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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Dostoevsky begins with a footnote in which he explains that the narrator is imaginary; but he claims people such as the narrator must exist, for he represents all of those who are forced to live "underground" because they cannot relate to or accept the society as it exists.
The author is certain that there are many men like the narrator, who feels he must live in isolation to escape the pressures of society. In nineteenth century Russia, the scientific way of thinking had been widely accepted, and the narrator wants to avoid it.
The forty-year-old narrator, known as "the underground man," begins the book by describing himself in first person. He states that he has many contrary elements in his personality and admits that most of them are very negative. He claims to have no moral sense, which he blames on his excessive consciousness and intelligence. He also admits that he is not a man of action, for he feels that such people are limited in their intelligence. He adds that he has acted like a spiteful man for twenty years. It started when he began his government employment. On the job, he always tried to make people feel unhappy or uncomfortable. In spite of his behavior, the narrator claims that he is not really spiteful by nature; he only acts that way to amuse himself.
The narrator states that he never liked his government job. When he inherited some money from a distant relative, he immediately quit the position and settled down in a horrible room on the outskirts of the city, where he still lives by himself. He does, however, have a woman from the country to help him with domestic affairs.
The narrator admits that he is unattractive in appearance. Because of his looks and personality, he chooses to live a life of poverty and isolation in St. Petersburg, Russia. Believing that he cannot make anything of himself, he withdraws into himself and refuses to associate with the outside world that thrives on scientific thinking, which he believes is wrong. He also believes that it is vulgar and immoral to live past the age of forty; however, he is now past forty and plans to live for awhile longer.
The narrator knows that he is sick, probably with liver disease, and needs medical treatment, but he refuses to seek it purely out of spite, even though he realizes he is harming himself. He also acknowledges that the congested St. Petersburg is not good for his health and is too expensive, but he refuses to leave the city. He is satisfied with the "underground" life he lives there.
From this very first chapter, the book is really a confession. It is written in first person with the nameless "underground man" serving as the narrator and directly addressing an imaginary audience. From time to time, he interrupts his narrative in order to talk to this audience, whom he assumes does not like him or his ideas. He tells his audience that that he lives a life of isolation in St. Petersburg and that he suffers from poor health and a lack of morality. He also states that he is more intelligent than most people, which is the reason that he is given to thought rather than action. He also has difficulty accepting any of the popular nineteenth century ideas, such as scientific thinking.
The narrator is filled with contradictions. He says he wants to be totally honest, but he then admits that he is holding back some information that he finds difficult to discuss or accept. He describes himself as spiteful and then says he could never really be spiteful, but only pretends to be so to amuse himself. He says that it is vulgar to live past the age of forty, but he is forty and plans to go on living. Although he plans to go on living, he states he is very sick, but refuses to see a doctor - out of spite. These contradictions are intentional, for Dostoevsky believes that all men are contradictory.
Through the descriptions that the narrator gives about his past, his character traits, and his lifestyle, it becomes obvious that he is a negative and miserable man. No positive word emerges from his mouth. He is down on himself, down on St. Petersburg, and down on mankind. As a result, the tone and mood of the book immediately become very dark and gloomy.