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The Underground Man Essay Help

Topic #1: Is the narrator a man of action?
I. Thesis statement: The narrator in Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground claims he is not a man of action. He demonstrates this in many different ways throughout the novel. However, he does follow through on three important actions. Two of these he does as if he is blinded by them. But the third he does in complete consciousness. It is a vile act, one that sends him into complete isolation.

II. The narrator defines himself as the opposite of a man of action.

A. The narrator describes a man of action.
1. Provide the definition of a man of action.
2. Provide examples of a man of action.

B. The narrator describes a man of excessive consciousness, the opposite of a man of action.
1. Provide the definition of a man of excessive consciousness.
2. Provide examples of a man of excessive consciousness.

III. The narrator thinks about taking action.
1. Provide examples of plans the narrator makes.
2. Provide examples of how the plans fail.
3. How do these examples demonstrate that he is not a man of action?

IV. The narrator does take three actions.
A. Two plans that the narrator does almost blindly
1. He closes his eyes when he bumps into the officer.
2. He blacks out after having sex with Liza for the first time.
B. He then humiliates and perhaps rapes Liza.

V. Conclusion: Is the narrator a man of action or not?

Topic #2: The narrator as a hero or an antihero?
I. Thesis statement: The term antihero is found in Notes From Underground. There is also a discussion about heroes, what it takes to be a hero, and who might be considered one. Despite the narrator’s awareness of the difference between hero and antihero, he often dreams of being a hero. He even thinks he is a hero when he persuades Liza to leave the house of prostitution. So what is the narrator: a hero or an antihero?

II. There are two definitions of a hero.
A. Provide a classic literary definition of hero.
1. What does it take to be a hero according to the literary definition?
2. Who are some classic literary heroes?

B. Provide the narrator’s definition of hero.
1. What does it take to be a hero in the narrator’s words?
2. Whom does the narrator consider a hero in this novel?

III. There are two definitions of an antihero.
A. Provide a classic literary definition of an antihero.
1. What does it take to be an antihero according to the literary definition?
2. Who are some classic literary antiheroes?

B. Provide the narrator’s definition of an antihero.
1. What does it take to be an antihero in the narrator’s words?
2. How does the narrator fit this definition?

IV. The confusion of the narrator as he sees himself as a hero
A. The narrator sees himself as a hero in his fantasies.
B. The narrator sees himself as a hero to Liza.

V. Conclusion: Is the narrator a hero or an antihero?

1. Some critics see the Underground Man as insane, while others see him as a fairly lucid—if maladjusted—observer of society and his place within it. Evaluate the Underground Man’s sanity, using concrete examples from the text.

2. The city of St. Petersburg is an important presence throughout the novel. Select one passage and explain how St. Petersburg affects the Underground Man. How does the city function as a character in the text?

3. Though the Underground Man is not meant to represent Dostoevsky himself, interesting comparisons can be drawn between the two. What are the most significant similarities and differences between them?

4. Dostoevsky was famously wary of the Roman Catholic church. What evidence for this bias can be found in Part I of Notes from Underground?

5. Dostoevsky had a great talent for showing his readers the world through the confused eyes of his characters. How does he use this ability to heighten, rather than diminish, the sense of realism in the novel?

6. Though elements of Notes from Underground are tragic, the text is not a “tragedy” in the formal sense. How does Dostoevsky create this modern, realist story in a manner very different from the classical literary expectations of tragedy? Which elements from older forms of tragedy does he include, and which does he exclude?

7. The Underground Man abhors the way in which progressive thinkers of his era worship reason, but he does not necessarily totally reject reason outright. Discuss his attitude toward reason and logic. What value does he assign to logical, rational thinking, and how does he make use of it? For a starting point, pick a passage and begin your discussion with a close reading.

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