Why is the underground man rejecting the "-isms" his society would imposed on him?

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

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To a great extent, Dostevsky wishes to create a portrait of a protagonist that represents how human progress is not entirely possible.  In this, the underground man has to reject the "-isms" that are imposed upon him.  Each of these represent a way in which society can be made better, and how human beings can move closer to perfectability.  Socialism, optimism, humanism are all examples of these socially driven philosophical point of view that are designed to embrace the element of human progressivism that seeks to make things better than they were and as good as they can be.  I think that the underground man's penchant for self- destruction and the destruction of those who happen to share emotions for him is the reason why he cannot embrace any of these "-isms."  The underground man is a contradiction, to say the least.  He speaks of terms and ideals in which social improvement and personal betterment is evident, yet cannot embrace the authenticity of personal conviction and commitment needed to embody these ideas.  In this, the underground man represents the modernist tendency to possess a great deal of information and do very little with it.  There is more knowledge and a greater accumulation of it, but there is little in way of understanding and a synthetic approach that can make much personal and social use and utility of it.  Within this, the underground man lives and finds himself.  It is for this reason that he is unable to do anything of use with any of the "-isms" that are present in the social order in which he lives.

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