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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
Notes from Underground is set in the city of St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) in nineteenth-century Russia. Unlike other cities of Europe, it has no long history since it was only established at the beginning of the eighteenth century by Peter the Great. Built to be the seat of government, St. Petersburg was designed as an impressive city. It was laid out with symmetrical streets, and Italian and French architects produced magnificent palaces to be built there. By the nineteenth century, the time of the novel, St. Petersburg had become a bustling city on the Gulf of Finland.
The Narrator (or the Underground Man)
The main character and protagonist of the book. The unnamed and unhappy narrator is representative of all the alienated people inhabiting the impersonal city of St. Petersburg. He is a forty-year-old man who has been living most of his life in what he calls the "underground," which refers to his psychological isolation, most of it self-willed, from the world around him. It is obvious that the narrator is a spiteful, angry man who creates fantasies for himself since he cannot handle the real world.
The narrator has had a difficult life. Orphaned and unloved as a child, he was sent off by relatives to a school where he was rejected by everybody. As an adult, he feels totally unaccepted and incapable of being loved or giving love. As a result, he lives a miserable existence and develops a very warped sense of life.
A young prostitute, about twenty years of age, who is driven by despair and longs for a new life. During the course of the book, she begins to trust the narrator and accept his offer of help. Unfortunately, he rejects her.
Anton Antonych Setochkin
The narrator's supervisor at the office where he works. Although the narrator sometimes visit him at his home on Tuesdays, there is not a close relationship between them.
A former schoolmate of the narrator. Although the narrator visits him and borrows money from him, there is not a close relationship between them.
A former schoolmate of the narrator. He is now an officer and is leaving for a distant province. When the narrator invites himself to a going-away party for Zverkov, he is treated very rudely.
A former schoolmate of the narrator who had been his bitterest enemy from the earliest grades.
A former schoolmate who has become an unremarkable and cold military individual.
The handyman/servant of the narrator. The two of them have petty squabbles.