Notes From Underground

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Questions and Answers Part I: Underground (Chapters 1−5)

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1. The narrator says he is sick, but why doesn’t he go to a doctor?

2. How does the narrator describe himself and his actions as a civil servant?

3. What does the narrator say his goal or purpose is for writing this story?

4. How does the narrator explain the differences between the man of action and the man of excessive consciousness in terms of following through on the act of revenge?

5. The narrator compares the man of action and the man of excessive consciousness in relation to primary and secondary causes. Provide examples of a primary cause and a secondary cause as the narrator defines them. Then explain how the two different types of man identify the primary and secondary causes (or reasons) for their actions.

1. The narrator states that although he respects the medical community, he has not been to see a doctor. He first says this is because he is superstitious, especially when it comes to the medical world. However, he then confesses that he has not gone to a doctor because he is spiteful—not against doctors but against himself.

2. The narrator explains that he used to be a mean and rude official. He admits that he took pleasure in being hostile toward others. He was most pleased when he made someone feel distressed. However, he explains that even at his most vile moments, he was not really an embittered man. He actually had a soft heart. He merely yelled at other people because he liked to fool around with them.

3. The narrator states that his goal, the reason he is writing this story, is to explain where his pleasure comes from when he is experiencing pain. He also wants to know if other people experience the same type of pleasure from pain.

4. The normal man (man of action) looks at revenge as “no more than a matter of simple justice,” and therefore he has no inner dialogue or conflict and can complete the act of revenge. The man of excessive consciousness, however, becomes so obsessed with the idea of revenge that he cannot act. He is so embittered and so agitated that the man of excessive consciousness can do nothing.

5. All men of action are dull and limited, and their limitation is because they come up with quick, secondary causes and act on them. This makes them feel full of confidence. However, men of action confuse secondary causes for primary ones. A man of excessive consciousness, though, recognizes the difference between primary and secondary causes. A primary cause would be fighting to protect one’s honor or someone else’s honor. Spite, on the other hand, as the narrator states, is a secondary cause. The man of action also has spite, but he convinces himself that this is not true. When a man of action seeks revenge, he tells himself that he is doing so to protect honor. A man of consciousness, though, digs down and finds a cause but immediately knows that it is a secondary cause. So he digs deeper. But all he finds are secondary causes. He never reaches a primary cause that lies deeper still. So he does not act.

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Questions and Answers Part I: Underground (Chapters 6−11)