Notes from the Underground Themes

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The Need for Companionship

The author is continually seeking out companionship though he's never happy with the time he spends with another. He talks about his periods of dreaming, saying that he could never hold up to them for more than about three months at a time. It seems that he knows he's happier spending his time in solitude with only his dreaming, but somehow can't resist the need to seek out human companions. He says that he would find time to play card games and spend time with others but would inevitably find it unsuitable to continue spending time with them. Though he doesn't describe the partings, it seems likely that he would have parted with them as he did his former classmates, Simonov Zverkov, Trudolyubov, and Ferfichkin.

In this case, he happened upon a meeting of Simonov, Ferfichkin, and Trudolyubov, and invites himself along to a dinner they're throwing for Zverkov. He says that he sometimes visits Simonov but has seldom seen the others since they were in school. He says that whenever he shows up at Simonov's home, which is apparently fairly sporadically and based on the author's own need for companionship as it comes and goes, Simonov always seems somewhat surprised. After the author does invite himself along to this dinner, he is angry at himself and almost decides not to go. It's interesting to note that he does go but it seems as if he's trying to save face rather than that any interest in spending time with any of the four men.

The interesting thing about the author is that he wants companionship but wants it only on his own terms and in his own timeframe. When he begins to worry that Liza will show up at his apartment, he's angry. He was also angry when he sought her out at the brothel. But he admits that he had almost followed her to ask her to come back. That seems to be an admission that he does need the companionship and that he knows that he'll wish for it later.

The Need for Free Will

The author argues at length about the possibility that human life will someday be taken to a level of mathematical equation. In that case, free will will no longer exist because every action of every person could be determined—and predetermined—by graphs or equations. The problem, according to the author, is that people want the ability to make their own decisions and to do things simply because they want to—not because it's required. As an example, he points out that some people might say that a sane man would never wish for anything that wasn't in his best interests—an "advantage", as the author calls it. But he says that's not true. He says that sometimes people simply wish for something that's not what is in their best interest just because it's what they want to do. This seems to be a topic the author knows a lot about as he spends time wishing for companionship and dreaming of impossible situations. He imagines himself winning over a group of former classmates by his intellect. But when he's with them, he behaves badly and parts with bitter words. He even plans to challenge one of them to a duel but that never comes about. The author wishes for this companionship in his dreams but says that he would sell the entire world for a kopek if it would only earn him a bit of peace.

The writer talks of free will and man's ability to choose for himself and contrasts that with the mathematical equation, "two times two makes four". This equation becomes the opposite of free will, according to the author. He does say that if people had no free will, there'd be nothing for an intelligent man to do except to submerge himself in thought. He notes that the lack of anything interesting to occupy one's time leads to things like whipping oneself.

Self-Analysis

The fact that the writer of the book calls himself an "antihero" indicates that he's conducted extensive self-analysis. The "Notes" are filled with those sections of analysis. For example, when Liza is in his arms in his apartment, he is suddenly filled with an emotion that he correctly identifies as passion but with revenge as the ultimate motive. He says that she is afraid only for a moment. Afterward, he says that he's done her an incredible wrong. When she leaves, he almost follows her but says that he knows he couldn't make her happy because he isn't the sort of person who could make anyone happy in the long term.

It's interesting that some of his self-analysis seems self-serving while other times he seems brutally honest. For example, he says that he is more intelligent than most people around him and that it's sometimes so obvious that he's embarrassed about it. That's a statement he repeats several times. He says that as a child other boys figured out that he was well-read and that it intimidated them. On the other hand, he tells Liza that he is ashamed of his lifestyle—living as he is in poverty. He says that it's a condition to be ashamed of.

His self-analysis is often focused on his appearance. He is absorbed in his own facial features, saying that he tries to look intellectual. He notes upon heading out to meet his friends that he has a yellowish stain on his pants and that the presence of that stain is likely to ruin most of his pleasure of the evening. That scrutiny passes to his surroundings and he dreads the thought of Liza visiting because she'll see him living with his shabby couch and his tattered robe—all reasons for which he despises himself and believes that others will judge him for.

This section contains 984 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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