Analyze the narrator's assault on "the wall" as European liberalism, materialism, and utopianism, rationalism and progress by giving quotations.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For the Underground Man, the construction of European liberalism, materialism, utopianism, rationalism, and progress are rooted in the same flaw. They seek to achieve a particular type of totality and perfectibility within human consciousness.   

In his discussion of "the wall," The Underground Man strikes a position against progressive thought intrinsic to Western thought.  It contains much of his disdain towards Western thought:

What stone wall? Why, of course, the laws of nature, the deductions of natural science, mathematics. As soon as they prove to you, for instance, that you are descended from a monkey, then it is no use scowling, accept it for a fact. […] then you have just to accept it, there is no help for it, for twice two is a law of mathematics. Just try refuting it.

The natural laws to which rationalism and "progress" appeal are part of this critique.  The wall cannot be overcome.  No amount of human expression can ever transcend it. The ever- present nature of the wall precludes any chance of "refuting it."  The wall embodies the Western system of totality that seeks to advance perfection.  It is akin to the "Crystal Palace" where human suffering is impossible because human achievement had reached its supposed advancement.  

The Underground Man sees negation in the structures like the Crystal Palace and "the wall."  They both negate human experience for they enhance the perfectibility of human beings.  Due to this, the Underground Man clings to his pain. It is for this reason that human pain is the only real expression of his humanity in a world where rationalism and "progress" define all consciousness. The wall negates human experience. One cannot "protest" as "it is no use" to seek to activate human imperfection in the face of such totality. 

The Underground Man rejects externally imposed totality. The constructions of liberalism, materialism, and utopianism are all elements in which results and external constructions of "success" define being.  Here again, the Underground Man condemns "the wall" as the embodiment of that which is negating:

Merciful Heavens! but what do I care for the laws of nature and arithmetic, when, for some reason I dislike those laws and the fact that twice two makes four? Of course I cannot break through the wall by battering my head against it if I really have not the strength to knock it down, but I am not going to be reconciled to it simply because it is a stone wall and I have not the strength.

Western intellectual development in liberalism, materialism and utopianism all emphasize an end product where human happiness is evident.  These products are seen in the realization of participatory democracy, wealth accumulation, or perfection in society.  Yet, the Underground Man suggests that the true exercise of freedom is devoid of products.  

The desire to "break through the wall" is denied by these constructs because it will result in nothing substantive.  The Underground Man repudiates this, suggesting that freedom should not be reduced to product based calculation. For the Underground Man, this critique of Western constructions lies in the validation of human experience.   The totality of Western thought, one that seeks to create perfectible realms, is what the Underground Man repudiates. The Underground Man asserts that perfection, the wall, a Western construction, is impossible. To embrace this position lies antithetical to Western ideas and forms the basis for his assault on "the wall."

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Notes From Underground

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