Analyzing whether the underground man is a nihilist
Based on the life of the 1860s, “Notes from Underground” features the life of a person referred to as the Underground Man (UM). He is a bitter but intelligent man who tries to escape societal norms because of his hyper-consciousness. He has been living “underground” for at least twenty years since retiring as a civil servant after securing some inheritance. Throughout the first part of the novel, the narrator introduces the readers to his isolated and deplorable life. At this stage, the reader also gets to know that he is 40 years. Strong nihilistic ideologies entail deep beliefs that everything has no meaning. This will include totally leading a care-free life where even the slightest pain provokes the individual to seek short cuts in order to reduce or eliminate the pain (Frank).
However, from the book, it is evident that the narrator seeks anguish to find connection with the outside world. It seems that he finds enjoyment from the suffering given that for him it the only way to connect with the outside world that is full of suffering. He points out that “even in toothache there is enjoyment” (18) in reference to a toothache that he once had. In relation to the Underground Man, it is evident that he seeks to use pain as a tool to find fulfillment from life. The narrator’s perception of finding value in pain is contrary to nihilism which reproaches the value of everything. The Underground’s Man belief on consciousness contradicts nihilistic ideologies. Though the first parts of the novel portray a man who seems to be out of touch with reality, it becomes evident that the narrator is in fact conscious of the world around him.
Moreover, he is conscious of the futility of his life and that of other people. The Underground Man desires existential evolution. Although the narrator is overly self-deprecating, it emerges that this decision is borne from his loneliness and sickness. This is perhaps even more visible in how he treats the prostitute. He seems to love her but tries to downplay it by being angry and petty. He sees himself as not being good enough for the girl even despite her job. Therefore, a person like the underground man is an imposter and not a true nihilist. It is evident that he cares so much of how the society perceives and wishes to be part of it that it forces him to resort to negativity as a defense strategy (Liebert, and Spiegler).
In conclusion, the aim of the paper was to analyze whether the Underground Man was a nihilist or not. Various evidences have been noted throughout the novel to support the conclusion that he was not a nihilist. The paper further refers to David Foster Wallace’s speech and the memoir of Haruki Murakami in order to understand their interpretation of consciousness and happiness respectively. Lastly, the thoughts of the narrator reveal that he desired existential evolution. He reveals through various instances that he desired to give some meaning to his life but felt like he could not fit in the society hence resort to self-deprecation. For instance, the reader learns he did not hate his co-workers but was only fearful and jealous of them.
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