Notes from the Underground, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a truly remarkable novel. Dostoyevsky’s novels probe the cause of human action. They questioned conventional wisdom of what drove humans and offered insight into the inner workings and torments of the human soul.
In Notes from Underground, Dostoyevsky relates the viewpoints and doings of a very peculiar man. The man is peculiar because of his lack of self-respect, his sadistic and masochistic tendencies, and his horrible delight in inflicting emotional pain on himself and others. Almost instantly the reader is forced to hate this man. He has no redeeming values, all of his insights into human nature are ghastly, and once he begins the narrative of his life, the reader begins to actively hate and pity him.
The reader is forced to ask why Dostoyevsky would bother writing about this troubling man and his problems. The answer is that Dostoyevsky does not believe in the norms society sets for people. This man is the absolute opposite of everything society holds to be acceptable. Here is a man, with intelligent insight, lucid perception, who is a self-admitted to be sick, depraved, and hateful. A man who at every turn is determined to thwart every chance fate offers him to be happy and content. A man who actively seeks to punish and humiliate himself. Dostoyevsky is showing the reader that man is not governed by values which society holds to be all important. The point of Notes from Underground more than anything else is that humans actions cannot be calculated.
Dostoyevsky implies that in society everyone acts in their own self-interest. They act to gain advantages which are in their own self-interest. He asks the reader to take that as a given. Society sees happiness, freedom, prosperity, etc. as distinct advantages. These things should be in ones self-interest, society says. If someone say, rapes another person, they are not acting in their own self interest. They are running the risk of feeling guilty, guilt is not conducive to happiness. They run the risk of being thrown into jail. Jail is not a place where one can be prosperous or free. Therefore going to jail or feeling guilty are not in ones self interest, according to society’s values.
A person who conforms to these values, logically, would not rape anyone.
Selfishness and Misguided Views in Madame Bovary
Selfishness and Misguided Views in Madame Bovary
The majority of Gustave Flaubert’s 1857 classic novel, Madame Bovary , tells of the marriage and two adulterous affairs of one lady, Madame Emma Bovary. Emma, believing she is in love, agrees to marry the widower doctor who heals her father’s broken leg. This doctor, Charles Bovary, Jr., is completely in love with Emma. However, Emma finds she must have been mistaken in her love, for the “happiness that should have followed this love” (44) has not come. Emma is misguided in her beliefs on the meaning of love and happiness. It is also apparent that she considers herself more important than anyone connected with her, including her husband, her daughter, and her two lovers. Emma’s misguided views and selfishness clearly deny her the happiness to which she feels she is entitled.
Madame Bovary begins revealing how she is denied happiness not long after she and Charles are married. A controlling thought resounds in Madame Bovary’s mind: ” ‘Good heavens! why did I marry?’ ” (58). Emma refuses the happiness Charles offers, despite–or perhaps in spite–of his deep devotion to his wife, and wills herself to separate from her husband. She wonders “if by some other chance combination it would not have been possible to meet another man; and she tried to imagine what would have been these unrealized events, this different life, this unknown husband” (58). Madame Bovary, her loving husband’s lack of qualities in mind, instead wants for a “handsome, witty, distinguished, attractive” (58) lover. Assuming this is the version of lover to whom her childhood friends are now married, Emma is also consumed with jealousy.
At the ball at Vaubyessard, Emma ridicules Charles when h…
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…al touches; and finally upon the soles of the feet, so swift of yore, when she was running to satisfy her desires, and that would now walk no more” (419).
Madame Bovary selfishly leaves her husband and daughter to suffer in the poverty that she has caused. She has never loved the two people whom she should have loved most–the two people who did love her most. Happiness will be prevented when selfishness and misguided views are present. Instead of longing for things that one cannot have and emotions that are simply unattainable, one should glory in the love of the family and friends one has, and enjoy whatever objects one may attain. Only then may one find the true happiness that one’s soul longs after.
Flaubert, Gustave. The World’s Great Classics: Madame Bovary . Translated from French by Eleanor Marx-Aveling. New York: Grolier Incorporated, n. d.