In Notes from Underground, why does Dostoyevsky’s protagonist call himself the Underground Man?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, the self-styled "Underground Man" is a very conflicted individual. His self-awareness constantly causes him to doubt structure of any kind to the point that he speculates and taunts himself "with the spiteful and useless consolation that an intelligent man" which he considers himself to be "cannot become anything seriously, and it is only the fool who becomes anything." He constantly questions his own ability to make decisions and recognizes the futility of the decisions he makes. 

He keeps detailed notes, not for review, as then he would be expected- by society at large - to lie in his notes, but just because his note-keeping allows him to rationalize - in a totally irrational way - those things around him - most of which do not make sense. Man continually contradicts himself and is nothing more that an "ungrateful biped." He feels that the reader is judging him and that the reader is critical of his preferred exclusion, away from society; the society he used to be a part of, as a civil servant, and for which he holds only contempt. The underground man has systematically removed himself from society; he has abandoned any youthful ideals as nonsensical, he has resigned from his job, he lives in self-imposed isolation in his apartment but at the same time is panic-stricken at having revealed any side of himself to Liza. He is most comfortable as long as he remains dis-connected.

As an "irksome babbler," the Underground Man can only speculate on the outcome of anything as he lives in his little "corner," his metaphorical underground. Only Liza has been able to affect him to the point where he sees potential and, even then, he destroys any chance of redemption he may have had by giving her the money because there is apparently no future for him as "they" won't permit it. His underground is preferable and this reveals the irony of such a masochistic lifestyle. He is only truly content in his misery, as an outcast, an outsider, an underground man. 

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Notes From Underground

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