Dostoevsky’s Notes from Undergound - Reactions to an Overdeterministic Existence

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Dostoevsky’s Notes from Undergound - Reactions to an Overdeterministic Existence

Some of the works cited are missing

Dostoevsky presents his Notes from Undergound as the fragmented ramblings of

an unnamed narrator. On the surface, the character’s narration appears disjointed and

reaches no conclusive end ing until the author intercedes to end the book. However, a

close examination of the underground man’s language reveals a progression in his

collected ravings. After expressing dissatisfaction with the notion of determinism, the

underground man perceives the irony of his ultra-deterministic reality. Through his

narrative, the underground man discovers the truth about his predestined, fictional


Dostoevsky’s work is divided into two sections; throughout the first section,

“Underground,” the narrator discusses and resists determinism. The underground man

compares deterministic life to a mathematical formula, two times two equals four. He

suggests that, according to the deterministic model, life conforms to a set of predestined

events and actions, and its outcome is inevitable. The underground man condemns the

formula, asserting, “After all, two times two is no longer life, gentlemen, but the

beginning of death”(24). In his essay Narrative and Freedom, critic Gary Saul Morson

elaborates upon the narrator’s statement, adding, “For life to be meaningful and for work

to be more than robotic, there must be something not just unknown but still undecided”

(Morson 196-7). According to the underground man, the pre-existence of the solution

implies that no other conclusion may be reached; once one embarks on life, one cannot

escape the inevitable outcome of death. Morson emphasizes the underground man’s


... middle of paper ...

...nd man initially believes that by identifying the cause of his

defectiveness, he will be able to correct his seemingly doomed life.

Instead, he discovers that his real defect, his existence as fiction, prevents

him from ever altering his circumstances. After heralding self-awareness

as the key to controlling his own life, he finds that self-awareness only

allows him to perceive how little control he could ever have.

Works Cited and Consulted

Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion.

New York: Anchor Books, 1990.

Escher, M.C. “Drawing Hands.” Cover of Norton edition of Notes from Underground.

Katz, Michael R., ed. Notes from Underground. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,


Chernyshevsky, Nikolai. “What Is to Be Done?” Katz 104-123.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. “Notes from Underground.” Katz 3-91



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