19th Century Literature and Culture
Nobility in the Literacy Sense from the Underground
The anonymous narrator of Notes from Underground is also the novel’s protagonist. The Underground Man is a bitter, reclusive civil servant speaking from his St. Petersburg apartment in the 1860s. The narrator speaks in first person, describing his own thoughts and feelings and narrating events that occurred sixteen years earlier in his life.
The Underground Man is a prime example of an unreliable narrator, and one that demonstrates hypocrisy and contradictions in his own words. His conversations and dialogues seem to put his foot in his mouth with his assumptions and unwillingness to accept other opinions. Because the whole novel is told through his skewed and irrational perspective, we cannot take his depictions of events and characters at face value. We also cannot assume that the Underground Man’s perspective is the same as Dostoevsky’s. The author maintains a considerable distance between his view and the Underground Man’s. Often, we see Dostoevsky satirizing an event that the Underground Man sees as very serious.
He denies the existence of love and proves ignorant of Liza’s intentions to visit him, instead believing she returns in order to hear his pretentious speeches. He shows some guilt over his humiliation over her near the end of the novella. Liza is perhaps the only hope for the Underground Man’s redemption, as she is perceptive and patient enough to see through his proud, hostile façade to understand his mental grief. Liza’s act at the end of the story—throwing the money on the table, surprises the Underground man to the point that he immediately runs off after her. Because of his own cynical and pessimistic viewpoint, up until that point, the Underground man did not think it possible for people to perform such a noble gesture. The door slamming shut behind her was a note of finality, a notion that proclaims the arrogance and cynicism of the Underground man has left him with nothing, and that he will remain “underground.”