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Themes

Notes from the Underground features a lonely, self-isolated, self-hating hermit who has spent the last twenty years of his life underground. However, this Underground Man has been alone, "always alone," for all of his life. His isolation seems to stem from an acute and paralyzing self-awareness. He expects the world to operate the way it does in literature, and after each inevitable disappointment he can do nothing but retreat back into his lonely world of books. Nursing a fragile ego, the Underground Man will often hate in return for being hated, which is not the quickest way to make friends.

Questions About Isolation

  1. Is the Underground Man isolated because of his spite, over-consciousness, and self-loathing, or does he develop these qualities because he is isolated?
  2. What single characteristic is most responsible for rendering the Underground Man different from other, more "normal" men?
  3. In his flashbacks, the Underground Man discusses the way his moods occurred in periodic phases: sometimes he wanted to be alone, but sometimes he was seized with the sudden desire for human contact.
  4. What made him want to be around other people?
  5. What drove him back underground afterwards?
  6. Now that he is forty and telling us all this information, do we get the sense that he still experiences such urges? Or has he pretty much settled in "down there" for the long haul?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The Underground Man chooses to remain underground in order to avoid other people.

The Underground Man has been driven underground by the callousness of other people; in a nutshell…it's not his fault.

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