Socially Constructed Reality and Meaning in Notes from Underground

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Socially Constructed Reality and Meaning in Notes from Underground

Just as the hands in M.C. Escher’s “Drawing Hands” both create and are created by each other, the identity of man and society are mutually interdependent. According to the model described in The Sacred Canopy, Peter Berger believes that man externalizes or creates a social reality that is in turn objectified, or accepted by him as real. This sociological model creates a useful framework for understanding the narrator’s rejection of ultimate reality or truth in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. The reality in which the narrator tries to live in part II, and the reality that he rejects in part I, are both created and, as such, are ultimately meaningless.
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Just as the hands of Escher’s illustration define each other, man and society are in a constant process of mutual recreation.

Successful internalization is exemplified by the underground man of part II. In this section, the narrator’s actions are dominated by a desire to fulfill his socially defined roles. Often calling his actions “bookish,” the underground man tries to act out traditional cultural relationships. In his relationship with Liza the narrator sees an opportunity to fulfill the role of the hero, uplifting the poor, wretched prostitute. He asks her about her home life and warns her about the sickness she could catch from her occupation, all in an attempt to play the hero and save this dejected prostitute. The manufactured hero reflects,
“I began to feel what I was saying and grew excited. I’d been longing to expound these cherished little ideas that I’d been nurturing in my corner. Something had caught fire in me, some kind of goal had ‘manifested itself’ before me.” (Dostoevsky 65). These
“cherished little ideas” are the cultural norms that the underground man is trying to fulfill. The narrator’s interactions with other characters in part II reflect a desire on his part to live out archetypical roles. When he feels insulted by the officer, the narrator clings to the romantic notion of vindicating himself through a duel. After detailing his plan to confront the officer
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