Study Guide

Notes from the Underground Part 1, Chapter 11

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Part 1, Chapter 11

  • So really the thing to do, the Underground Man says, is…nothing. Which just happens to be what he is doing now, by living underground. It's better to be conscious and live with the inertia that consciousness brings.
  • And yet, he bitterly, bitterly envies the normal man. Although, he wouldn't want to be the normal man under present conditions. But he still envies him.
  • No, wait, it is better to be underground!
  • No, wait, he's lying.
  • He decides that he isn't happy underground, but the normal life isn't any more appetizing. He wants something else altogether, but he doesn't really know what that is.
  • And another thing: he's been lying this whole time. He doesn't believe any of what he just wrote. Although he adds that he may be lying right now by saying that.
  • Then he goes back to supposing what we, his readers, are thinking. Probably, he supposes, we're thinking that he's pretty shameful and humiliated.
  • According to him, we also think that he's silly for trying to solve everything with a logical tangle, that even if he has suffered, he has no respect for his own suffering, and that he doesn't even have the full consciousness of the heart.
  • He then establishes that he is imagining all these things that his reader is supposedly thinking. For forty years, he says, he's been listening to us from a crack in the floor, which presumably made it easy for him to invent the fictional "us" and to put words in our mouth.
  • It gets weirder. Hold on to your hats. The Underground Man wonders why he addresses us at all, since these writings aren't meant to be read by anyone, ever.
  • This warrants some more explanation. Every man, he says, has imagined some sin that he can't share with anyone, ever, not even his best friends.
  • But there are other things – things even more secret – which a man will not admit even to himself.
  • In fact, he argues, the more "decent" a man is, the more of these indecent thoughts he has.
  • Since the Underground Man understands this, he wants to try recalling some former events, to see if he can admit to himself the whole truth of what happened.
  • He then references this German guy Heinrich Heine, who argued that man could never write a true autobiography, since he's definitely going to lie about himself. This is true, he says, but only in the case of people who write autobiographies meant for the public. Since the Underground Man is writing only for himself, he won't have that issue. He has no reason to lie to make himself look better, since no one will ever read his writing.
  • (Er…)
  • (Just go with it.)
  • He supposes that we, his non-existent readers, might be asking the question, "If you don't intend on having readers, why are you explaining things to us? Why are you apologizing?"
  • Because, he says, it helps him to imagine an audience. Imagining an audience makes his writing more dignified.
  • OK, then why write on paper instead of just thinking the thoughts?
  • Because putting it on paper is more impressive, he explains. Plus this way, he can do fun things, like revisions.
  • (This would be the worse in-class peer-editing session ever, no?)
  • But back to his memories and attempted autobiography. At this very moment, he is afflicted by one particular memory. He thinks that, maybe if he writes it down, he can be rid of it.
  • And also, he's bored, so why not.
  • And thus he begins: the falling snow today is what reminded him of this one particular time.

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