The books that emerged during the first half of the 19th century and some a little later as well belonged to the romantic age of literature that demonstrated a deep fascination for the dark side of human nature. Starting with such books as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, this age is known for some of the unique characters it gave us including the protagonist of Notes from Underground. This book despite its theme of natural vs. unnatural is essentially romantic in its views and characterization style. This is clear from the fact that while Romantic period was known for its intense appreciation of nature, it also exhibited a heightened interest in the occult, the gothic and the strange phenomena. The non-adherence to classic rules and norms had given rise to creativity freedom that led to the development of strange new themes such as the one we encounter in the Frankenstein. In this novel, Fyodor Dostoevsky explores Romantic interest in the occult and shows that social isolation and ruthless ambition are usually destructive for the society. This was a favorite Romantic theme that was handled differently by the authors and poets of the time. From deeper and closer analysis of this period and the characters that emerged from it, it appears that the most striking feature of protagonist known as the narrator or the Underground man in the novel is that he was created as an anti-hero- more precisely a Byronic figure: Peter Thorslev (1962) explains:
"Romantic heroes represent an important tradition in our literature . . .. In England we have a reinterpreted Paradise Lost, a number of Gothic novels and dramas . . . The heroic romances of the younger Scott, some of the poetry of Shelley, and the works of Byron. In all of these works the Byronic Hero is the one protagonist who in stature and in temperament best represents the [heroic] tradition in England." (Thorslev 189)
The heroes and central characters that emerged during the literature of this period were thus usually viewed as the anti-social specie with some dark attributes and deep capacity for analysis and observation of human nature. In this novel too, we notice that the Underground man share some common traits with Byronic anti-heroes such as deep intellectual tendency to analyze and study human nature. He was the dark hero with negative characteristics who in the tradition of this age felt a certain outrage against the society for no real fault of the people around him. His anti-social attitude emerged from perceived mistreatment of society and he decided in his own unique way to rebel against the fixed social rules and norms. When the society appeared too rigid and too despicable the underground man began displaying a negative streak, which showed that unlike the traditional hero, there is no redeeming quality or "heroic virtue" that could help him emerge as a real hero in the end. Thorslev (1962) further adds that central characters of this novel had this negative anti-hero image which resulted "with the loss of his titanic passions, his pride, and his certainty of self-identity, he loses also his status as hero" (Thorslev 187) Despite his dark nature, we cannot help sympathizing with him on certain occasions because of the reasons that turned him into what he was today. Like most dark figures appearing in this era, the underground man could not be categorized as villain since he was aware of his crimes and sins and suffered from periodic phases of guilt.
The narrator is a social misfit. He doesn't embrace society and feels a certain outrage and spite for it which cannot be explained and the narrator understands that others will not agree with him but he understands his own behavior towards society. He says in the opening lines: "I am a sick man. ... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don't consult a doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I…