Notes From The Underground
Notes from Underground (1864) is a short novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It is considered by many to be the world's first existentialist novel. It presents itself as an excerpt from the rambling memoirs of a bitter, isolated, unnamed narrator (generally referred to by critics as the Underground Man) who is a retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg. (From feedbooks.com)
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Dostoevsky (pictured below) claims that the author of the diary (who is also the narrator in the coming novel) is imaginary. However, critics are unclear whether or not the narrator represents Dostoevsky's own beliefs or is only meant to satirize popular philosophical beliefs during the 1860's in Russia. (This annotation contains an image)
Watch the video on textual evidence and inferences below. We can infer from the highlighted text that the narrator is contradictory. Which pieces of textual evidence best support this inference? (This annotation contains a video)
Which character trait does the narrator frequently attribute to himself throughout Chapter One?
Locate St. Petersburg, Russia, on the map below. As Dostoevsky writes, Russia is experiencing social changes as the suffering of the lower classes takes center stage. (This annotation contains an image)
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
In this chapter, the Underground Man divides people into two groups, the disingenuous and active group versus the educated and conscious group. Explain the difference between these two groups according to the narrator.
The French phrase in the highlighted text literally translates to "a love of oneself."
Watch the video on similes and metaphors below. In the highlighted text, we recognize the use of a simile in the comparison of a man and an enraged bull using "like." What effect does this simile create in the reader? (This annotation contains a video)
This French phrase, an allusion to the French philosopher (pictured below) Jean-Jacques Rousseau's central idea in "Confessions," translates to a "man of nature and truth." Pay attention to further references to this idea because it helps to illustrate the Underground Man's conflict between European and Russian literary, philosophical, and cultural values. (This annotation contains an image)
The Underground Man refers to several metaphors in the highlighted text, including the metaphor of "twice two makes four." What does this metaphor primarily represent?
The Underground Man shows his derision for rational thinking again through his enjoyment of a toothache. This enjoyment becomes a parody of his pleasure in western European literature, art, and philosophy.
Using details from Chapter Five, explain how the narrator's inertia is proof of his consciousness.
The Underground Man describes the difference between inertia and laziness in the first paragraph of Chapter Six. Summarize for yourself these differences as a check for understanding before you continue your reading.
In this chapter, readers encounter the theory that mankind, as it progresses, becomes less likely to engage in war. Which statement below most accurately summarizes the narrator's position regarding this theory?
The narrator makes a reference here to the English historian Thomas Henry Buckle, who believed age softens men until they become incapable of war. The narrator undermines Buckle's viewpoint by referencing three different wars (during Napoleon's reign from 1799-1815, the American Civil War from 1861-1865, and the Schleswig-Holstein War from 1848-1851 between Denmark and Germany).
As you reach the conclusion of Chapter Seven, watch the film trailer for this novella. As you watch, consider how viewing this trailer is different than your initial experience of reading the opening chapter. (This annotation contains a video)
According to the Underground Man in this chapter, what are two constants in man's behavior?
Before reading Chapter Nine, watch the famous scene from Shakepeare's play, "Hamlet." As you watch consider Hamlet's view on consciousness and suffering; be prepared to compare and contrast it with the Underground Man's views at the end of this chapter. (This annotation contains a video)
After watching Hamlet's soliloquy or speech in the last film annotation, compare or contrast Hamlet's views on consciousness and suffering with the Underground Man's views in Chapter Nine. Be sure to give at least one comparison or contrast between these two different characters.
In this chapter, the Underground Man makes multiple references to the Crystal Palace, an iron and glass "edifice" which housed the Great Exhibition of 1841 in London. The Underground Man speaks of this palace with contempt because he believes it represents progressive society's blind commitment to reason while ignoring individuality and freedom. (This annotation contains an image)
Watch the video explaining symbolism in literature. At the beginning of this chapter, you read about what the crystal palace symbolizes. Now consider what the "underground" symbolizes in this novella. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the main purpose of Chapter Eleven?
The highlighted lines from Nekrassov's poem, "When from the Darkness of Delusion," serve as an epigraph (or suggest a theme that will reoccur in the coming work). In the poem, a man is writing to the prostitute he's saved; as you continue to read, look for similarities between this epigraph's message and Dostoevsky's work.
According to the narrator, what is he?
The narrator once again adopts a contemptuous tone towards the lofty ideals like freedom and equality that were central to the western European Romantics, including those involved in the French Revolution (ten years prior).
The white oval denotes where the Black Forest is located in Germany. (This annotation contains an image)
Select the statement that correctly identifies both the type and purpose for using the figurative language in the highlighted text.
Watch the video explanation of personification. We see this type of figurative language in the highlighted text when it says, "Cold shivers run down my back." Here, it is used to illustrate the narrator's horror and apprehension. (This annotation contains a video)
Which central idea or ideas are explored in this chapter?
Review the information on allegory below. In this chapter, the narrator creates an allegory or extended metaphor through his dreams. As you continue to read, pay attention to what these dreams represent. (This annotation contains an image)
In the highlighted text, the Underground Man alludes to Lord Byron's "Manfred." Read the quote from Byron's poem below. Why might the Underground Man relate to this character? (This annotation contains an image)
Explain how the Underground Man's dreams in this chapter serve as an allegory to express how western ideals and culture should not be imposed on Russian culture.
Below is a picture of a Russian rouble (currency) from the 1800's. (This annotation contains an image)
Using the highlighted text, what can you infer about Simonov?
What do Zverkov and the Underground Man's other classmates do to him to emphasize his status as an outsider in the first paragraph of Chapter Four?
Watch the video on verbal irony below. In the highlighted text, the Underground Man insinuates that Zverkov is using verbal irony when he expresses his (false) condolences over the wait. (This annotation contains a video)
Explain why the Underground Man's statement that he is "dining here, at this cafe, at my own expense, not at other people's" is ironic.
Watch the video below on point of view and cultural perspective. The Underground Man tells this story from first-person point of view; he is also considered an unreliable narrator. In other words, we as readers must weigh what he says and determine the truth. (This annotation contains a video)
The highlighted text serves to emphasis what about the narrator?
Below is a picture of Lake Como in Italy. (This annotation contains an image)
Watch the short video on motifs in literature. In the highlighted text, we see that the snow is a motif. As you continue to read, decide what the larger symbolic meaning is behind the snow. (This annotation contains a video)
Reread the highlighted text. What insight does the Underground Man suddenly uncover about himself and his plan for revenge?
Watch the video on imagery. In the highlighted text, imagery is used to give us our first glimpse of a new character. What other sentences bring to life the setting and characters? (This annotation contains a video)
Identify the type of figurative language used in the highlighted text to convey a weary, overworked, and even sinister connotation.
How long has Liza been at the brothel? Use the dictionary definition to determine how many days make up a fortnight before selecting the best answer below.
Below is a picture of Volkovo Cemetery to help you visualize this reference. (This annotation contains an image)
According the Underground Man, why is he so "unfeeling"?
The Underground Man's speech has a false ring to it because we know that he does not "live" or chase life but instead contents himself to live underground, alone with his bitterness and spite.
Explain what Liza means when she says that the Underground Man speaks "somehow like a book." Be sure to explain your answer with references to the Underground Man's speech.
Here, we see the Underground Man clinging to the Romantic notion from literature of the fatherly male figure swooping in and redeeming the fallen prostitute. It serves as both a parody to Chernyshevsky’s novel (pictured below as he writes his novel from prison) "What Is to Be Done?" and reminds us of the epigraph included at the beginning of Part II of this novella. (This annotation contains an image)
Which piece of textual evidence best summarizes why, according to the Underground Man, Liza feels compelled to show him her letter?
The Underground Man is embarrassed about his sentimentality towards Liza and because he gave her his address. However, he quickly forgets about this as he begins obsessing over how to redeem himself in the eyes of Simonov and Zverkov.
What is causing the Underground Man's agitation and anger?
The highlighted text is an allusion to Nekrasov's poem.
This is the second time that we encounter the image of a clock "whirring and wheezing," and it serves to heighten the tension of the moment. Explain how this image now embodies or represents the Underground Man.
At this point in the story, the Underground Man transfers his anger and aggression towards Liza. What does this change reveal about the Underground Man?
Explain the role reversal that occurs between the Underground Man and Liza. Be sure to discuss similarities and differences between this scene and the earlier one in Liza's bedroom at the brothel.
The Underground Man is unable to practice unselfish love, and he is unable to understand that Liza has come to him out of love.
Explain the significance of Liza slamming the door.