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Free Study Guide for Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES

CHAPTER 4

Summary

The narrator explains how people find pleasure in the pain they are suffering. He uses a toothache as an example. A person moans when his tooth hurts, because there is a kind of pleasure in the moaning. When the moaning is heard by another person, it is even more pleasurable, for the moaner is inflicting his suffering upon someone else.

Notes

As the narrator explains his view that people take pleasure in their pain, he is very aware that his imaginary audience thinks he is crazy and mocks him. Since they are common, unthinking people, he cannot expect anything better from them. They accept the laws of nature (scientific thinking) without question, so they can not possibly understand that there is pleasure in pain. To try and prove his point, the narrator talks about a toothache and the pleasure a person derives from moaning about it. The fact that man finds pleasure in pain points out the contradictory nature of humans and the fallacy of scientific thinking, which would state that pain is only pain.

The men of action do not think about their pains, but simply accept and deal with them. In contrast the intelligent, conscious man thinks about the pain and seeks a reason or explanation about what he is being made to suffer. As he thinks about the pain, it simply grows worse, as the man grows more confused, unable to find any purpose for the pain.


CHAPTER 5

Summary

The narrator wonders if a man who finds enjoyment in his own degradation can have any self-respect. He cites incidents from his past where he intentionally went into degrading situations merely to escape boredom. He again claims that boredom results from inertia, which arises from excessive consciousness. Since he suffers from excessive consciousness and intelligence, the narrator says he is often bored and can do nothing but babble. He is, however, unable to take action, for one must be free of doubt to act. Since he is intelligent, he can never be doubt free. He knows that if he tried to take action, such as loving or hating, he would despise himself for having betrayed his own beliefs.

The narrator does at times feel insulted. When someone slights him, he wallows in the insult, thinking about it until he feels truly offended. In contrast, men of action are not bothered by negative comments, for they are too busy doing things to pay the insults any attention or to think about them like the men of consciousness are forced to do.

Notes

The underground man pathetically explains that he invites self- degradation to escape boredom and create a life for himself. His explanation shows him to be a lonely and desperate man who is prepared to go to any length to feel alive, even if it involves pain and humiliation.

Once more the narrator takes up his analysis of what makes unintelligent people capable of action, trying to convince his imaginary audience of the truth of his argument. Since stupid people do not think, they have no doubts; therefore, they are free to act - to love and to hate without concern. They also never feel insulted. When someone says something negative about them, they are too busy to be bothered by the comments. In contrast, men of intelligence labor over the insult until they feel totally offended and miserable.

CHAPTER 6

Summary

The narrator wishes he could be lazy, capable of making a career as an idler. At least he would then be something and could die with dignity. He also wishes he could embrace the good and the beautiful, seeking these qualities and toasting them in all he encounters. He would even like to grow fat so that people would notice him and take him to be somebody worthy. In truth, he just wants to be able for people to say something definite about him.

Notes

This chapter reveals the narrator's desperate search for self-identity and affirmation. Since he feels he is nothing because of his inertia and immobility, he would like to be known as almost anything. He says if he could only be a fat man, an idler, or an embracer of the beautiful, he would be known for something and could die with dignity. He even wishes he were stupid enough to take action so he could be defined as a human being. It is obvious that he has absolutely no respect for himself, feels he lives a totally meaningless existence, and fears he will die as an unknown entity. It is also obvious that he judges himself on the basis of what others think about him and feels miserable and worthless in the process.

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Chapter Summary for Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
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