Even though there are virtuous heroes in fiction, an antihero does not usually fight for a greater cause, nor does he stand up for an ideal; he is typically selfish, self-aggrandizing, and often emotionally tortured or damaged in some way. An antihero hardly ever takes the overt side of the good or bad guys, instead acting according to his own interests, making him slightly more complex than your typical goody-two-shoes hero. Fyodor Dostoyevsky's dark 1864 book Notes from the Underground tells the story of the Underground Man, a rambling, incoherent, and bitter civil servant in St. Petersburg. The novel's tale is told from the viewpoint of this curious and unsympathetic character, which is done through monologues and diary entries that show the man's very different outlook on life. Though we see the world through his eyes (and his ethics as a result), the Underground Man is absolutely an antihero in his deeds and behaviors. The Underground Man in Notes from the Underground gives the reader a protagonist who is an antihero, a frustrated figure who should not be emulated, but with whom we sympathize greatly.
The Underground Man is supposed to be an alienated character; being by himself for a lot of his life, he has nothing and no one to love, no family or anything that makes a man potentially virtuous. He lives in an awful apartment that he can barely afford with his horrible job, and he sees no way out of the world he has made for himself. He has no job prospects and no hope of promotion, nothing to look forward to or protect (Frank, 1961). As a result, he is not given any causes to champion, making it so that he lives for nothing (Fiddick, 1994). The Underground Man is cynical and dismissive about the future, as there is no hope for anything to improve. The Man also lacks confidence in the ability of any of his deeds to succeed, thinking himself unable to make any real change in his life (Hassan, 1962).
One of the biggest antihero aspects of the Underground Man is his tendency toward laziness and depression. He is a very lazycharacter, to the extent where he cannot even take revenge against those who committed misdeeds against him. The Underground Man does not speak well of heroes: "I did not even know how to become anythingeither spiteful or good, either a blackguard or an honest man, either a hero or an insect" (Dostoevsky Chapter 1). This is said to come from his supposed intelligence; he is very "conscious" of the things that occur around him, and the nature of the world itself (Matlaw, 1958). Despite this conscience, he cannot decide how to address these problems, caught in a constnat loop of confusion and impotent self-doubt. This makes him the opposite of a hero, as heroes are normally go-getting, brave and committed to meeting their objectives. The Underground Man is a man who is in no way capable of being a hero. His own doubt and cynicism actively makes him fight against the things heroes would fight, like apathy and despair (Frank, 1961). The Man himself actually hates heroes, as well; he takes a lot of joy in despising police officers and other virtuous individuals who attempt to make something of themselves, believing that there is no point to what they do: "Oh, gentlemen, perhaps I really regard myself as an intelligent man only because throughout my entire life I’ve never been able to start or finish anything" (Dostoevsky, Chapter 5). The Man despises others for doing what he is absolutely unable to do: being confident and actually engaging with their lives.
The Underground Man's sloth as shown by poor health is also another point to indicate he is an antihero. His toothache and his liver pain are meant to be linked with mankind’s inability to actually deal with this pain, rather wanting to whine about it in order to make others suffer as well. He even finds a way to enjoy this toothache, as he seems to masochistically adore his pain: “'Ha, ha, ha! Next you’ll be finding pleasure in a toothache!' you will exclaim, laughing. 'And why not? There is also pleasure in a toothache,' I will answer" (Dostoevsky, Chap. 4).
In the second half of the book, the Underground Man's issues are actually drawn out and elaborated on, offering his antiheroic philosophy in the outside world to show precisely how his own feelings match up with the ones held by society (Matlaw, 1958). In the first segment, the Man is obsessed with an officer who pushes him out of his way without saying anything. Seeing the officer on the street, he tries to figure out precisely how he should enact his revenge, his blood boiling with anger and preoccupied with getting back at him. However, the best he can muster is choosing to just bump into him. The idea is to give the officer a taste of his own medicine; despite that, the officer does not react to this move, not even noticing what had occurred. At this point, not only is the Underground Man actively spiteful about a little mistake and inconvenience), he cannot really do anything about it despite how much he wants to(Fiddick, 1994). A hero would do one of two things: he would either confront the officer with confidence and get results, or he would just ignore it out of compassion and try to move past the minor insult (Stanford, 1962). The fact that the Underground Man takes this little misstep and let it bother him so shows his inability to be a hero (Brombert, 1990). His antiheroic attributes come from his own desire to lessen his own lack of self-estee, rather than striving toward a bigger personal or communal good (Matlaw 108).
In the second segment, the Underground Man goes to a dinner party with many old friends from school, one of whom (Zverkov) is leaving the city. The Underground Man sees this as a chance to arrive and express his scorn at the others, this hate stemming from all their encounters during their school days. "Here it is, here it is at last, the encounter with reality. . . . All is lost now!" (Dostoevsky, Chapter 5). At the same time, his own antiheroic status keeps him from benefiting from even this slight action: he gets to the party early and just fights with nearly all of the other partygoers but Zverkov. During this argument, he complains about society and how much he loathes it, talking about them like they represented the whole of society. Wandering off to find Zverkov, he just finds a prostitute named Liza; she and the Underground Man speak in the dark room where he thought Zverkov would be, and the Underground Man treats her with pessimism and self-loathing. The Underground Man, desperately seeing her future as a poor, pathetic woman, tells her how she will lose her utility and gradually die unwanted by anyone: " I sensed vaguely that she was going to pay dearly for it all" (Dostoevsky, Chapter 9). Here, the audience sees the odd and dark temptation of the antihero and how they set themselves apart from real heroes, as Liza becomes increasingly enticed by his arguments, beginning to agree with him. The Underground Man's great hatred, which permits him to come to peace with his own failings, is contageious, as it spreads to Liza and allows her to fall into that perspective of negativity (Frank, 1961).
Brombert, Victor H. In praise of antiheroes: figures and themes in modern European literature,
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Man." Dionysus in Literature: Essays on Literary Madness (1994): 89-100.
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Hassan, Ihab. "The Existential Novel." The Massachusetts Review 3.4 (1962): 795-797.
Kaufmann, Walter (ed.). Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre. New York: The World, 1956. Print.
Matlaw, Ralph E. "Structure and Integration in Notes from the Underground." PMLA 73.1: 101- 109. 1958. Print.
Stanford, Raney. "The Return of Trickster: When a Not‐A‐Hero Is a Hero." The Journal of
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