Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES
The narrator believes that he suffers from excessive consciousness, a disease that causes inertia and renders him incapable of either changing or wanting to change himself. He admits it is a disease that has led him into depravity. After struggling with the feeling of shame that accompanies his depravity, he has come to accept it as normal and find pleasure in it. There are other contradictions presented by the narrator about himself in the chapter. He says he sometimes has beautiful thoughts, which lead him to do ugly things. He claims that "the more conscious I was of goodness...the more deeply I sank into my mire. Although he admits he lives in misery, he claims he enjoys the condition. In the past, the narrator has wished he could become something else, like an insect. Although he would like to change, he knows that he never will, for he thinks about things rather than acting upon them.
This chapter again emphasizes the narrator's belief that men, like himself, who think too much are incapable of action. Because they think, they see the imperfections of the world and know no way to change things. As a result, they suffer and do nothing. The greater the intelligence, the greater the suffering. This belief in the inertia of the intelligent runs throughout the novel and forms one of its important Themes. In contrast, the unintelligent man acts without thinking, almost instinctively, and never weighs the consequences of his actions. Free from guilt or suffering, the non-thinker performs evil acts without the slightest thought of the harm he is doing.
Another important theme, the danger of scientific thinking and rationality, is also developed in the chapter. The narrator points out the irony of the fact that man's rationality and intelligence, which are highly valued in scientific thought, are really a disease that holds mankind back, for only unintelligent and unthinking men are proactive. The thinking man is aware of all that is good, but since he is incapable of action, he cannot pursue the good things in life and leads a life of depravity, like the underground man.
The narrator describes the single-mindedness of the average man of action. Once he begins, he can rarely be stopped, for he does not think about what he is doing. If someone does interrupt or cross him, the man of action usually takes quick revenge. In contrast, the unintelligent man can never take revenge, for he is too busy thinking about how he has been wronged to take action. Although the underground man calls these men of action stupid, he envies them for their ability to intensely carry out what they begin.
The narrator also admits that it is only logical to accept reality and the laws of nature, which men of action easily do. He, however, questions reality and refuses to accept any of it that displeases him. Since his intelligence tells him that this approach is absurd, he suffers from confusion and pain, but can do nothing about it.
The unintelligent men of action are quick to take revenge. When they are crossed, they simply react, without a single thought of consequences. In contrast, men of developed consciousness, like the underground man, retreat into their own world to lick their wounds, contemplate how they have been wronged, and suffer in silence because they are incapable of doing anything about it. Their isolation, which they cannot avoid, locks them into bitterness, hate, humiliation, and hopelessness. The underground man has become so accustomed to this state of despair that he takes comfort and pleasure in it, like a true masochist. He has also learned to accept his own confusion, which is caused by the fact that he questions and often rejects the laws of nature and reality, leading to greater pain. Unlike the men of action, who easily accept the rational, the underground man questions whether he could be descended from an ape or whether two times two always has to equal four. His constant contemplation leads to inactivity and boredom.