Notes from the Underground Characters

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The "nameless narrator" of Notes from the Underground. Some readers and critics refer to him as "the Underground Man". The book is written by Fyodor Dostoevsky and it could be argued that the "I" is Dostoevsky, though he makes it clear from an early footnote that the "I" is fictional. He does note that "I" must exist. "I" is concerned with an array of questions, many of them on the free will and psychological interests of mankind in general. The "I" freely refers to the audience—the reader—and tends to realize questions and arguments that would be forthcoming from a real audience. "I" answers those questions, seeming to give an honest accounting of himself and his life, though he'll point out that it's impossible for a person to be completely honest about all things.

"I" is interested in some of the important questions of life. He wonders whether man has free will to decide his own fate or whether he is bound by the laws of nature or some other set of regulations. One of the points made by this writer is that people hide some things from others and some things even from themselves. He claims that he's going to attempt to be totally honest in an effort to see if that's really true. He adheres to the notion that no one is going to read his writings. He then says that he realizes that he seems to be writing to an audience but says it's merely a literary device—that it's an easier style of writing than any other.

The writer is a selfish man and claims himself incapable of love. He swears that he is more intelligent than others, often to the point of embarrassment. He is anxious always to put on a good front in front of others but finds that he's unable to stand up to their scrutiny or their confrontations. He spends years planning an altercation with an officer and it ends with a mere brushing of the shoulders. He would like to fire his servant, Apollon, but says that Apollon would never leave. He claims to be well-read but is a pauper, barely able to make ends meet and constantly borrowing from those few who will lend him money.


The woman the writer meets in the house of prostitution. Liza confides in him that she's from Riga, where she lived with her parents. She says that she hasn't fully committed to becoming a prostitute but that she already owes money to the madam of the house. She doesn't say how it is that she came to be in that position, but the writer berates her for her decision. He rants for some time on the benefits of living at home and the negative points of living as a prostitute. He goes on so long that Liza begins to cry uncontrollably. Not knowing what to say, he hurriedly prepares to leave but gives Liza his address in a moment of some weakness that he isn't able to describe. Liza shows a letter, written to her from a medical student. The love letter, according to Dostoevsky, is genuine as no one can feign those emotions. She seems to hold this letter as a precious treasure and the writer notes that she's trying to redeem herself in his eyes.

It's three days before Liza shows up at his home, though he's been expecting her for all that time. When she arrives, the writer is having a ferocious fight with Apollon. He lives poorly and he's seen himself and his apartment through her eyes. Without giving her time to say or do anything, he begins to rant at her again, telling her that yes, he's a pauper and a liar. He treats her cruelly and then tells her to get out. After she's out of the apartment, he admits what he'd known—that she loves him for trying to help her out of her previous situation. He rushes after her but doesn't catch up. He admits that he would never have made her happy simply because he's not the kind of man who can be happy with another woman and he says that Liza—as a woman in love—saw his unhappiness for what it truly was. Liza is never heard of again.


The writer's servant. The writer talks of his hatred for the man because Apollon always carried himself with an air that made it clear that he felt himself superior to those around him—including his employer, the writer. According to the writer's description, Apollon deigned to do little for him and was a tailor on the side. For example, as the writer was preparing to go out with friends, he borrowed the polishing brush in secret to give his boots a second shine because Apollon would never have polished the boots twice in a single day. He's described as carefully attending his own appearance even down to using vegetable oil on his hair to achieve a specific look. His carriage was also careful and he held a subservient attitude that seemed to the writer to be lofty. He remains with the writer for seven years and the writer says Apollon seems a part of his life. After leaving the employ of the writer, Apollon hired out to read the Psalter over the dead and supplemented the income with rat extermination and making shoe polish.

Anton Antonych Setochkin

The writer's office chief. He is described as "serious", but the writer goes to him to borrow money for a beaver collar for his coat in order to present a better appearance upon his meeting with the officer. Anton is said to be the only "lasting acquaintance" of the writer. When the writer is planning to challenge Zverkov to a duel, he believes he'll ask Anton to be his second.

The Officer

The writer first meets the officer when he's standing in the officer's path. The officer moves him to the side, seemingly with no thought to the writer. This angers the writer and he seethes about it for years until he arranges to be in a place where he's certain to meet the officer. He plans to refuse to step aside, allowing himself to bump into the officer. This happens but the officer hardly notices the encounter at all. The writer, however, is jubilant, thinking that he had succeeded in setting himself up as the officer's equal.


A former schoolmate of the writer and the one person he feels comfortable occasionally visiting, though he notes that there are times when he's not at all certain he's welcome. He's among the three throwing the farewell dinner for Zverkov. Before the end of that dinner, he is also angry at the writer. The writer later sends a note of apology for his actions during that dinner, seemingly in an effort to keep this one person who seems to be the one person the writer claims as a friend.


Another of the writer's former schoolmates. The writer doesn't have fond memories of Zverkov, saying that he won out in an argument once and that Zverkov exacted his revenge by winning several others. On the eve of his departure into the service, the writer invites himself along to a farewell gathering for Zverkov. The writer is angry by the end of the evening and challenges Zverkov to a duel which Zverkov says he'll accept but actually puts down to drunken ramblings.

The Friend

A "collective personage" described by Dostoevsky. This friend is that person who explains how everything must be done with "truth and reason" as a guide, but then acts without either.


The audience to which Dostoevsky talks in this manuscript. The "Gentlemen" sometimes "answer" and Dostoevsky responds with a rebuttal or some counterstatement of his own. This is a literary tool meant to bring the reader into the story.


The workmen are those who accomplish a week's work, then move to the bar to spend their earnings and end up in jail. While it might seem pointless to some, Dostoevsky points out that they are engaged and that they've just completed a week's occupation.

Trudolyubov and Ferfichkin

The two friends of Simonov's who plan the farewell dinner for Zverkov. They become embroiled in a heated argument with the writer and go so far as to say that he should never have invited himself and that he should leave. They clearly don't like the writer.

This section contains 1,422 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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