(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

One of Dostoevski’s most interesting and original works, Notes from the Underground represents the real beginning of his literary greatness, even though the earlier novel Poor Folk had already made him famous. Translated into many languages many times, this work is more widely read than perhaps any other late nineteenth century short novel or story. The “underground man” has become a literary archetype, and numerous modern movements have claimed Dostoevski’s creation as their spiritual progenitor. The story consists of two parts. In the first, the underground man gives a long monologue that encapsulates his philosophy, while in the second part, adventures from his life are recounted. Together, these halves form a whole psychological portrait, making a powerful statement against the possibility of rational social progress.

By noticing that the underground man tyrannizes everyone around him, one sees how easy it is for superficial and sentimental people to be corrupted by a strong personality. Thus, the story expresses a pessimistic vision of humankind as weak, too self-centered ever to experience joy, and prone to the agony of solipsism. The essence of the underground man’s meaning lies in his assertion that, as far as he is concerned, the world can go to hell, just as long as he gets his tea. Moreover, Notes from the Underground is a political polemic aimed at reforming Russian society, with its endless wavering...

(The entire section is 414 words.)