The Symbolic Meaning of the Absence of the Protagonist’s Name in the Novel Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky

Introduction

Reading any novel, people try to notice as much as they can to consider the main idea of the literature work and to understand the purpose for writing this specific information. Each novel has a specific goal. It is impossible to imagine a piece of writing which is aimless and at the same time which is extremely popular all over the world.

While reading a novel, people should notice each feature, any unusual thing should be considered. The absence of the protagonist’s name is one of such things which should be considered. Only attentive reader can notice that the absence of the protagonist’s name is a specific and symbolic device which helps understand the whole novel, consider it from absolutely different perspective. This device is going to be discussed on the basis of the novel Notes from Underground written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

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Dostoevsky is a Russian writer who managed to reach the world fame. The books written by this person are translated on many languages of the world and people still consider this person a great representative of the literature who worked and lived in the 19th century. The novel Notes from Underground is a good example of the no name protagonist.

Moreover, it is possible to consider the reasons why the author has chosen this device and how it influences the understanding of the whole novel.

The absence of the name in the novel Notes from Underground by Dostoyevsky is symbolic as it shows that the protagonist is an ordinary person who tells the story which is not unique and there are many people in the society who could appear in the same situation and come to the same conclusions; moreover, the reason for leaving the protagonist without a name may be in fact that it is impossible give a name to the person relaying on the actions he performed.

Historical Background

The novel is written in 1864 and there are some quarrels about the initial idea and the symbolic meaning the author wanted to deliver to people by means of using a protagonist with no name. First of all, it is important to understand what circumstances surrounded Dostoevsky and whether these circumstances influenced his decision.

The novel was written in the 19th century, during the time when many writers in Russia and all over the world wrote their pieces without introducing protagonists. It may be said that this was the tendency and it influenced the author’s decision greatly. Many authors wanted to make an impression that the works they wrote were autobiographical and no named protagonists helped in that (Smith and Watson 8).

Thus, it may be concluded that the author used the tendency and this is the main reason for failing to introduce the protagonist. The scholar who considered the literature works by Dostoevsky has written, “Notes from Underground features a hero – or anti-hero – of contemporary consciousness cobbled together out of literature bits and pieces” (Emerson 147).

Nevertheless, there are a lot of other issues and signs which show that there are much more reasons which made the author make a decision and represent the audience with the protagonist without a name.

The Symbolic Meaning on the Protagonist without a Name

It is possible to make any possible suggestions about the nature and reasons of the author’s decision not to use the name for the protagonist. Still, it is impossible to omit the reasons Dostoevsky provides in the very novel. He writes, “the author of the dairy and the diary itself are imaginary.

Nevertheless.., such persons… must exist in the society” (Dostoyevsky 1). Thus, the author explains his position on failure to use the protagonist’s name. The story is imaginary and there is no real prototype to it, but being aware of life and human behavior, Dostoevsky cannot avoid the fact that such situation can happen with anyone.

Time and distance is not the barrier. Thus, reading the story now, it is possible to see the social degradation of the protagonist and agree that such people may exist. The author wanted to show the real life, but still, Dostoevsky understood that he did not have a specific right to say straightly that such people live.

The reasons for this may be numerous. On the one hand, the author could have known such people and did not want to insult those, on the other hand, the author could have never met such people but his intuition and the awareness of life could make him a hint that the problem of such people in the society is really crucial.

Thus, representing a protagonist without a name, the author tries to express the ideas of some representatives of the society without attaching the situation to any specific person. Moreover, the author was in Siberia for some years and lived with murders and other criminals. This could have influenced his understanding of human beings and their relation to life and other people (Emerson 9).

It seems that the absence of the protagonist’s name only adds to the impression the novel provides. The novel is written in the form of a dairy. The first lines of the novel tell us, “I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am unattractive man” (Dostoyevsky 1). It is impossible to imagine another situation apart from a dairy when a person can make such confession. It seems that Dostoevsky understands that this form of writing is the most appropriate.

On the one hand, a person dwells upon the most terrible and the ugliest actions he has been doing in his life, on the other hand, the reader may doubt the sincerity of the situation as the person, no matter how shabby the acts, cannot tell the truth about such actions to another one. The idea of a dairy is the ideal one. The reader understands the reasons for sincerity and the device of no named protagonist adds to this effect. Who can go as far as introducing himself of herself in the dairy? Such things are usually written from personal considerations.

One more reason for failing to represent the protagonist of the novel Notes from Underground with the name is the nature of the actions the author discusses. If to consider the novel as a dairy, it is necessary to believe in what is said there. The author represents three main situations which influenced his life greatly.

The first situation deals with the officer who was invisibly bumped by the protagonist. This action shows him as a foul and coward person who cannot even face the offender and solve the problem one to one. The second situation which strikes attention is the dinner with old school friends. The situation is unpleasant as the protagonist hates all those who were present at the party but tries to show that he is their friend. There is no other word for such a person but a dissembler.

The final situation is also disgusting. The protagonist humbles Liza, a young prostitute (Dostoevsky 113). All those actions show the protagonist as a morally depraved person. Considering the problem under discussion from the perspective of these actions only it becomes understandable why the author does not want to introduce the name of the protagonist.

It is not easy to find a name to such person. Moreover, any name can always be associated with a good and kind person and it seems that the author did not want any other person to be related to such terrible actions. In the prism of those actions, it is also possible to justify the author and say that the device with no named protagonist was one of the best in the situation.

Conducting a research, some great words were considered. They have been written many years before the novel was written, still, they ideally fit the situation with the absence of the protagonist’s name in the novel. Therefore, Aristotle writes, “the extremes have the appearance of being opposed to one another, because the mean has no appropriate name” (Aristotle 71).

The main idea of these words is that it is impossible to give a name to the person whose actions show that here is no appropriate name for him/her. As it was mentioned above, this opinion may be easily related to the novel by Dostoevsky. The person describes his life with the purpose to understand why he had become a person who he was.

Therefore, the stories in the book are so terrible, that it is really impossible to name the person who performed those actions. Moreover, the ideas expressed by Aristotle and reflected by Dostoevsky prove the ideas considered earlier about the possibility of the existence of such people as the protagonist at any time and in any society.

These two people lived in absolutely different times and societies, but this is not considered as the barrier for having the same thoughts. This situation proves most of our theories about the absence of the protagonist’s name, especially those which deal with the inability to use an appropriate one and the other that each society may have a person with such considerations and who conducts the same actions.

While the research conduction, it was identified that many authors used such techniques and the scholars in most cases check not the very specific novel or author, but the very idea of the failure to introduce the protagonist’s name. Thus, Melissa Matthes in the article A Checkered Past states that in case when the protagonist has no name, he “lives on every page” (Matthes 21).

Such announcement is rather bold, but at the same time it is reasonable to check this theory to be sure that all the ideas are referred to and to be able to make the conclusion which is going to support the thesis statement provided above and cast light on the specific reasons for using no named protagonist while writing.

Reading the novel it appears that the protagonist was not present in some situations, but, still, he describes those. The best example for such situations is as follows. The protagonist dwells upon his meeting with old friends he hates. He states that his friends made a secret appointment about meeting later and did not invite the protagonist.

Moreover, describing some other situations, the customer is always on the pages, there is no feeling that he is omitted even if he is not involved in the discussion. It is crucial to remember that when the narration comes not from the first person singular, the narration may be distracted from the main character. Here, the narrator is present on each page of the novel. This impression is given by two reasons, the absence of the name of the protagonist and the consideration of the novel as a dairy.

It is crucial to remember that all the reasons the author of the novel uses for failing to introduce the protagonist’s name are closely connected. One specific reason may be easily supported by another one or even explained. The impression appears that all those reasons are interconnected and that the author intentionally used those to create a symbolic meaning around this fact.

Thus, the author gives the explanation to the absence of the protagonist’s name saying that such people may exist in any society, and Aristotle supports this idea. Moreover, the idea of a novel being a dairy (in the relation to the ugly actions the author describes) is supported with Matthes’ statements that a person who acts in such a way may not have an appropriate name.

Conclusion

In conclusion it should be mentioned that the author’s idea of absence of the protagonist’s name is symbolic. There are a number of different issues the author wanted to provide the reader with by means of the fact that he did not give a name to the protagonist. Therefore, firstly, the author explains this action as the desire to show that there are people in the society which may act and think like that. It is crucial to notice that Aristotle supports this idea.

The absence of the protagonist’s name shows that such people may be near us. Secondly, the absence of the protagonist’s name gives a hint that the writing is a dairy and that the situations described there are true, as who is going to lie to the dairy? Here is the reason for the name’s absence. People do no introduce themselves to the things if only they are expected to read it. Thirdly, the impression that the writing is the autobiography is created by the same device.

This method was rather popular during the time when the novel was created. And finally, the author does not give the name to the protagonist because there is no a name to a person who acts like that. So, all those reasons are reasonable and have the right to be considered.

While reading the novel, the audience should think about what is the reason they like more. Moreover, it is helpful to think over the reasons why this symbol is necessary. It seems that the author wanted to show the whole world that is not to do something the world society may be overburden with people like the protagonist, without names but with terrible actions and unclear consciousness.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. New York: Cosimo, Inc., 2008. Web. Local Database. 16 Nov. 2010.

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Notes from the Underground. Champaign, Ill.: Project Gutenberg, 1999. Web. Local Database. 16 Nov. 2010.

Emerson, Caryl. The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Web. Local Database. 16 Nov. 2010.

Matthes, Melissa. “A Checkered Past.” Commonweal, 135.17 (2008): p 21. Literature Resource Center. Web. 16 Nov. 2010.

Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2001. Web. Local Database. 16 Nov. 2010.

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