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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 345

Often referred to as a novel narrated by the first antihero in modern literature, Notes From Underground is considered by most literary critics as Fyodor Dostoevsky’s first great work, the germ from which his later masterpieces would evolve. Notes From Underground was originally published in Russia as a two-part serialized story in January and February of 1864. It was the featured story in the journal Epoch, which Dostoevsky published with his older brother, Mikhail. The story has a rather dismal tone, which might reflect the particularly difficult time Dostoevsky was experiencing when he wrote it. Some of Dostoevsky’s biographers have called this period the lowest point of the author’s life: his finances were disappearing fast, his wife was dying, and his reputation, which had at one time enjoyed the backing of Russia’s liberal reading public, was fading. Dostoevsky’s philosophy was growing more and more conservative, and many of his readers did not like the change.

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The most obvious tone of the unnamed narrator of Notes From Underground is a bitter one. He never quite fits in his social environment. At the time the story begins, the narrator has completely receded from society. Through a detailed discussion of his philosophy, the narrator uses the first part of the novel to explain why he has withdrawn. It is in the second part of the novel that the narrator offers examples of his social interactions, those that led to his isolation. However, throughout the story, the narrator frequently contradicts himself and becomes somewhat defensive as he tries to justify his actions.

Notes From Underground is also Dostoevsky’s first clear representation of some of his most intimate reflections on life. However, critics are not sure if the narrator of this novel represents Dostoevsky’s actual beliefs or if he was meant to satirize popular philosophies of the time. What is agreed upon is that the narrator believes that man can just as easily be irrational as he can be rational. And this antihero narrator argues that, perhaps, irrationality might be the more valid state.

Extended Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1800

Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground is set in nineteenth-century Russia and reflects some of the prevailing philosophical discourses of the times. As Russia struggles to identify its future, the novel’s unnamed narrator—the Underground Man—presents arguments that are meant to dissuade his audience (probably Russian intellectuals) from leaning toward European scientific and mathematical solutions to human problems. The narrator champions the concept of free will, and he takes his argument to the point of absurdity to make his opinion heard. The narrator is not a very likable character. In fact, he has been dubbed the first literary antihero. The entire novel is told through the Underground Man’s eyes and experience. Although his tale is not always comfortable to hear, the story of the Underground Man showcases Dostoevsky’s deep understanding of psychology and human motivation, well before either of these sciences was developed. Whereas much of Russian literature before Dostoevsky had focused on human action, Notes From Underground is invested in the inner workings of a person’s mind—the Underground Man’s tormented thoughts and feelings.

Part I: Underground (Chapters 1−5)
The unnamed narrator of Notes From Underground is a forty-year-old man who has been living underground for twenty years. Readers can assume that by calling it an underground the narrator implies that he has removed himself from society. Throughout the novel, the narrator addresses his comments to an undisclosed audience, presumably Russian intellectuals.

The narrator begins to describe his former life, a...

(The entire section contains 2145 words.)

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Chapter Summaries