The narrator, addressing an imaginary group of acquaintances, declares that after many years of life as a rude and spiteful government official, and after many years as a recluse, he is not really bitter in his heart. Something perverse in him, his acute consciousness, has led him to find pleasure in the pain of humiliating experiences. From experience, he advises against intellectual acuteness. The intellectual, he says, when faced with revenge, surrounds himself with a legion of doubts; then he crawls into his self-imposed rat’s nest and tortures himself with petty spite. The direct man, in wreaking revenge, might with dispatch hit his head against a wall, but he will accept the wall. The intellectual will not accept the wall; indeed, he will feel responsibility for the presence of the wall. The narrator declares that he has always had to feign taking offense and that he has had, in the face of life’s transiency, to pretend to love. Life to him is a colossal bore. He can never avenge wrongs done to him because the culprits, the culprits’ motives, and the very misdeeds themselves are all subject to overanalysis in his doubting intellect.
Given another chance at life, the narrator states, he would choose a career of complete laziness, one in which he might revel among good and beautiful things. He declares that even if a man were to know absolutely what things in life are to his best advantage, he will perversely avoid these things. The narrator advances the idea that people may be destined for creativeness, and for this reason, conscious of their fate, they perversely practice destruction to individuate themselves. Perhaps people are fearful of completion, of perfection; perhaps they find final attainment distasteful: Life consists in the attaining, not in the attainment. The narrator concludes his philosophical soliloquy by pointing out that conscious inertia is the ideal state. He provocatively insists that he does not believe a word he has written, that he has written only because the written word seems imposing and dignified. He is oppressed by memories that are evoked by the fall of snow outside.
At the age of twenty-four, the narrator has an inchoate character. He talks to no one. His intense self-consciousness causes him to be vain at one moment and self-loathing the next. He tries to look intelligent and fears any eccentricity in himself. This acute awareness of self makes him lonely, yet he feels superior to others. He becomes a recluse. He reads voraciously and begins to walk the streets at night.
One night, he sees a man thrown out the window of a billiard parlor. In envy, he goes into the billiard parlor in the hope that he, too, might be thrown out. He is humiliated when an officer shoves him aside without noticing him. He returns the next night, but, morally fearful that all the fools in the parlor will jeer at his being thrown out, he does not enter. Dedicated to...
(The entire section is 1193 words.)