Notes from Underground & The Double

By Fyodor Dostoevsky


Welcome to the fascinating world of Fyodor Dostoevsky, a literary giant whose works have captivated readers for over a century! Today, we’re diving into two of his most intriguing creations: Notes from Underground and The Double. 📚✨

Fyodor Dostoevsky, born in 1821 in Moscow, Russia, is one of the most influential figures in the world of literature. Known for his deep psychological insight and exploration of complex moral issues, Dostoevsky’s novels often delve into themes of existentialism, spirituality, and the human condition. Notes from Underground and The Double are no exception, showcasing his talent for dissecting the intricacies of the human psyche.

Notes from Underground, published in 1864, is often considered the first existentialist novel. It introduces us to a nameless narrator, the Underground Man, who fiercely criticizes the societal norms and ideologies of his time, presenting a deep dive into his own troubled mind and the concept of free will.

The Double, on the other hand, was published earlier in 1846 and tells the story of Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, a government clerk who encounters his doppelgänger, leading to a series of events that plunge him into a crisis of identity and paranoia. This novel explores themes of duality, sanity, and the struggle for individuality in a conformist society.

Both novels belong to the genre of psychological fiction and are seminal works that contribute significantly to Dostoevsky’s reputation as a master of exploring the psychological turmoil and moral dilemmas faced by individuals in society.

Join me as we embark on a journey through the complex and compelling narratives of these two masterpieces, delving into the depths of Dostoevsky’s genius. 🧠💼 Let’s explore the shadowy corners of the human soul together!

Plot Summary

Let’s unravel the intricate narratives of Notes from Underground and The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, exploring the journey through their main events.

Notes from Underground

  • Exposition — The novel opens with the Underground Man, a retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg, philosophizing about his isolation and detachment from society. He introduces his views on free will, suffering, and his opposition to the rational egoism of the Enlightenment.
  • Rising Action — As he reflects on his past, we see a younger Underground Man who struggles with inferiority and social awkwardness, leading to spiteful and contradictory behavior towards others.
  • Climax — The climax occurs during a humiliating dinner with former schoolmates, where the Underground Man’s attempts to assert his superiority end in disaster, deepening his resentment and self-loathing.
  • Falling Action — Following the dinner, the Underground Man seeks redemption through a relationship with Liza, a prostitute. He initially sees an opportunity to exert power over her but ends up revealing his vulnerabilities.
  • Resolution — After attempting to manipulate Liza, the Underground Man is left alone, confronting the emptiness of his existence. The novel concludes with him reflecting on his isolation, yet unable to escape his cycle of self-destruction and introspection.

The Double

  • Exposition — Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, a minor government clerk, leads a life of obscurity until he meets his exact double, Golyadkin Junior.
  • Rising Action — Golyadkin’s interactions with his double begin amicably but soon turn sour as the double starts to usurp Golyadkin’s life, gaining favor with his colleagues and superiors.
  • Climax — The relationship between Golyadkin and his double escalates to open hostility, as Golyadkin Senior’s mental state deteriorates, leading him to question his own sanity.
  • Falling Action — In his desperation, Golyadkin attempts to expose his double and reclaim his identity, but his efforts are met with disbelief and ridicule from those around him.
  • Resolution — The novel ends with Golyadkin’s complete social and psychological breakdown, culminating in his apparent confinement to an asylum, leaving readers to ponder the nature of his reality and identity.

These summaries capture the essence of Dostoevsky’s exploration of themes such as duality, isolation, and the struggle for self-identity against the backdrop of a rapidly modernizing society.

Character Analysis

In both Notes from Underground and The Double, Fyodor Dostoevsky presents a compelling cast of characters that embody his exploration of existential themes, the depths of human consciousness, and the complexities of social interaction. Let’s delve into the main characters of each novel.

Notes from Underground

  • The Underground Man — A retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg, the Underground Man serves as both protagonist and narrator. His character is complex, embodying contradictions; he is insightful yet cynical, craving social connection yet fiercely isolating himself. His deep introspection and skepticism toward societal norms highlight his struggle with identity and the concept of free will.
  • Liza — A young prostitute with whom the Underground Man forms a brief, tumultuous relationship. Liza represents innocence and sincerity, contrasting sharply with the Underground Man’s cynicism. Her interactions with him reveal his deep-seated longing for connection and redemption, as well as his ultimate inability to escape his self-imposed isolation.

The Double

  • Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin (Senior) — A low-ranking government clerk, Golyadkin Senior is timid, insecure, and desperate for social approval. His encounter with his double leads to a psychological unraveling, highlighting themes of identity, paranoia, and the human desire for recognition.
  • Golyadkin Junior — The mysterious double of Golyadkin Senior, who is initially identical in appearance but opposite in personality. Confident, charismatic, and socially adept, Golyadkin Junior quickly begins to usurp the life of his original. His presence raises questions about the nature of identity and the struggle for individuality in a conformist society.
CharacterDescriptionKey TraitsDevelopment
The Underground ManRetired civil servant, narrator of Notes from UndergroundContradictory, cynical, introspectiveMoves from critical observation to painful self-awareness, revealing deep loneliness and desire for connection
LizaYoung prostitute in Notes from UndergroundInnocent, sincere, compassionateActs as a mirror to the Underground Man, highlighting his moral and emotional bankruptcy
Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin (Senior)Protagonist of The Double, a government clerkInsecure, paranoid, desperate for approvalDescends into madness, highlighting the fragility of identity
Golyadkin JuniorThe double in The DoubleConfident, charismatic, unsettlingForces Golyadkin Senior to confront his own shortcomings, culminating in a crisis of identity

This analysis underscores Dostoevsky’s mastery in creating characters that are not only deeply flawed and relatable but also serve as vehicles for exploring profound philosophical and psychological themes.

Themes and Symbols

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground and The Double are rich with themes and symbols that delve into the complexities of the human psyche, existential dilemmas, and societal critiques. Let’s explore the major themes and symbols present in these works.


  • Alienation and Isolation — Central to both novels, this theme explores the protagonist’s struggle to connect with society and individuals, resulting in a profound sense of loneliness and separation. The Underground Man’s self-imposed isolation and Golyadkin’s alienation from his peers underscore their existential solitude.
  • The Duality of Human Nature — In The Double, the theme is literal in the appearance of Golyadkin’s double, representing the conflicting aspects of his personality. In Notes from Underground, this duality is internal, as the protagonist grapples with his desire for dignity and his self-destructive tendencies.
  • The Struggle for Identity — Both protagonists face crises of identity, questioning their place in society and their very essence. This theme is particularly poignant in The Double, where Golyadkin’s identity is literally usurped by his doppelgänger.
  • The Critique of Rationalism and UtopianismNotes from Underground explicitly critiques the Enlightenment’s rational egoism and the utopian visions of society that were prevalent in Dostoevsky’s time, arguing that they neglect the irrational, emotional aspects of human nature.


  • The Underground — In Notes from Underground, the underground symbolizes the protagonist’s retreat from society and the depths of his consciousness, where he confronts his fears, desires, and despairs away from the scrutinizing eyes of society.
  • The Double (Doppelgänger) — Golyadkin’s double in The Double symbolizes the external manifestation of the protagonist’s internal conflicts and fears, representing the duality within every individual and the fragmented self in a disorienting society.
  • St. Petersburg — The setting of both novels, St. Petersburg represents the modern, rational city that exacerbates the protagonists’ sense of isolation and alienation. It’s a backdrop against which their struggles unfold, symbolizing the cold, impersonal nature of urban society.

Through these themes and symbols, Dostoevsky not only provides a deep psychological exploration of his characters but also critiques the societal and philosophical currents of his time. The enduring relevance of these themes speaks to the complexity of human nature and the existential dilemmas that continue to resonate with readers today.

Writing Style and Tone

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground and The Double are remarkable not only for their profound themes and intricate characters but also for their distinctive writing style and tone. Dostoevsky’s narrative technique and use of language play a crucial role in conveying the mood and atmosphere of these works, immersing readers in the psychological depths of his protagonists. Let’s break down the key elements of his writing style and tone in these novels.

Writing Style

  • First-Person Narrative — Both novels are characterized by their use of a first-person perspective, creating an intimate and confessional tone. This approach allows readers direct access to the protagonists’ thoughts and feelings, heightening the sense of psychological realism.
  • Stream of Consciousness — Especially prominent in Notes from Underground, Dostoevsky employs a stream of consciousness style that reflects the chaotic and disjointed nature of the Underground Man’s thoughts. This style mirrors the protagonist’s internal turmoil and existential angst.
  • Contrastive Dialogue — Dostoevsky utilizes dialogues, both internal and between characters, to highlight contrasts between societal norms and the protagonists’ perceptions, underscoring their alienation and internal conflicts.
  • Symbolic Imagery — The use of symbolic imagery, such as the stark, cold settings of St. Petersburg, enhances the thematic concerns of isolation and identity crisis, while also setting the mood for the novels.


  • Philosophical and Reflective — Both novels are imbued with a philosophical tone, as Dostoevsky delves into questions of free will, morality, and the nature of the self. The reflective tone encourages readers to ponder these existential questions alongside the characters.
  • Dark and Ironical — The tone of Notes from Underground is particularly dark and ironical, with the Underground Man often mocking himself and the reader, highlighting the absurdities of his existence and societal conventions.
  • Paranoid and Anxious — In The Double, the tone shifts towards paranoia and anxiety as Golyadkin’s fears of being replaced or erased by his double grow, effectively conveying his psychological unraveling.

Through his unique writing style and tone, Dostoevsky masterfully captures the essence of his characters’ psychological landscapes and the existential dilemmas they face. The intimate first-person narration, combined with the philosophical depth and emotional intensity of the prose, creates a compelling and immersive reading experience that continues to engage and provoke thought in readers around the world.

Literary Devices used in Notes from Underground & The Double

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground and The Double employ a variety of literary devices that enrich the text, adding depth and complexity to the narrative and themes. Let’s explore the top 10 literary devices used across these works.

1. Irony

  • Irony is used extensively, particularly in Notes from Underground, where the Underground Man’s views often contrast starkly with the outcomes of his actions, highlighting the absurdities of his existence and societal norms.

2. Foreshadowing

  • Dostoevsky uses foreshadowing to hint at future psychological and existential crises, especially in The Double, where early odd occurrences suggest Golyadkin’s impending breakdown and the appearance of his double.

3. Symbolism

  • Symbols, such as the underground itself and the double, carry significant thematic weight, representing the characters’ internal struggles and societal critiques.

4. Metaphor

  • Metaphorical language enriches descriptions and deepens the exploration of themes like isolation and duality, for example, comparing the city of St. Petersburg to a cold, indifferent mechanism.

5. Stream of Consciousness

  • This technique, particularly in Notes from Underground, mirrors the chaotic thought processes of the Underground Man, emphasizing his isolation and disjointed reality.

6. Contrast

  • The stark contrast between characters (e.g., the Underground Man and Liza, or Golyadkin Senior and Junior) highlights themes of identity, social alienation, and the duality of human nature.

7. Paradox

  • The narratives are rich with paradoxes, especially in the character’s actions and beliefs, underscoring the complexity and contradictions of human nature and society.

8. Allusion

  • Allusions to historical, philosophical, and literary texts and figures underscore the intellectual background against which Dostoevsky’s characters grapple with their existential dilemmas.

9. Imagery

  • Vivid imagery, particularly of the bleak urban landscape, evokes the emotional states of the characters and sets the tone of alienation and despair.

10. Repetition

  • Repetition is used to emphasize key themes and the cyclical nature of the protagonists’ struggles, particularly the repeated attempts and failures to connect with others or escape their psychological mazes.

These literary devices are instrumental in crafting the dense, thought-provoking narratives that characterize Dostoevsky’s work, enabling a deep exploration of psychological, existential, and social themes.

Literary Device Examples

For each of the top 10 literary devices identified in Notes from Underground and The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, here are tables with examples and explanations to illustrate how each device is employed within these texts.

1. Irony

The Underground Man claims he seeks solitude for peace but consistently reveals his desire for social connection.This irony underscores the contradiction between his stated desires and his actions, highlighting the complexity of his character and the human condition.

2. Foreshadowing

Early hints of Golyadkin’s paranoia before the arrival of his double.Sets the stage for his psychological breakdown and the thematic exploration of identity and sanity.

3. Symbolism

The “underground” as the Underground Man’s physical and psychological space.Represents isolation from society and a space for introspection and critique.

4. Metaphor

St. Petersburg is described as a “machine” that the characters are a part of.Highlights the cold, impersonal nature of modern society and the alienation of the individual.

5. Stream of Consciousness

The Underground Man’s lengthy monologues about society and his own psyche.Reflects the complexity of his thoughts and the turmoil within, enhancing the reader’s understanding of his existential crisis.

6. Contrast

The confident, successful Golyadkin Junior vs. the insecure, failing Golyadkin Senior.Accentuates themes of duality and the struggle for identity.

7. Paradox

The Underground Man’s desire for suffering as a form of pleasure.Illustrates the contradictory nature of human desires and the search for meaning through suffering.

8. Allusion

References to the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment.Provides a critique of rationalist and utilitarian ideologies, setting the stage for the Underground Man’s existential reflections.

9. Imagery

Descriptions of the bleak, wintry streets of St. Petersburg.Evokes the emotional isolation and despair of the characters, mirroring their internal landscapes.

10. Repetition

The repeated visits to the same social settings and encounters in both novels.Emphasizes the cyclical nature of the characters’ attempts and failures to connect with society and themselves.

These examples highlight Dostoevsky’s skillful use of literary devices to deepen the thematic richness and psychological complexity of his works, engaging the reader in a multifaceted exploration of the human condition.

Notes from Underground & The Double – FAQs

Q: What are the main themes in Notes from Underground and The Double?
A: The main themes include alienation and isolation, the struggle for identity, the duality of human nature, and a critique of rationalism and utopianism. These themes reflect Dostoevsky’s exploration of existential questions and the human condition.

Q: Who is the Underground Man?
A: The Underground Man is the protagonist and narrator of Notes from Underground. He is a retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg, Russia, known for his introspective and often contradictory views on society, his own existence, and the human condition.

Q: What is the significance of the double in Dostoevsky’s novel?
A: The double in Dostoevsky’s novel symbolizes the fragmented self, exploring themes of identity, sanity, and the conflict between one’s inner self and societal expectations. It serves as a mirror to the protagonist’s deepest fears and desires, intensifying his existential and psychological crisis.

Q: How does Dostoevsky use literary devices in these novels?
A: Dostoevsky employs a range of literary devices, including irony, foreshadowing, symbolism, metaphor, and stream of consciousness, to enhance the narrative depth, highlight the psychological complexity of his characters, and explore existential themes.

Q: Can Notes from Underground and The Double be considered existentialist works?
A: Yes, both novels can be considered existentialist works as they explore existential themes such as the search for self-identity, the absurdity of existence, the importance of free will, and the rejection of societal norms and rationalist philosophies.

Q: What is the role of St. Petersburg in these novels?
A: St. Petersburg serves as more than just a setting; it symbolizes the cold, impersonal nature of urban society and the alienation felt by the protagonists. The city’s stark, oppressive atmosphere mirrors the internal struggles of the characters, enhancing the novels’ themes of isolation and existential despair.

Q: Are Notes from Underground and The Double connected?
A: While not directly connected in terms of narrative, Notes from Underground and The Double share common themes, motifs, and a focus on the psychological turmoil of their protagonists. Both novels reflect Dostoevsky’s interest in exploring the depths of the human psyche and the complexities of societal interaction.


What is the primary theme of Notes from Underground?The importance of social statusThe critique of rationalismThe joy of solitudeThe pursuit of wealth
Who does the Underground Man interact with that significantly affects his outlook?A government officialAn old school friendLiza, a young prostituteHis landlord
In The Double, what causes Golyadkin’s crisis?Losing his jobThe appearance of his doubleGetting lost in St. PetersburgA failed marriage proposal
What literary device is extensively used in Notes from Underground to convey the protagonist’s inner turmoil?MetaphorSimileStream of ConsciousnessHyperbole
What symbolizes the protagonist’s isolation in Notes from Underground?The Neva RiverThe city of MoscowThe undergroundA locked door
How does Dostoevsky explore the theme of duality in The Double?Through the changing seasonsBy contrasting city and country lifeThrough the protagonist and his doubleThrough day and night
What is a major consequence of the protagonist’s interaction with his double in The Double?He becomes wealthyHe finds loveHe undergoes a psychological crisisHe travels abroad
Which novel critiques the rational egoism of the Enlightenment?War and PeaceNotes from UndergroundThe Brothers KaramazovCrime and Punishment

This quiz is designed to test your comprehension of Notes from Underground and The Double, focusing on their themes, characters, and the literary devices Dostoevsky uses to unfold these classic narratives.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from Notes from Underground:

“The weather was cold and grim. I walked along, watching my shadow stretch out ahead of me, twisting and turning on the cobblestones, almost as if it were questioning the very essence of its existence. The bleak, overcast sky seemed to press down upon the city, suffocating any hope of warmth or light. In that moment, I felt a kinship with my shadow, both of us mere specters in a world that had no place for us.”


  1. Imagery – Descriptions of the weather, the protagonist’s shadow, and the city evoke a vivid picture of the setting, enhancing the mood of isolation and despair.
  2. Personification – The shadow is given human-like qualities, as it appears to question its existence, highlighting the protagonist’s existential crisis.
  3. Metaphor – The shadow is used as a metaphor for the protagonist, suggesting both are insignificant and overlooked entities in a world that disregards them.
  4. Simile – The comparison of the sky pressing down upon the city to the act of suffocating enhances the oppressive atmosphere and the protagonist’s feeling of being trapped.
  5. Symbolism – The shadow symbolizes the darker, perhaps more authentic, part of the protagonist’s identity, suggesting a disconnection between his public persona and inner self.