Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Question That Haunts Me


Frankly, Underground Man drove me crazy. I understand that Dostoevsky intentionally didn’t make Underground Man the most likeable character, but I still strongly disliked being inside his head. He was essentially battling Oskar for the number one spot on my “Least Favorite Character” list. Having said that, you can imagine my relief when Gregor came along. Gregor, who is almost selfless to a fault, is a character I can root for.
         This great disparity among the characters we have read about makes me wonder why authors make a character either likeable or unlikeable. This obviously goes far beyond the protagonist/antagonist, hero/villain device. What is the literary value of making a character either likeable or unlikeable? You would think this question would have a simple answer, but I personally can’t seem to figure it out. What truly confuses me is why Dostoevsky made Underground Man such an unbearable character, especially since he seems to represent many of Dostoevsky’s own ideals (i.e. his view that humans are not naturally good, freedom to choose is the ultimate goal, and scientific rationalism is the end all). For me, when I don’t like a character and honestly question their mental stability, it makes me less inclined to agree with their opinions on anything really. So why on earth would Dostoevsky use Underground Man to get across so many of his own opinions? My friend, this is the question that haunts me. Unfortunately, I’m about 133 years too late to ask Dostoevsky personally.

5 comments:

Kincy GIbson said...

Its interesting how Mrs. Quinet keeps comparing these characters (Oskar and UM) to middle school students. I can easily see the comparisons: the insecurities of the characters, the awkward stages, and hurting others to bring yourself up. I have to admit that I really need to work on my patience younger people in general, but maybe thats why I dislike the characters so much. They are only concerned with their own well being. Oskar and UM let their insecurities consume them and the reader has to listen to them complain and "find themselves" through it.

Kincy GIbson said...

Its interesting how Mrs. Quinet keeps comparing these characters (Oskar and UM) to middle school students. I can easily see the comparisons: the insecurities of the characters, the awkward stages, and hurting others to bring yourself up. I have to admit that I really need to work on my patience younger people in general, but maybe thats why I dislike the characters so much. They are only concerned with their own well being. Oskar and UM let their insecurities consume them and the reader has to listen to them complain and "find themselves" through it.

Miranda Martinez said...

After reading Kafka, I can't decide whether I'm entirely sympathetic to Gregor's misfortune. While I admire his selflessness, his ignorance/naiveness bothers me. His family constantly takes advantage of him, and he allows them to continue their guilty acts guiltlessly. I suppose I dislike characters who allow themselves to be oppressed. I've always loved novels with heroes/heroines, and I guess I was just disappointed with Gregor's lack of motivation.

Ian Kuehne said...

I think Miranda has a good point. The characters that we sympathize with the most are not just those with good intentions--plenty of antagonists and villains in literature have good intentions--but those with the self-control and good to act positively on them. The Underground Man had some understanding of how people should behave, but in the end he had no control over himself; he gave into every whim and became self-destructively obsessed with trivial things. Gregor is a little more ambiguous: he has immense self-discipline in working for the good of his family, but in some ways he is very weak--he doesn't stand up for himself against his abusive employer or his worthless father.

Joseph D'Amico said...

I did like Gregor more than the Underground Man, but I agree with Ian and Miranda in that he wasn't all that likeable. His selfless attitude melted into servility to such an extent that I couldn't even feel bad for him after a while. When he finally kind of started to act for himself, I couldn't even praise him because he was a bug and dies soon after.