But Notes from Underground is not quite as simple as that, and this is where its construction as a work of art rather than philosophy comes into play. The first thing to note is that this conception of irrationality and freedom is is being advanced not by Dostoevsky, but by his narrator; Dostoevsky may agree with some of the things the underground man says, but the fact that he has constructed a character to express these ideas should give us pause for thought. Because although we might happily concur with some of the underground man’s pronouncements in part 1 – about man’s irrational side, and the importance of maintaining the freedom to assert one’s own personality – most sane readers would not see his actions or personality in part 2 as any sort of model to emulate (and this is important because the characters in What is to be Done? were perceived precisely in those terms). His life is isolated, as he is unable to build or maintain any meaningful relationships, and he is bitter, spiteful, perverse, sadistic and aggressive – in other words, thoroughly unlikeable, and difficult to sympathize with (indeed, he would not want his reader’s sympathy, and part of the problem is that a lot of his aggression is directed at the reader).


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