Notes from Underground

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The Officer Character Analysis

In part one, the underground man tries to get into a bar fight, and he steps in an officer’s way. The officer, though, merely moves him aside without saying anything, practically ignoring him. The underground man thinks of challenging him to a duel, but decides to get his revenge by bumping into him in the street and forcing the officer to acknowledge him as a person. When he finally gathers the courage to do this, though, the officer pretends not to notice the underground man. The officer is representative of how society tends to ignore and neglect the underground man.

The Officer Quotes in Notes from Underground

The Notes from Underground quotes below are all either spoken by The Officer or refer to The Officer. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the W. W. Norton & Company edition of Notes from Underground published in 2000.
Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

One morning, although I never engaged in literary activities, it suddenly occurred to me to draft a description of this officer as a kind of exposé, a caricature, in the form of a tale. I wrote it with great pleasure. I exposed him; I even slandered him. At first I altered his name only slightly, so that it could be easily recognized; but then, upon careful reflection, I changed it. Then I sent the tale off to Notes of the Fatherland. but such exposés were no longer in fashion, and they didn’t publish my tale. I was very annoyed by that. At times I simply choked on my spite. Finally, I resolved to challenge my opponent to a duel. I composed a beautiful, charming letter to him. . . But, thank God (to this day I thank the Almighty with tears in my eyes), I didn’t send that letter.

Related Characters: The Officer
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has described an evening when he saw a man be kicked out of a bar for fighting, inspiring the Underground Man himself to try to get into a fight. His attempt to provoke an officer is unsuccessful; at first he considers challenging the officer to a duel, but instead goes home and writes a letter slandering the officer. This passage reveals the bizarre and comic lengths to which the Underground Man goes in his attempt to create conflict with the officer. He boasts of having "exposed" and "slandered" the officer, but it is unclear what this actually means––the officer treated him in an entirely nonchalant, disinterested fashion, and thus it is difficult to imagine what there is to "expose." 

This passage also highlights the fact that the Underground Man is continually out of step with the rest of society. The journal to which he sent his letter rejects it because "such exposés were no longer in fashion," and the Underground Man's reaction to this is to pursue the even more outdated, unfashionable gesture of trying to challenge the officer to a duel. The implication of these details is that the Underground Man's interest in literature has left him disconnected from the reality of contemporary society. His hope to be perceived as a bold, reckless individual results in him appearing flamboyantly and ridiculously pathetic.  


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Suddenly, three paces away from my enemy, I made up my mind unexpectedly; I closed my eyes and—we bumped into each other forcefully, shoulder to shoulder! I didn’t yield an inch and walked by him on completely equal footing! He didn’t even turn around to look at me and pretended that he hadn’t even noticed; but he was merely pretending, I’m convinced of that. To this very day I’m convinced of that! Naturally, I got the worst of it; he was stronger, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that I’d achieved my goal, I’d maintained my dignity, I hadn’t yielded one step, and I’d publicly placed myself on an equal social footing with him. I returned home feeling completely avenged for everything. I was ecstatic. I rejoiced and sang Italian arias.

Related Characters: The Underground Man (speaker), The Officer
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has concocted an elaborate plan to again bump into the officer, who he now considers his mortal enemy. He has even borrowed money for expensive clothes to wear during the act, yet repeatedly loses his nerve at the last minute. Finally he achieves his aim, and in this passage describes the triumph he feels as a result––although the officer does not seem to even notice. This episode is one of the most comic moments in the novel, showing the Underground Man to be a ridiculous, delusional character. To some degree, this may decrease the reader's sympathy for him, as his bizarre, destructive desires seem not only incomprehensible, but totally disconnected from reality. 

On the other hand, this passage raises significant questions about the nature of perception and social interaction. Although the Underground Man's level of delusion is extreme, it nonetheless illustrates the fundamental impossibility of knowing what other people are really thinking. It certainly seems unlikely that the officer was "merely pretending" not to notice the Underground Man, but how could we determine this for sure? The Underground Man's assertion that he "publicly placed myself on an equal social footing with [the officer]" similarly highlights the absurd nature of social status. In all likelihood, nobody on the street noticed or cared that the Underground Man acted as he did; yet the Underground Man himself feels vindicated to the point of ecstasy. Given the Underground Man's joy, does it even matter what others around him think?  

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The Officer Character Timeline in Notes from Underground

The timeline below shows where the character The Officer appears in Notes from Underground. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2, Chapter 1
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
Spite, Pain, and Suffering Theme Icon
Literature and Writing Theme Icon
...the bar thinking that he could also get into a fight. He gets in an officer’s way, but the man simply moves him without saying anything, as if he didn’t even... (full context)
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
Human Nature Theme Icon
...eyes of society,” forced to get out of everyone else’s way. He occasionally sees the officer on this street, and steps aside whenever he and the officer walk into each other’s... (full context)
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
...them, which is embarrassing for him. The underground man sets out to bump into the officer, but finds he kept stepping out of the way at the last second. (full context)
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
One time, the underground man trips and falls, and the officer merely steps over him. Finally, he carries out his plan, and bumps into the officer.... (full context)