Suggested Essay Topics
Part I: Underground (Chapters 1−11)
1. Research the nineteenth-century philosophy of utilitarianism. Define it. Identify its most outspoken thinkers and theorists. Then pose the arguments against utilitarianism that the narrator of Notes From Underground presents in the novel. Conclude with your opinions as to which argument is the stronger of the two. Which one is at work in social development in U.S. society today? Do you believe it is successful? How would you improve on it?
2. What is determinism? Find a comprehensive definition for determinism from nineteenth-century philosophers as well as from a contemporary source. Research some of the arguments against determinism, showing how the narrator in Notes From Underground aligns his thoughts with these arguments. Provide your own conclusions at the end of the essay by answering this question: is determinism a viable philosophy for the successful evolution of society?
3. The narrator in Notes From Underground often refers to the idea that he feels as insignificant as an insect or a mouse. Franz Kafka (1883–1924) is said to have been greatly influenced by Dostoevsky’s writing. Read Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a story about a man waking up to discover that he is a cockroach. Then write an essay about the similarities you find between Kafka’s and Dostoevsky’s novels. Do you believe that their fundamental ideas and the thesis of their works are similar? Do you think the two writers had similar beliefs about people and society?
4. The narrator defines and discusses two different types of man in the first part of this novel. Define these two types in as much detail as the narrator provides. How are they similar? How do they differ? Which type of man is the narrator? What types are the other male characters in the story?...
(The entire section is 797 words.)