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Posted on September 11th, 2012, by

“Notes From Underground”¯ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is one of the first existentialist novels, which reveals the complexity of human life and the manifestation of the free will of an individual through actions which contradict to existing social norms and principles. In fact, the book challenges principles of determinism for the author wants to show that an individual can act spontaneously and his actions cannot be controlled by the society. On the other hand, Dostoyevsky shows that the attempt of an individual to rebel against the society can hardly change the society itself, but it is very important for the life of an individual since, in such a way, he can prove his own power to himself. At the same time, the novel has an original structure in which the first part is a sort of introduction, which provides the philosophical ground for the second part of the book, where the main events of the novel actually take place. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that the first part of the novel is closely intertwined with the second part of the book.

In actuality, the first part of the book focuses on important philosophical themes, such as the theme of war. The author describes the war, but the view of Dostoyevsky on war is quite different from a conventional view on it. To put it more precisely, Dostoyevsky depicts the war as a rebellion of people against the belief that everything is done on purpose. In stark contrast, the author emphasizes the fact that there is no purpose. In such a way, he apparently rejects the concept of determinism and grants people with the free will according to which they act. Remarkably, in the second part of the book, the main character proves the concept of the free will developed by the writer in the first part. In fact, the Underground Man challenges the existing social norms and principles, to the extent that he rebels against them. For instance, he meets Liza, a prostitute, whom he does not contempt as other people do. Instead, he is willing to help her. He attempts to ease her moral sufferings. Liza is a prostitute and she is aware of her terrible future since she is doomed to fade away as she grows older. In fact, she has no future and the Underground Man understands it.

At the same time, Liza is a prostitute that is a challenge to the existing social norms. The society condemns such practices, but the Underground Man is attentive to Liza and he feels pity toward her. He is conscious of the fact that she has no future and he gives her his address to demonstrate his intention to help Liza if she needed his assistance. Obviously, this action and desire to help a prostitute was a sort of rebellion of the main character against social norms and principles which he could not afford. On the other hand, his desire to help and his actions cannot be logically explained since he has just met Liza and he gives her his address, he turns out to be quite sympathetic.

However, when Liza comes to him, he regrets about his actions that may be interpreted as the pressure of the society of which the author actually warned in the first part of the book. In fact, it is possible to extrapolate the concept of war and the rebellious actions of people to the actions of the Underground Man, whose help to the prostitute is a manifestation of his free will and rebellion against the society and the norms it imposes on him.

In such a context, it is quite symbolic that the Underground Man feels the pressure of society and when Liza comes he attempts to humiliate her. He attempts to show that he was seeking to demonstrate his power over her as he gave his address to her. However, his rebellion is about to fail as he is humiliated with his own poverty and misery. He cries out “They ”“ they won’t let me ”“ I ”“ I can’t be good”¯ (Dostoyevsky, 135). In actuality, the author refers to the relationships of an individual and society described in the first part as the war, the opposition between the society and an individual’s free will. However, the author still supports his criticism of determinism which was clearly stated in the first part and accomplishes the rebellion of the Underground Man by his sincere desire to help Liza, the prostitute. He gives her five rubles but she refuses from the money and leaves him. In such a way, Liza also rebels against the traditional norms and beliefs since, being a prostitute, she was supposed to take the money, but she proves to be a noble person in a way. As for the Underground Man, his sincere desire to help Liza was the manifestation of his readiness to rebel against the society, even if his actions are interpreted by society as vicious and evil.

At the same time, the Underground Man remains devoted to his inactivity which was the characteristic of him in the first part of the book. In the second part, he attempts to act, but all his deeds are doomed to failure. Whatever he starts to do has practically no outcomes for himself or other people. For instance, he wants to help Liza, but she leaves him and he cannot find her. Similarly, at the beginning of the second part when he wants to revenge on the officer, who has physically moved him out of the way, he fails because when he bumps into the officer, the officer does not seem to even notice it happened. Or else, he attempts to meet Zverkov and revenge on him too for past offenses.

But all his efforts are doomed to failure since, at first he arrives too early, while later he meets Liza instead of Zverkov, whom he was ready to beat or even kill. In such a way, his inactivity in the first part seems to define all his actions in the second half.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the first part of the book defines the actions of the main character in the second half. Even though the first part mainly gives a philosophical introduction to the entire story, the actions of the main character in the first part proves to be extremely influential in the second part to the extent that until the end of the novel the Underground Man cannot surmount his inactivity, of which he has been concerned with since the first part.

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