Cowards Of The 19th Century: Analysis Of Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground

The nineteenth century gave birth to one of the world’s most controversial philosophers of all times, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky left behind a series of thoughts in the book “Notes from Underground”. This book challenges the reader by creating a philosophical path that only few would travel because of his perspective of individuality. The nineteenth century also fathered a more mature philosopher by the name of Jean-Paul Sartre who embraces the concept of existence in the book “existentialism is a humanism” and takes a definite approach to the term’s ‘coward’ and ‘bastard’. This essay will Sartre definition of ‘coward’ and ‘bastard’ does not apply to Dostoevsky’s underground man.

In the book “existentialism is a humanism”, Sartre introduces his concept of being a coward in several ways. Sartre says “ he has made himself like that because if his actions”. He also continues the description by saying, “but just because a man has poor blood does not make him a coward, for what produces cowardice is the act of giving up, or giving in”. Morally, we understand that the term ‘given in’ means for someone having the chance to hold the reigns of opportunity or the means and effort to take advantage of a particular situation. In Dostoevsky’s book, Notes of the Underground, Dostoevsky character describes himself as being “neither wicked nor good, neither scoundrel nor honest man, neither hero nor insect”. Dostoevsky’s character convict himself to his own conclusion of someone living characterless but intelligent. I have come to interpret this as saying that the Underground Man commits himself mentally over that of which is done physically. Even though the underground man was a man of distinguished principals, he displayed his will od freedom as an officer of the civil services. The Underground Man influences the behavior of other officers by simply gnashing his teeth.

I deem that Sartre’s term of being a ‘coward’ or ‘bastard’ does not apply to the Underground Man because the Underground Man did not conceal himself from total freedom one under the guise of soleminity. The Underground Man fairly points out his delight whenever he managed to upset someone and he admits to playing around with the officer for his own individual entertainment. The Underground Man also admits to serving only to survive and he only reigned from the service because of conventional circumstances enabled him to make that choice which in doing so he extended, without the labor, that of which he was doing in the first place or as he calls it, “surviving to eat”.

Another reason I believe Sartre’s definition of a ‘coward’ or a ‘bastard’ does not apply to Dostoevsky’s Underground Man is stated in Notes from Underground, “ingenious people and active figures are all active simply because they are dull and narrow minded”. The Underground Man distinguishes himself from “ those who feel at ease for taking the immediate and secondary causes for the primary ones”, by admitting to the reader that he classifies himself as one who exercises thinking. Which means for every action there is a counter reaction and for this concept to exist , one most be familiar with the laws of nature. If we were to go by Sartre’s definition of what produces cowardice, it would be appropriate to point out that ingenious people and active figures are cowards because they gave in the system that made their intellects dull and narrowminded. They are only active because of the systematic chains that imprisons them to be so. If it was not for the chains, the active figures would not any reason to continue their activity.

Dostoevsky tells us that “man is predominantly a creating animal doomed to strive consciously towards a goal and to occupy himself with the art of engineering-that is, to eternally and ceaselessly make a road for himself that at least go somewhere or other”. It is evident that Sartre’s definition of a ‘coward’ or ‘bastard’ does not apply to the Underground Man because states, “Those who conceal for themselves this total freedom, under the guise of solemnity, or about making determinist excuses, I will call cowards others who try to prove their existence is necessary, when man’s appearance on earth is merely contingent, I will call bastards”. By Sartre definition, How can adjust his attitude to say that Dostoevsky is subject to his judgment. I believe that Dostoevsky shows how to live not only through course of action but by the means of individual thought.

My academic opinion is that Dostoevsky distinguishes between people who mistake sensory knowledge for the truth and people who really do see the truth. The person or organization who is perceived to have the most influence of this so-called truth, controls the way it is distributed and used. By doing so, civilizations and religious denominations has been created and destroyed. Morals, norms, rules. has been enforced as well as purged. disciplines such as philosophy and science has been implemented to cause of natural epidemics and man-made tragedy. Dostoevsky says, “Man loves creating and the making of roads, that is indisputable. But why does he so passionately love destruction and chaos as well?” I believe that Dostoevsky is saying that Man has fallen into the trap made from misdirection. If you watch something long enough, you will learn what its capable of. And if there is one thing Dostoevsky understand about the human nature it would be that humans would protect what they believe. We will go as far as dying over what the world has misdirected us to believe. Whatever stimulates the senses and arouses unquestionable desires manipulates the mind into believing it would suffer without it. Dostoevsky continues, “though I did declare at the beginning that consciousness, in my opinion, is man’s greatest misfortune, still I know that man loves it and will not exchange it for the any satisfaction.”

In conclusion, Dostoevsky is very ambitious about any desired subject or task if the time he spends studying the matter is not interrupted by unfavorable entertainment. Dostoevsky finds satisfaction in thinking so therefore solitude is where he finds the peace, he believe is required to summon energy so that clarity can be achieved. Unlike loneliness, Dostoevsky value solitude as a time one may work on entities such as spirituality, creativity and freedom. With these entities working key cornerstones, Dostoevsky choices are less likely to be affected by exchanges with others. Sartre’s definition of a coward or bastard is inadmissible when it comes deciding if it applies to Dostoevsky because of inadequacy of character.


  • Jean-Paul Sartre, existentialism is a humanism, trans. By Carol Macomber (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground, trans. By Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Vintage Books: A Division of Random House, 1993)
16 December 2021
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now