Season six gave us only five literary references, but all five were jam-packed with things to consider about Lost. Three of my four favorite books from this series (The Chosen, Deep River, and Haroun and the Sea of Stories) were in this season. The other two (Notes from the Underground and Fear and Trembling) were two of the most difficult reads of the series.
Fortunately, this book wasn’t very long, so I only struggled with it for a fairly short time. It certainly didn’t make me excited to read the other Dostoevsky novel featured in Lost, the much longer The Brothers Karamazov.
Notes from the Underground is considered the first fictional existentialist novel, so it did give me a lot to think about as it pertains to Lost. This book was heavy on the free will/determinism debate that pops up so frequently in the show.
The book itself appears in the season six episode Everybody Loves Hugo. Hurley finds a Cyrillic version of the book among Ilana’s belongings shortly after she blows herself up with dynamite.
Notes from the Underground is divided into two parts. The first part is an unnamed narrator’s ramblings about the nature of life. Most of the musings have something to do with the free will versus determinism argument.
The narrator is a staunch proponent of free will. He tries to conform his actions to the “good” aspect of free will. For example, he feels that he has been wronged by various people in his life. Yet he does not seek revenge, for he does not find revenge virtuous. Instead, he pushes his feelings inwards, and inadvertently becomes bitter and egotistical as a result. He is a righteous man – he thinks that his own ideas are so far superior to the ideas of his colleagues that he doesn’t think others are worth his time.
The narrator describes the actual story in the second part of the novel. In a word, the narrator is a bit of a character. He is a bitter, angry man who blames society for all of his problems.
At the start of the second part, he is physically moved by a police officer. He spends a solid thirty pages planning his revenge against the policeman. He can never quite work up the courage to do it…but finally, he gets the balls to bump into the officer on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, the policeman doesn’t notice, so all that build up was for nothing.
Then the narrator finds out that a group of friends that he was acquainted with in school is going out for a party. He decides to crash a pre-party, and is told that the party will begin at a restaurant at 5. Unfortunately, the party is postponed until 6, but no one has the narrator’s contact information, so he shows up at 5. After an hour at the restaurant by himself, he rips into his friends when they finally arrive.
He awkwardly decides to stay at the dinner, but stays in the background without saying a word. Eventually, the friends decide to go to a brothel and the narrator again crashes the party. There, he meets a young prostitute named Liza, and he reprimands her for her choice of lifestyle. He pleads with her to change her profession and leaves his contact information in case she needs the support.
Unfortunately, she takes him up on that. She shows up to his messy apartment and he is embarrassed at his lifestyle. In the end, she comforts him after she realizes that he is a broken down, bitter man.
A strange novella, to be sure. But I suppose it tells us a few things about Lost.
First, the narrator is a big fan of free will. However, his actions are strangely deterministic. He is extremely preoccupied about being accepted by his peers and acts with their acceptance in mind. He thinks he has free will, but he does not. He is so consumed by other people’s opinions that the thought of not being accepted by others supersedes his own free will.
This is quite similar to many of the Lost characters. Jack’s pride, Sawyer’s stubbornness, and Ben’s pig-headedness all keep them from being the persons they want to be. The show explores this theme often throughout the series – it doesn’t really matter too much if you have free will if your own feelings keep you from actually acting upon that free will.
Second, the book is structured similarly to season six of Lost. The flash-sideways/afterlife is similar to the first part of the novella. The first part is dedicated to reflection and the second part is dedicated to the actual doing. Similarly, the on-Island actions are the doing; the flash-sideways are the reflecting. Like the unnamed narrator, the Lost characters spend the flash-sideways reminiscing on their lives.
Unfortunately, that’s about all I have for the comparisons with Lost. I suppose that’s what happens when Dostoevsky is involved – it might be better to find someone who can actually understand the text for a more substantial review!