Underground Man is rebelling against ?Determinism' or the belief that freewill is an illusion and that the future is predetermined, a belief that relegates humans as mere cogs in the machinery of nature. [...]

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