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Notes from the Underground

Notes from the Underground

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Suffering Theme

In Notes from the Underground, the Underground man argues that suffering is enjoyable – even a toothache. The pleasure, he says, comes when you are intensely conscious of your pain, adding that it's enjoyable to make others suffer with you. Suffering is necessary, he continues, because it leads to consciousness. The two notions – suffering and consciousness – have a complicated relationship in the text, each necessitating the other and making the other possible. For this reason, man will never give up suffering, since man needs to be conscious and have his free will. He will even purposely cause himself pain to prove that he's free to do so.

Questions About Suffering

  1. How does suffering prove that man has free will?
  2. According to the Underground Man, if man were not conscious of his suffering, would he still enjoy it? Why or why not?
  3. The Underground Man devotes a significant chunk of text to justifying his self-inflicted suffering. But what justifies the ways he inflicts suffering on others?
  4. At the end of Notes, the Underground Man asks, "Which is better—cheap happiness, or exalted sufferings? Well, which is better?" Well…. which is better? Which does Notes defend?

Chew on This

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

Dostoevsky holds up the Underground Man as a negative example; Notes from the Underground argues against self-inflicted suffering.

Dostoevsky holds up the Underground Man as a positive example; Notes from the Underground argues in favor of self-inflicted suffering.

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