Whenever reading any written work of art, the reader always gets fascinated by the heroes of the story and more often want to identify with the said hero. But there are instances where anti heroes dominate the work and find themselves being followed closely by the readers. But wait, what totals up to make a character an anti hero, better still, who is an anti hero? An anti hero is that character who is the rival in the traditional hero or protagonist in a work of art. They do not possess the expected qualities that can enable them to be heroic but then try so hard to perform heroic acts, what the reader or people see in them are flaws that in the long run may work against them. But then, it takes a catastrophe to happen for them to take advantage of it and perform a heroic act. It is therefore clear that they do not act out of their own volition or moral or religious calling. These characters sole aim in most cases is not to see the antagonists proper and their acts may be propelled out of revenge or even anger. A good example of an anti hero is the narrator in Notes from Underground who leads a rather tortured life; he is indeed the opposite of the traditional heroes in many fictional stories.
It is from this background that the narrator in Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky is put on focus. To begin with, the narrator embodies the typical characteristics of an anti hero because of his bitter ton all through the story. From the very onset of the story, the writer has completely alienated himself from society. He goes on to explain the main reason why he has done this. In fact, it is clear that his life is very tortured by the way he speaks about himself and society. That is why he likes and is in support of the underground. He is a very pessimistic and sad man because he is so full of himself and is immersed in his sense of self importance and significance. From the very beginning, this man tells the reader about himself and one thing that stands out is the fact that he proudly pronounces that “I am a sick manI am a spiteful man” (Dostoevsky 1) and he goes on to say that he is over brimming with spite (1). This is not a happy man, justifying such an attitude about himself is bad enough and therefore becomes one person that any sane human would want to be associated with.
Asong says that the best way to look at the narrator is by looking at his “rebellious nature, in fact he is a total rebel” (16). The narrator is a serious deviant man. He wants even to make it look legitimate and that he should be given space in society by being accommodated. Natale acknowledges that “this man in fact looks at the happenings in society with a conscious mind but chooses to be more insane than sane.” (22). He is even conscious of his own madness and wants to make the madness legitimate through some of his actions of looking at the world and wanting to justify actions by use of his very sick mind. The underground man, “is an epitome of those people who know that their actions are wrong but go on to do them simply because they want to make legitimate their sick ideologies which they coin and want society to accept as good” according to Brombert (113). This is one of the very many reasons why the narrator can be termed as an anti hero.
Barnhart goes on to explain that the mind of the underground “works in the opposite direction of other people in his society” (9). He chooses to possess a sick mind and no one for sure knows the nature of the kind of disease he is suffering from. What is seen in him is a mind that works in the opposite direction of the expectations of the society he lived in at the time and even in the current society. His way of thinking and doing things is that which can never find a place in society even when he tries so hard to manipulate the thinking of other people. The reader in a way is made to see the world from another angle that is different from the normal perceptions that people have about it. The kind of attitude that the ‘lunatic’ man uses brings out a different picture all together and what is seen cannot be said to resemble mainstream ideologies. According to Madden, Bane & Flory (49), he passes for a lunatic all together.
As a civil servant the Underground Man he claims that he is suffering. In fact, he detests and loathes his co workers so much. His hypocritical way of doing things is skewed towards justifying his not so good actions. He seems to despise everybody and everything around him. His actions are in total opposition of all that happens in the world and this forms the basis of his anger and hatred. In as much as there are people in his society, the perspectives of other people are ignored and “his society is seen and criticized from his perspective” (Leatherbarrow 32). He is an outsider in his world where apparently everything is not good according to him. Such pessimism and hard liner feelings make him look like the bad man he is. The world cannot be against just one man when everyone else is on the opposite side of his realm. His own created reality is the opposite of the expected norm of any given society and this places him on “a world that is not only skeptical but also unreal” (Natale 60). His self created alienation depicts him as a person who is against the normal and acceptable functionalities that exist in society thereby painting the anti hero that he is.
It could be hard to comprehend that a person who loves his job, the people around him and everything that life offers could be as bitter as the narrator. His isolation is self inflicted. Even the people who are in his life try to get close to him, an example of Liza, but then he has to remain firm in his ideals to such an extent that he goes on to reject her just to assure himself that no close relationships exists between him and other people, naturally, man is a social being, human beings naturally make friends and this is one aspect of life that gives man some kind of satisfaction. But the narrator does not in any way fit into such kind of lifestyle. In fact as for him, he is better off alone that have anyone close to him. Naturally, “heroes always want to interact with other characters and act out of their own free will in order to help them or bring some positivity in a story” (Halliwel 14). But the opposite can be said about the narrator something which makes him an outright anti hero. Even in the event that he starts to love her, he resorts to abusing her in order to make her go away; a true hero will always want to be in a position where other characters’ interests come before theirs.
On one other hand, everything negative that the narrator does can be attributed to the fact that he has hatred not for other people or society but for himself, this is what defines him as an anti hero. He creates some kind of distance between himself and everyone else because he fears rejection. At one point, the author asserts that the narrator is numbed and fatigued by his feelings for himself, hatred. He even goes ahead to say that he does not want to continue writing from underground. This implies that he is tired of his aloofness and self isolation. Maybe, “he wants to integrate with the society around him but does not know how to do so” (Bloshteyn 19), after all the negativity that he has shown all through.
The narrator in this story passes for a very disagreeable person. He goes out of his way to offend not only the other characters but the reader too. Just to think that a person believes that “suffering is enjoyable is absurd” (Bloshteyn 3). Being conscious of your on pain is bad enough to think that the narrator thinks that this is pleasurable. Whatever he intended to communicate to the reader is the fact that suffering is the best thing that can ever happen to a person. A person who does not want to associate with anyone and even avoids talking let alone look at anyone is a sadist in the making. This is a typical attribute of the anti hero that he is. All these facts put together best describe the alienated character of the narrator and this indeed makes him the anti hero that he is.
Asong, Linus. Psychological Construncts and the Craft of African Fiction of Yesteryears. Six Studies. Bamenda: Langaa RPCIG. 2012
Barnhart, Joe. Dostoevsky’s Polyphonic Talent. Lanham: University Press of America. 2005
Bloshteyn, Maria. The Making of a Counter- Culture Icon: Henry Miller’s Dostoevsky. Toronto: University of Toronto. 2007
Brombert, Victor. In Praise of Antiheroes: Figures and Themes in Modern European Literature 1830- 1980. London: University of Chicago. 1999
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Notes from Underground. Translated by Mirr, Ginsburg. New York: Bantam. 1981.
Halliwell, Martin. Transatlantic Modernism: Moral Dilemmas in Modernist Fiction. Edinburg: Edinburg University
Leatherbarrow, W. J. The Cambridge Companion to Dostoevsky. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2002
Madden, David., Bane, Charles., & Flory, Shane. A Primer of the Novel: For Readers and Writers. Oxford: Scarecrow. 2006
Natale, Jessica. Diary as Ficion: Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground and Turgenev’s “Diary of a Superfluous Man. Boca Raton: Universal Publishers. 2000