Notes from Underground

Prufrock, Underground: Anonymity in the Face of Desire College

In all of modern literature, there are few protagonists as self-effacing, miserable, indecisive, or morally contemptible as Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Underground Man. Given the Underground Man’s interminable Hamlet-like meanderings, one might surely conjure up the Dostoevsky-influenced likenesses of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa or any number of characters by James Joyce, but the Underground Man’s truest literary match is not found in the loosely-packed language of prose; rather, the Underground Man can best be seen through the anguished eyes of T. S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock as he sings his infamous love song.

Although Prufrock and the Underground Man were created during fundamentally different literary movements—Prufrock is the universally recognized embodiment of Modernism, whereas the Underground Man represents Russian Realism—their methods of approaching desire are strikingly similar, especially as this understanding relates to anonymity and the desire for recognition.

The reader is first introduced to the Underground Man not with the lyricism that is found alongside Prufrock, but, rather, by a series of grievances. Some of his complaints, such as those involving his work in civil service, are philosophical in nature. Others, most...

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