Similar Only By Family Name

The Tallis sisters are as different as one can expect through such a large age gap: Cecilia, the wallflower, and Briony, the easily influenced dreamer. Connected only in family and seemingly nothing else, the sister’s vary in the interests, tidiness, and taste, or lack of taste, in men.

Both stubborn and hardheaded, however, they are set in their ways.

Through Emily’s eyes, Cecelia “…had no job or skill and still a husband to find and motherhood to confront…” (62). A woman ahead of her time, Cecelia seemed to have her head in the clouds, refusing to be stuck in the same situation as her mother. The typical Victorian era lifestyle would not please her. The boring everyday tasks would not entertain her desire for adventure. Indecisive in even the most simple of tasks, Cecelia changed her dress three times before the faithful dinner party that would determine her future.

Impulsive and erratic in her behavior, she flung herself into the fountain, “…drowning herself would be [Robbie’s] punishment” (29). Rather than thinking her actions through, Cecelia just acts. She does not write, nor speak, she just responds. She loves and lives freely, unbound by society.

Rather than live her own adventure tale, the youngest Tallis, Briony, would rather write. Emily described her as “…the softest little thing…to love her was to be soothed” (62). Rather than the delicate flower that her mother describes, the audience sees an unsavory character in Briony. Perhaps a situation of age, we see an immature girl allow the thoughts of others to poison her judgment and cause the downfall of two beloved characters.

A dreamer and a writer, the notion that “…reading a sentence and understanding it were the same thing” seemed a mantra by which Briony lived (35). Everything taken a face value, Robbie’s explicit use of a word and actions beyond Briony’s wildest imagination must make his a maniac. Black and white, rather than grey, there were only two sides to the stories the Briony would tell. Fair, because her age does not allow her the life expertise that would enable her to fill in her world with color.

Sisters are different. In no world would we assume them to have the same thoughts, ideals, and values. We can assume however, for this novel, that this tension between the two and the actions of the younger will have drastic consequences.

To Write or Not to Write?

Briony has an obsession with writing and scripting the world around her and sometimes it can be dangerous when she is looking at a real world situation. We first see this when she observes the fountain scene between Robbie and Cecilia. She scripts in her head what she think is/should be happening but instead it turned out to be the opposite of what she had originally planned in her head. Even though it did not go the perfect way she would have wished it to go, Briony realized that her world “could no longer be fairy-tale castles and princesses, but the strangeness of here and now”(McEwan 37.) This is her first realization that the world does not always turn out perfectly and it gives her a sense of adultness to realize this. She continues to push herself into adulthood when reading Robbie’s letter and taking it upon herself to diagnose him a manic. Briony also begins to be even more self-aware of her writing style and does not want it to be too childish since she now considers herself almost an adult.
The danger in her doing all of this is that she still does not grasp the grownup world as completely as she would like too. She mistakes the fountain scene as Robbie having control of Cecilia when in reality Cecilia does it of her own accord. The same is with the letter; she reacts by calling Robbie a maniac where many adults would have simply dismissed the letter as a boyish fantasy albeit an incredibly vulgar one. It distorts her worldview which makes her a liability. She could potentially ruin Robbie’s life by making up rumors about him that she has wrongly perceived as truths. Her writing may grow from these realizations by showing her the complexities of human nature but by not being able to comprehend these complexities she puts her emotional wellbeing and the emotional wellbeing of those around her in jeopardy.

Sisterly Parenting

Cecilia and Briony are perhaps more similar than they are different. Deep down, the two of them desire to be needed. They want to be helpful, want to meet people’s needs without being asked, but, in their lack of straightforward communication, miss out on actually meeting people’s needs.

When it comes to the twins, their younger cousins, both sisters more or less “miss the mark” in intuiting the real need. For example, when the twins and Lola first arrive at the Tallis household, Cecilia and Emily attempt to make up for Briony’s brusqueness with boring and bland activities. While Briony considers this more oppressive than her aggression in recruiting them for the play, Emily and Cecilia assume that relaxation is what the twins need the most. After panning out from these focalizations, however, the third person objectively asserts that “it was not generally realized that what children mostly wanted was to be left alone” (9). In their attempts to help the twins, McEwan seems to reveal their “help” to be merely reflections of what they themselves would have wanted.

When Cecilia and Briony’s desire to meet needs comes to one another, they seem to be unaware of the other’s growth and change, assuming that the other is still the same as when growing up. Cecilia particularly expresses a desire to coddle and soothe Briony, keeping Briony the baby sister. She notes having seen herself affect change in her sister before, but is frustrated that it isn’t working now and that even used to help her perhaps more than help Briony “addressing Briony’s problems with kind words and caresses would have restored a sense of control” (41). She seems to think that coddling Briony is the best thing for her, refusing to acknowledge Briony’s maturation and growth. In doing so, she doesn’t acknowledge Briony’s good qualities or her bad qualities, thus stunting her growth as an individual.

On Briony’s side, her “help” to her sister shows a lack of understanding about her sister. She is so caught up in Cecilia’s helplessness that she cannot see past any evidence that would prove otherwise. Her survey of Cecilia’s messy room simply confirms what she already believes about Cecilia and about her self-imposed role as mother #2 to a capable college graduate. She critiques the messiness, unable to understand the disorder, saying that “Cecilia might have been ten years older, but there really was something quite hopeless and helpless about her” (166). Briony’s perception of Cecilia allows her (Briony) to enter into the adult world and adult feelings, as she so wants to do.

The problem here is communication, or rather, lack thereof. Each sister sees the other as a child, someone to be taken care of, while each sees herself as the caretaker. Perhaps this is the nature of all sibling relationships; I know that I sometimes feel like I need to “take care” of my older brother and I’m sure he looks often looks at me as someone to protect. McEwan’s presentation of this relationship highlights the self-centeredness of both Briony and Cecilia’s need to help others and one another, showing the reader an unhealthy amount of self-interest within a relationship. Though it might have been present before, altruism is lacking in Cecilia and Briony’s giving and they are thus unable to adequately meet others’ needs

Pace and Conflict

When reading a novel, readers make decisions about a book after the first few chapters. They usually finish intriguing stories, but if the book has sparked little interest, readers may put it down to start another one. Unfortunately, we have an impatient generation that wants instant results – people want a book that quickly pulls them in from page one. What’s not realized is that many wonderful stories pick up pace later in novels. Ian McEwan’s Atonement is a wonderful example of this.

The beginning of this story is very slow. When I read the first portion of class reading, I was interested but not amazed. All that happens is a bossy girl, Briony, directs a self-written play and orders other kids around. Then, Briony sees her older sister and a boy in a private scene. It is a good and steady read, but nothing too exciting happens, primarily because conflict hasn’t been introduced yet. After the first portion though, the story’s pace immediately changes. I believe the pace picks up with the introduction of the conflict – Robbie and Cecelia’s relationship, which Briony doesn’t approve of. She reads the letter that Robbie wrote to Cecelia and catches the two of them together another day. A young teenager, Briony is uneasy watching their relationship, so readers are anxious to see what she is going to do. She eventually has Robbie arrested because she thinks that he has been involved in rape.

What a significant plot change from Chapter One to Chapter Fourteen.

Atonement is a strong example proving the direct relationship between pace and conflict. When conflict is introduced, people want to know what happens, and plot tends to move more quickly. In this story (like many others), readers just have to give the book a little time because conflict isn’t shown immediately.  Overall though, their patience is rewarded, and readers who keep reading get to dive into an incredible novel.

Through the Eyes of A Child

The infamous fountain scene in Ian McEwans novel, Atonement, is one where perspective is everything.  The scene contains two viewpoints, one of which comes from an onlooker, a 12 year old girl who thinks she knows more than she does, and her sister who was in the thick of the scene.

From Briony’s perspective as she watches through a window in her family home, she witnesses her sister, Cecilia, and Robbie by a pond on the grounds.  She can’t hear what is being said but from where she stands she begins to narrate what is happening based on the body language of the people.  On page 36 Briony assumes that Robbie is proposing marriage to Cecilia due to the way that he is standing and moving his arms.  According to Briony this is “the stuff of daily romance.”   Her narration and assumptions are wrong.

When Cecilia and Robbie deviate away from the narrated plan that Briony has created, she learns that there are things in the world that she cannot control.  This is incredibly difficult for her to fathom because in her own world everything is in her control.  Through this she learns that there are more complex relationships in the world than just the romantic ones she dreams up for her plays.  She concludes that he writing needs to take a different direction and mature past petty romances and knights in shining armor.

Focalization and Pacing

This novel has gotten to be so fast paced I’m having a really hard time putting it down! McEwan really likes his cliff-hanging chapter endings, which is both thrilling and crazy annoying. Changing the focalization for almost every chapter change makes the reader wish that just once we could get the whole story before he starts telling us about something else.

I often found myself skimming over the writing just to find out what happened next, especially after Briony caught Robbie and Cecilia in the library, and when Briony found Lola on the island. My roommates looked over at me in concern during these parts of my reading, when I told Briony, “Ughhh Briony no don’t do it, you have no idea what you’re talking about, you’re just going to ruin everything, come on please just use some common sense for once!”

After finishing Chapter 10, I just want to see if Briony runs down the stairs to tell everyone that Robbie attacked Cecilia. I highly doubt I’m alone in my fierce desire to skip any sort of description at the beginning of Chapter 11. It seems a very odd way to begin the chapter following the crisis of Briony’s discovery, “Despite the late addition of chopped fresh mint to a blend of melted chocolate…” What? Why are you telling me this? What happens next?!

Clearly McEwan is trying to slow us down. He takes the time to set the stage, as Emily arranges the guests at the table. A similar episode occurs after Briony discovers Lola on the island, where McEwan forces us to slow down as Briony waits in the house for people to respond to her accusation.

These passages in Chapter 13 and 14 are different in that for once McEwan does not change the focalization between chapters. Why isn’t the narration focalized through Lola the victim, or Robbie the accused? This is a curious decision to me, and one I feel I do not fully understand from the reading so far. It’s certainly an interesting technique to  to change the pace of the novel by changing the focalization, and something to pay attention to in the remainder of the novel.

The Inner Lives of Other People

Over the course of Part I of Atonement, Briony begins to revise her ideas about writing, but unfortunately, the lines she draws between writing and reality are blurred.

brionyAt first, she sees writing as a way to control and order her world. When she realizes that her play will flop expectations because of her cousins’ participation, she thinks fondly of a form of storytelling in which she could be the sole contributor. The “bound” pages of a story are “limited” and controllable” in her mind (35). She believes, “Reading a sentence and understanding it were the same thing” (35), or that anyone who read her story would see just what she intended them to see.

If Briony only scripted her stories, there wouldn’t be a problem. Writers often imagine others’ inner lives to show us something about our own. The problem comes when Briony begins scripting motivations for people in her real life. She can’t simply erase the “messiness of other minds” (70) who do not conform to her ideas about reality.

After she witnesses her sister and Robbie at the fountain, Briony appears to recognize the importance of writing stories in which “other minds were equally alive” as her own (38). She cannot understand why the scene she witnessed played out the way it did and invents her own version of the story, though she begins to recognize that other people might tell equally valid versions of the same story.

Once she has read Robbie’s letter, however, she seems to forget the lessons she has learned. Though Briony feels she is “entering an arena of adult emotion” and assumes “her writing was bound to benefit” (106), she begins to impose her version of events on the situation. Because she is exposed to more adult scenarios, she seems to believe that she now has an omniscient, adult understanding. Briony begins to think she understands Robbie’s motivations, labels him as a “maniac” in her mind, and begins a tragic spiral of events.

When reading scenes in which Briony misconstrues events, it is all too easy to become frustrated with her. At the same time, I am forced to consider my own reading. Am I reading McEwan’s text in the same way he intended? Is my interpretation of the story as valid as his?

In “real life,” too, asking myself the same questions I judge Briony for becomes embarrassing. How many times have I assumed that the driver in front of me purposefully cut me off, or that a friend was angry with me because she hadn’t called? These assumptions are not facts, though I may treat them as such.

One solution implied by the text might be to actually talk to people. If we are only in temporary contact with someone—like that aggressive driver—maybe we could take David Foster Wallace’s advice and try to decentralize ourselves from the narrative. Whatever the case, all of us must remember that “other people are as real as” we are (38), and treat them accordingly.

Fountains and Fantasies

In the novel Atonement, the sisters Briony and Cecilia act almost as co-protagonists. While Briony is clearly the main protagonist, parts of the novel are written from Cecilia’s point of view and she is certainly a major character. Despite their relation, Cecilia and Briony have extremely different personalities and viewpoints. While Cecilia is ten years older than her younger sister Briony and acts as a maternal figure towards her, Briony certainly seems to be the more intellectually mature of the two. However, despite her intellectual maturity, Briony is still a child and acts like one; her unrealistically high standards for her life based on the fantastic images she creates on what the world should be allows a disconnect from reality and the opportunity for massive disappointments. In contrast, Cecilia seems very down to earth. She calms her sister when Briony has frightening nightmares brought on by her overactive imagination. It is scenes like these that we see Briony as the child she is and Cecilia as the maternal figure, despite Briony’s precocious faux-maturity exhibited at other times. In addition to this, Briony is completely type A; her unrealistic expectations for life translate into a highly organized and demanding lifestyle. Cecilia, on the other hand, is scattered and messy.

All of these differences create wildly distinctive perspectives in Briony and Cecilia, which the reader gets to see when the novel switches between their perspectives. The infamous fountain scene is a prime and fitting example of these varying perspectives. From Cecilia’s perspective, which is what actually happens, is that Robbie’s overreaching leads to the destruction of a valuable vase; in her fury, she “den[ies] his help” thinking “that would be his punishment” (page 37). Because she goes into the fountain herself, she strips her clothes off, presumably to keep them from getting wet. Basically, this scene is a lover’s quarrel. From the unseasoned Briony’s perspective, however, the scene takes on a more damning, and certainly more dramatic, tone. She witnesses Robbie “imperiously raise his hand” as an order for Cecilia, who “dared not disobey”, to strip (page 38). Briony is simply not mature enough to understand that this situation is not what she interpreted it as, and her idea of what happened shakes her to the core. She feels that she has observed what romantic things really look like in the “ordinary” world, which causes her romantic fantasy to be dashed. Essentially, from Briony, the reader sees the creative, the fantastic, and from Cecilia the reader sees actuality.

Briony’s Misinterpretation

Pace can be defined as how fast the author is allowing the reader to move through the story. Throughout the text the story tends to drag on, mainly due to the fact that we see the same events multiple times, and while it may give the reader a greater understanding of each character, it takes a lot of time to keep retelling story segments.

For right now the story can allow such a slow pace because it is trying to let the reader get to know everyone, but once conflict is introduced, the pace speeds up. Conflict requires a lot of action and if it went too slow it would not feel right. If it went too slow, maybe the characters could rationalize a way to avoid such conflict, but in most conflicts tempers and emotions rise and conflict is propelled through the text. This is perfect for Briony, who wants to narrate everything and be in control. It is like in this moment her story is the only one that seems to be believed. The conflict at this point is none other than Briony’s misinterpretation of events going on around her. She is easily convinced, and she is set in her convictions, that Robbie is a maniac. It did not take much to convince after at all, just a comment really.  She is in control of this situation and she could not be having a better time.

This would be an internal conflict as this deals with Briony’s mind and how she sees the world. Later she makes it external by giving a voice to the crazy story inside of her head, but its roots are buried within her mind.

Sister, Sister

I have a sister who is seven years older than me. I do not know what I would do without her. She is the person I tell everything to and she is my best friend. And yet we have vastly different perspectives on the world. Briony and Cecilia are no different. Cecilia is unsatisfied with her life and extremely indecisive, but self-aware of this. Briony on the other hand acts like an adult, but is still a child with imaginative and childish thoughts and ideas.

The fountain scene in particular shows the differences between the two sister’s thoughts. Cecilia is upset with Robbie, downright angry at him. She calls him an “idiot” when the vase falls into the fountain. Cecilia decided, “Denying his help, any possibility of making amends, was his punishment…drowning herself would be his punishment.” Cecilia’s attitude toward Robbie is annoyed. She acts like he is a bug on the moment of her shoe. Briony’s version of the scene is a complete 180 from Cecilia’s. Briony watches the scene from a window in the house, from the start she is distant from the scene and has only sight, no audio. “There was something rather formal about the way he stood, feet apart, head held back. A proposal of marriage.” Briony completely misses the body language between Robbie and Cecilia, specifically Robbie since his body language is the one she described. She goes to the grandeur of what life could be instead of what life actually is. Briony imposes her own views on the scene and imposes herself in business that does not concern her. She does realize that the scene is not logical as a marriage proposal and, “she accepted that she did not understand, and that she must simply watch.”

The true difference between Cecilia and Briony is that Cecilia sees the world as it is the reality of it and is dissatisfied. Briony sees the world as a fantasy and how she would like it to be. Neither one is wrong, they are both at different points in their lives, and have grown up differently, but they are sisters who care deeply for the other.

Through my sister’s eyes…

Sisters. This seven letter word has a great connotation in our world. It’s not only just those who are blood related to us, but can also be those with whom we feel close connected and trust. The sisters in McEwan’s novel, Atonement, though being blood related and having great love for another, definitely share differences and view the world in skewed ways. Through McEwan’s writing focalizing on certain instances through each of the girl’s eyes, it is easy for the reader to tell how these two differ.

Briony, a spirited twelve year old, is the younger sister in the novel, but likes to act in an adult manner. In the beginning of the novel we see Briony as a precocious, hard-working, imaginative, and romantic type of young girl. Along with these traits however, as the novel goes on, Briony gets extremely frustrated when things aren’t organized, orderly, and going her way. We especially see her frustration as she feels her cousins are trying to sabotage a play she is writing, “The Trails of Arabella”, and as she feels her older sister, Cecilia, is being submissive to her “lover” during a scene at a fountain. Briony’s once abundant, romantic and imaginative mind seems to be staggering toward non-existent as she realizes the world around her. When Briony takes the scene at the fountain between her Cecilia and Robbie in the wrong way, she realizes, “as her sister’s head broke the surface—her first, weak imitation that for her now it could no longer be fairy-tale castles and princesses, but the strangeness of here and now….and how easy it was to get everything wrong, completely wrong.”(37) As much as she loves her sister, it is almost that her sister causes Briony’s imaginative and hopeful downfall in the novel.

Cecilia, the older sister, is very opposite from Briony. She lives an untidy, scattered, and unorganized life. Cecilia also is very restless, dis-satisfied and craving attention. McEwan does a fantastic job of showing readers her need for adventure and attention through her point of view at the fountain scene with Robbie, which is much different than how her younger sister took it. The two lovers were merely just getting the broken vase out of the fountain. This vase, a symbol of their love.

Though Cecilia sees life much more realistically and straightforward than Briony, the two sisters both want the best for each other and in the end are just concerned with the well-being of the other. Through focalizing events through the two girls eyes, readers can sense these characterizations, alike and different, and keeps you drawn in.


Response to Prompt 2

Prompt 2:  Analyzing the underground man as a narrator vs him as a character is an interesting undertaking because one of the defining characteristics of the underground man is his compulsion to control how you, and anyone else, sees him as a character.  As strange a man he is, it did not occur to me until Liza called him out at the end of Chapter VI part 2 when she told him, “You… speak somehow like a book.”  This observation is very helpful when analyzing the underground man because it helps you see that both as a character and a narrator he is very concerned with his audience and how they perceive him.  It is not unusual for a narrator to be aware of their audience, but the compulsion to control or know how the audience will perceive what is being said to the degree of the underground man makes it so.  Interestingly, this continuity of the underground man, as a narrator and a character, makes him a rather reliable narrator despite his craziness and compulsions.  This notion is supported by the differences between him as a narrator and as a character as well.

As a narrator, the underground man is far more comfortable because his assumptions about how he is being perceived are not confronted during his stream of consciousness.  He is able to ramble through, hindered only by his own self-consciousness of how he thinks his audience will interpret him.  However, when examining the underground man as a character, you can see that he crumbles when confronted with the discrepancy between reality and how he thinks he should/deserves be perceived.  For example, before Zverkov’s dinner in Chapter 3 part 2 he, “dreamed of getting the upper hand, of dominating them, carrying them away, making them like me—if only for my ‘elevation of thought and unmistakable wit.’  They would abandon Zverkov, he would sit on one side, silent and ashamed, while I should crush him.”  In reality, the underground man was not able to convey himself as he wished and as a result ended up pacing for 3 hours straight from the table to the stove in a self-absorbed psychosis.

Ultimately, it is very helpful to understand that this was written as a response to Chernyshevsky’s rational egoism when analyzing the underground man as a character.  The underground man is certainly a round character as he is extremely complex and is hard to pin down.  However, both Chernyshevsky and Dostoyevsky are arguing for a fundamental driver of people’s actions and character.  Chernyshevsky boils people down to always acting in their own interest.  Whereas Dostoyevsky creates this underground man who’s most basic driving force is to exhibit control, as he is compelled to act against his own self-interest so as not to be a slave to it.  In this way, both Chernyshevsky and Dostoyevsky are trying to find what the most static characteristic of human nature is.

Two Important Parts

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground is different from other novels. The main character’s first few words, “I am a sick man,” raise reader interest, leaving people curious (17). How could a man be sick already? Why is he so upfront? Is he exaggerating? Even though I had these questions right as I started reading, I didn’t find answers until I completely finished the book. This is mainly because Notes from Underground is broken into two parts, and readers need both to understand everything. The first conveys the character’s emotions; the second tells his story. Overall, it is important for readers to consider the relationship between the two parts to have the richest reading experience.

The first and second parts are interrelated. However, when I started to read the book, I was really confused. Part One quickly reveals that the main character is rude, angry, and selfish, but it never explains how he became this way. Since there isn’t much plot given in Part One, our focus on the harsh discourse. For example, at the beginning, he reflects, “I couldn’t manage to be anything at all: neither spiteful, nor kind; neither a scoundrel, nor an honest man; neither a hero, nor an insect” (18). Immediately, readers sense his bitterness. Why does the protagonist feel this way? We find out in Part Two that he has failed in his relationships, and he is without friends or a companion. When thinking about his so-called friends, he realizes that “Trudoliubov would glare at me…Ferfichkin would snicker at me” (73).  With such knowledge, the bitter attitude makes a little more sense.  Readers must finish Part Two to completely understand Part One.

If we just look at Part One, we find a bitter man’s empty thoughts. If we just look at Part Two, we find a normal, neutral story.  Analyzing the two parts together is the most beneficial way to study the novel. I think that the two parts reflect the character – broken. He is so bitter about his past that he has never fully healed. Likewise, the story is presented in broken segments. In Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, the “what happened” in Part Two is just as valuable the thoughts and emotions in Part One.

The Underground Man

As a narrator and a character the Underground Man can seem spastic, obsessive and even demented. However, there are several differences between him being a narrator and a character. As a narrator the Underground Man, mainly in part one, is able to take a step back and look at himself and realize that he is a “spiteful man”. His character does not always realize this though since he is stuck in the fantasy world of literature and how things should play out rather than how they actually do. Even so the character of the Underground Man can characterized as a “round character” as Keen would say. He has a complexity that goes on to baffle us as readers on multiple occasions and his actions and thoughts often conflict. An example of his conflicting actions and thoughts would be when he seems to stalk an officer for several years after meeting him in a bar. He has these grand ideals of standing up to him and fighting this man but he almost never completes the action he has dreamt up. This strange obsession comes to a conclusion when the Underground Man, seemingly by accident follows through on his thoughts. These conflicts give us the reader much to question which makes him a more interesting and rounded character.

The narrator side of the Underground Man seems not to be so rounded but rather somewhat static. His narration style is just using warped logic to justify his actions, he neither learns from it nor does it seem to change him as a narrator. Even when in part one he is looking back on the actions he is about to narrate for us in part two, he shows no concern for the consequences his actions has pushed onto others in his story and his attitude remains that way throughout the novel. This static nature almost seems to make him an unreliable narrator to us because in no way does he change his opinions or look at another point of view. He is stuck in his own mind and he makes solid assumptions about what people are thinking and saying about him, which can communicate a sense of unreliability to readers.
The Underground Man is a very complex man as a character but as narrator has some issues with having depth and reliability. Both, however, can come across to readers as irrational and obsessive, as in the way he obsessed over the officer and over Liza. His narrative is thus a good example of how narrator and character can be similar to each other in attributes but can present them very differently, making them two different entities.

Reliability and the Underground Man

“I am a sick man…I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man.” Who is this “Underground Man?” Do these descriptions lend to the supposed reliability of him as a Notes-3narrator?…as a character? Do we as readers feel obligated to trust a man whose very description of himself lends us to despise him?

The Underground man is a fully developed character, one that I would claim to be round. His complexity engages readers and causes debates over his varied and conflicting motives…despite an often inability to understand how his “sick” mind works. Forever contradicting himself and stumbling over his own notions of humanity, the Underground man claims, “…I will tell you solemnly, that I have many times tried to become an insect. But I was not equal even to that. I swear, gentlemen, that to be too conscious is a illness—a real thorough-going illness.” Is the Underground Man too aware? Too conscious? But how can such a learned and conscious man exist in such a pitiful place? Perhaps his consciousness does in fact act as an illness upon his life and his thinking patterns.

While round in his complexity, the Underground Man remains static in his development throughout the novel. We see a depressed man. An angry man. A man with pointless rage. “We are stillborn, and for generations past have been begotten, not by living fathers, and that suits us better and better.” But he does not change. He is as he claim humanity is: stillborn; unable to grow. While there is a glimmer of hope in his dealings with Liza, he remains forever our unlikeable, stagnant Underground Man.

As a character, we see certain attributes, but as a narrator, what do we notice? Is he reliable in his self-deprecation? Is he honest in his retellings? Do we trust the Underground Man? Or do we trust our guts and disregard him as an angry civil servant, stuck in a loop of despair?

I find his blatant explanations to be honest. Both part 1 and 2 coincide in feeling and emotion, creating a fairly understandable and comprehensible explanation of who the Underground Man might be. Despite his unpleasantness and his seemingly insane rants, we can find truth is his descriptions. For, after all, his descriptions are simply his understanding of the world and of himself. They are the descriptions of the truths in his mind, and his mind only.