Notes from the Underground

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Student Question

Is the underground man in "Notes from the Underground" an example of Plato's allegory of the cave?

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I don't see the underground man as a representation of Plato's allegory of the cave.  The cave dwellers in Plato's work remain in the cave and believe reality to exist within it.  Yet, when one of them goes out to see the real world of the exterior, change is evident.  When he tells the rest of them about what was experienced, the rest of them coalesce with one another in deriding he who went outside.  The underground man, in my my mind, does not meet either condition.  He is not prone to changing when seeing life outside of the cave.  He preempts this because the underground man already knows that there is a world outside of himself.  The challenge here is that he is filled with contempt for it.  An example of this would be that the underground man understands that there is a world where his liver does not hurt.  Yet, in his mind, he does not want to lose control of the one thing he possesses some level of control over, so he demands that he "let it hurt more."  This is not Platonic in any way.  At the same time, the underground man does not experience the social cohesion that is evident with those who reject the ones who venture outside of the cave.  The underground man is alone, unable to connect to anyone.  In this, the underground man is decidedly an anti-Plato figure.  He does not use rationalism or deduction to find a higher, transcendental notion of reality.  He rejects these when offered to him.  Unlike Plato's allegory, there is little redemption in the underground man, who has defined freedom in the most narrow and most negative of consequences.  If nothing else, this is decidedly anti- Platonic.

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