I found Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground to be quite a different work from his other works. Dostoevsky’s writing style adopted in this novella and the dominating existentialism has much to contribute to this difference.
The novella is of two parts. The first part consists of a bitter rambling of an unnamed narrator who is called the “underground man” (he is understood to be a retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg). This bitter rambling extends to Petersburg society and civilization, and even to laws of nature, and the underground man criticizes how these concepts dictate human action and behaviour. Dostoevsky’s existentialist views are expressed in this part of the story. Existentialists believed and advocated independent choice of will of people and the freedom to exercise that will. They were of the view that without submitting to any outside force humans should be governed by their beliefs and desires.
The second part of the novella consists of the story proper. This part describes certain events that took place in the life of the underground man. This is where the readers gain a good understanding of his character. He is bitter and contemptuous and seems to be suffering from some sort of complex. His thoughts are so contradictory signifying his mental instability. At the same time, there is also a cunning and cruel nature. He seems to be taking immense pleasure at crushing who are helpless when he is unable to fight off his betters. This part of the story displays Dostoevsky’s love for exploring human psychology.
The underground man is an anti-hero. He is not a character to be liked, nor pitied. This is my first Dostoevsky experience with such a character. And to be quite honest, I read all his thoughts and actions with utter disgust. This is one of the reasons I love Dostoevsky. He brings strong emotions out of the readers.
What stands out Dostoevsky is, of course, his writing. With the use of both monologue (first part) and descriptive (second part) forms, he writes this novella in a clever and engaging way. This was not a pleasant reading experience. The content was quite disturbing. But even then Dostoevsky manages to exercise humour to lighten the unpleasantness and unburden your mind.
Dostoevsky’s creativity continually amazes me. The more I read him, the more I’m in awe of his ingenuity. This was not an easy read for me. My sensitive self was rebelling against the vile behaviour of the underground man. But yet something held me on. That is no doubt the skill of a great master. And no one can doubt that of Dostoevsky.