Free Existential Heroes Essay Example
The narrator’s self-hatred in Dostoevsky’s, ‘Notes from Underground’ forms the existentialist element in the novel. The existentialist crisis that the narrator undergoes in the novel is a situation that is created by him rather than inherited. He chooses of his own volition to get away from people, resign his job and hide in his apartment. The narrator in Dostoevsky’s novel does not have a name and thus could be anyone. He is anonymous in this sense and the world is seen through his perspective which happens to be a bit skewed. Although he hates the people and stays away from them, his reality exists because of their existence. Without them the ‘underground man’, the narrator does not have any recipients to focus his vitriolic hatred on. The narrator identifies himself as the underground. Perhaps he does this to stand out from the other people or to identify himself as the outsider. This identification as an outsider is essential to his creation of reality. The narrator in Dostoevsky’s novel is constantly alone, all by himself in his flat and this serves as a forerunner to the existentialist notion that man as well is in constant isolation from the others. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator introduces himself to be a spiteful man and whose every action is determined by his spite. But later on he admits that he is not such a spiteful person as he is a man of acute consciousness. Being such a man of acute consciousness he overthinks everything and even an act of revenge when thought about too much loses its significance and has no meaning after a while. This he says that he is neither spiteful nor heroic, rather he is just nothing.
Sartre’s Roquentin, the narrator of nausea is a traveler who retires to a place to write a book and suddenly finds everything disgusting. He does not believe in human relationships and rather alienates himself from them. At the beginning of the novel, Roquentin’s sole existence depends on the book he is writing. He finds no reason for his existence other than writing a book. A change occurs in him during this time where he starts getting disgusted by things that previously brought him pleasure or things that were previously normal. It is only later when he sees a chestnut tree that he realizes what is causing him the disgust and nausea. He realizes that things have lost its essence for him and he has seen through the bare truth of existence. Roquentin finds that he is nothing when his mind tries to find reason and meaning of his existence. He tries to find it within himself, outside and also looks towards the past knowing well that he wouldn’t find anything there. It is this nothingness that he finds in himself, the nausea that this realization brings that creates the existentialist crisis in him. Roquentin in his lonesome existence creates his essence. Unencumbered by people, other factors or his past Roquentin is free to create his own essence. He becomes the existential hero through the choices he freely makes to create his essence. Roquentin thus is not a fixed being like every other man; he constantly changes until the day that he dies.
Both the underground man, i.e. the narrator in Dostoevsky’s, Notes from Underground, and Roquentin, the narrator in Sartre’s Nausea mock the realities that have been created by other people. If it is the co-workers in the case of the underground man, it is the middle-class people in the case of Roquentin. Roquentin rejects the order that is created by the middle class and the path that they have chosen to lead their lives. He is also critical of the way they give their lives meaning by maintaining order in spite of the commune and other such unrests. The underground man’s hatred of people and eventually his self-hatred (existentialist crisis) comes out of his abhorrence of his co-workers. But in the case of Roquentin, one does not really know where his ‘nausea’ stems from. He suddenly finds everything disgusting. When he decides to stay in Bouville and write the book he notices a sudden change in his life. While earlier he had enjoyed touching paper and the feel of it in his hands and picking up paper pieces form the ground, he suddenly finds these very actions disgusting. The blue suspenders worn by the barkeep and a statue that he sees on his way to town everyday also disgusts him. He calls this existential disgust, his nausea. Both the narrators also reject human relationships. While the underground man shuts himself away from people, Roquentin carries on a mechanical relationship with a patroness of the café and is critical of the young lovers that he encounters.
They both choose to alienate themselves form other people and look at the world through their beliefs. While the underground man concludes by saying that there is no reason in the universe, Roquentin finds new meaning in life and a reason to continue on a different path after he listens to the Jazz song. He decides to write a novel after he starts thinking about the Negress and the Jew (the song writer) and concludes that a creative endeavor (the writing of the novel) would save him just like it did for the other two. The past plays a significant role in both the narrator’s lives. The underground man says that every person has a memory that he wishes to purge himself of and he gives this as a justification for writing the novel. The memory in his case is his encounter with Liza, a prostitute. He talks to her about her profession and gives her his address but when she turns up he is ashamed of himself. The way he had conducted himself towards her still is a cause for shame and one of the reasons he writes the notes from underground (as a purgatory). He also remembers the isolation and the loneliness he had felt sixteen years ago and how he had resorted to a world of imagination- a world of insults and revenge. Roquentin’s past comes in the form of Anny, a woman with whom he had had a long term relationship. Through Anny he realizes that the past fails to provide a justification for one’s existence. He also realizes that he needs no external things to define his essence. The past for Roquentin has no meaning and he is free to live in the present. But this is not true of the underground man. He is still ashamed of his past and it becomes an important reason for his narration. Both the narrators change as the novels progress. While Dostoevsky’s narrator realizes that he is nothing, Roquentin realizes that he does not need any other person to define himself or justify his existence. His existence and essence is rather determined by himself in the present and not shaped by his past or other people.
Dostoevsky’s, Noted from Underground was one of the first novels to have an existential hero and Sartre’s work was largely influenced by the existentialism found in Dostoevsky. While the narrator in Notes from Underground clearly defines himself in the beginning only to realize he is nothing, Sartre’s narrator realizes he is nothing but eventually manages to find his essence and some meaning in life through art. Sartre’s work ends on a positive note while Dostoevsky’s narrator loses his plot. Roquentin finds nothing to aid him in his quest from his past while the underground man’s present is shaped by his past. Both the narrators go through an existentialist crisis. While the crisis is resolves momentarily for Roquentin, there seems to be no end in sight for the crisis of the underground man. There seems to be no end from his isolation.
Although Roquentin and the underground man go are alike in a lot of ways such as their isolated nature and dislike of human relationships, there are different in many ways too. While the underground man is driven by feelings of jealousy and hypocrisy in his dealings, there are no such things when it comes to Roquentin. Roquentin’s crisis is a result of his own search for existence and essence while the underground man’s crisis is precipitated by his past and his inability to get over it.
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