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Comparing The Corner Residents and Dostoevsky’s Underground Man

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Comparing The Corner Residents and Dostoevsky’s Underground Man

I am a sick man.... I am an angry man. I am an unattractive man. [...] I don't understand the least thing about my illness, and I don't know for certain what part of me is affected. I am not having any treatment for it, and never have had, although I have a great respect for medicine and for doctors. [...] No, I refuse treatment out of spite. (Dostoevsky 1864: 17)

Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote these words around 1864 to describe the mental state of a hyperconscious retired bureaucrat whose excessive analysis and inability to act separate him from the mainstream of the society in which he lived. Dostoevsky's underground man, as he termed his character, is characterized by alienation, spite, and isolation. Dostoevsky presents the life of his character as a testimonial to the possibility of living counter to an individual's own best interests.

Frequently, the public debate over the those problems which occur in poverty-ridden urban environments is presented as if the inhabitants were copies of Dostoevsky's underground man who differed mainly in that they frequently had less education and more pigment in their skin. That is to say, although there are valid comparisons that can be drawn between the Underground Man and the inhabitants of west Baltimore who are so vividly depicted in The Corner, there are also important differences that make any claim of strict equality between a Russian intellectual from the nineteenth century and a 20th-century tout or slinger an absurd caricature. Moreover, the intent of portraying inner-city residents as Underground Men and Women is, frequently, to blame these people for all of their own problems, something t...

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...and we may be in for another string of disappointing years in the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. (1864) Notes from Underground. Trans. Jessie Coulson. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.

Hacker, Andrew. (1998) Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal. In Reading Between the Lines: Toward an Understanding of Current Social Problems. Ed Amanda Konradi and Martha Schmidt. London: Mayfield Publishing Company.

Simon, David & Burns, Edward. (1993) The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. New York: Broadway Books.

Wilson, William Julius. (1998) "Ghetto-Related Behavior and the Structure of Opportunity" in Reading Between the Lines: Toward an Understanding of Current Social Problems. Ed Amanda Konradi and Martha Schmidt. London: Mayfield Publishing Company.
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