How can Notes from the Underground be considered an existentialist novel?

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

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I think that Dostoevsky's work is considered an existentialist work because it openly declares that there is little in way of transcendent totality in human  consciousness.  Dostoevsky's "underground man" is the existentialist protagonist.  He exists, without any sort of sanctuary and refuge from the pain and agony that exists consciousness.  His predicament and the manner in which he is depicted fulfills many of the conditions of existentialism.  The lack of faith in God or religious exploration is one such way in which the protagonist, the "angry man," is an existentialist character.  Little in him represents the idea that there is an external and transcendent end capable of achievement in consciousness.  There is freedom in the life of the angry man, another tenet of existentialism.  The freedom to live one's life and actually live in a state of perpetual hurt and resentment is another condition present in the novel that is akin to existentialist ideas.  This helps to bring to light the idea that there is a search for meaning and identity which is a part of the existentialist ideas as well as the angry man's condition in the world, one in which there is little in way of solidity, and one where there is constant flux and change.

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