How does the city of St. Petersburg function as a character in the Notes from the Underground?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The setting of St. Petersburg is representative of the questioning of identity that has taken a hold of both the Underground Man, and Russia, in general.  As the main chracter struggles with his identity and how it is formed, St. Petersburg is the vision of the progress and questioning that drives the narrator's beliefs.  The fact that the city represented Western "progress" and Russia's attempt to move into the realm of other European nations had to be balanced with the fact that it was built on the backs of peasants from all over Russia.  Modernization comes with a human price.  It is to this extent that the city, like the narrator and Russia itself, undergoes questioning.  The idea that progress and happiness are not synonymous with one another is the end result of the examination.  The Underground Man represents the pinnacle of thought and rationality, yet he is unhappy.  In much the same way, St. Petersburg represents a great deal of progress and advancement,  but its presence is the result of backbreaking labor from those who have no stake in its development.  In this, the setting of the work ends up assuming a character's role in its thematic development.

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