Notes from Underground

Notes from Underground Summary and Analysis of Part II, Chapters 7-10

Chapter 7 Summary:

The Underground Man continued to lecture to Liza about the horrors of her profession. He spoke about the importance of freedom and the impossibility of love under her condition of bondage. No man can really fall in love with her when she can be called away at any moment and is degraded. If she were a regular girl then he, the Underground Man, might himself fall in love with her, but this is impossible under the conditions of the brothel. Then she will get old and the other girls will hate her and drive her out. Eventually they and the madam will all turn their backs on her and she will die. In death, she will probably not even be properly buried. She will have died young, having sold her soul and freedom and having lived too little life. No one will ever visit her grave.

At this point the Underground Man realized that he was getting carried away with his emotions. He also realized that he was doing all this for more than just sport. Suddenly Liza was reduced to tears in anguish, and the Underground Man felt he had to get out of there. Once he was dressed, Liza threw herself at him and he gave her his address saying that she should visit him. She promised to do so. Then, as he was about to leave, she stopped him and showed him a letter.

The letter was from a student whom Liza had recently met declaring his love for her. He knew nothing about her profession. The Underground Man realized that she had showed him the letter, which she was keeping as a treasure, just so that he could think higher of her, knowing that someone did love her sincerely. He left. The snow was still falling, and he began to see the truth.

Chapter 7 Analysis:

In Part I, the Underground Man vigorously defended freedom, insisting that free will is essential to human beings. Here the Underground Man again defends freedom, this time in the context of the false moralistic speech he gives to Liza. He insists that without freedom there can be no love, conscience, or pity. This means that freedom is the thing that makes us human. Love, conscience, and pity are all human characteristics. Without our freedom and our humanity, we cannot experience any of these characteristics. Again, then, we have a hidden attack on the crystal palace, where freedom is impossible because all action is planned out ahead of time by reason.

The Underground Man also discusses memory. He tells Liza that when she dies, the gravediggers will cover her up and then go for a drink and that will be the end of it. It is important, then, to be remembered. One's life can be judged by the way that one continues to live on in the memory of others. This memory is something of a second life, and one who leaves no memory behind is deprived of that life.

The Underground Man's reasons for speaking to Liza in the way he does are not entirely clear. He certainly has a desire to dominate her, but another desire seems to be surging up within him. "It was the sport, the sport that attracted me," he says, "but it wasn't only the sport." The Underground Man seems to have some deeper feeling inside him, some desire to really touch Liza and to communicate with her for some reason other than domination. This deeper feeling, on several occasions, seems to well up, but he quickly represses it. Trapped in the underground, he will not allow himself to feel anything that would really disturb his isolation. The Underground Man is the way he is because that is how he has made himself. He does not experience positive emotions because he will not let himself experience them, not because he is a naturally negative person.

The whole time he is making his speech, the Underground Man realizes that he is speaking like a book. At the same time, however, he is convinced that this will have the strongest effect on Liza. Literature offers a world that is artificial, but it is more pleasant than the real world. The world of books is the only world that brings out strong feelings in the Underground Man. He believes that the same will be true for Liza. Reality is too cumbersome and unpleasant. The Underground Man speaks to Liza with the voice of a fictional character, and she is touched by it.

When Liza hands the Underground Man a letter, she does it without saying anything, "as if I were some kind of higher being who was supposed to know everything." Ironically, the Underground Man finds this approach on Liza's part strange. Of course he has presented himself to her precisely as a higher being who knows everything. She believes his act completely. Yet the Underground Man is surprised by this. He does not realize that he has been so convincing. The image of himself that he projects outward is not the image of himself that he holds. The clash between his self-image and the reflection of the image he projects appears extremely strange to him.

Chapter 8 Summary:

The next morning the Underground Man was amazed by his own sentimentality with Liza. The first order of business, however, was to straighten things out with Simonov. He borrowed money from his office chief and sent Simonov a letter with the money. In the letter he explained that he had gotten drunk too quickly last night and apologized for this, asking Simonov also to convey his apologies to the others. The Underground Man was extremely pleased with the style of the letter, which seemed extremely casual.

He then went walking around Petersburg, but began feeling uneasy, as if something in his conscience were bothering him. He began to worry also that Liza might actually come to see him. If she did, she would see how poorly he lived, thus ruining the image of him as a hero, as he had appeared to her the night before. He knew, also, that if she came, he would begin to lie and to wear a mask, which would be completely indecent. Rebelling at this thought, the Underground Man exclaims that he was not deceitful the night before but was sincere and inspired noble feelings in her.

The Underground Man was haunted by Liza's face, distorted and tormented. He began to curse her for her romanticism, certain that it would cause her to come. He was angry that it was so easy to turn her soul around. Considering going to the brothel and telling her not to visit him, he developed a strong hatred for Liza. The Underground Man decided that she could not come after 9pm, so he started after that time to dream about how he would reeducate her, cultivate her, and finally accept her love and marry her.

The narrator here speaks of his relation with his servant, Apollon. Apollon is an elderly man who works part time as a tailor, looks down on everyone, and particularly despises the Underground Man. The Underground Man recounts how that he never got along with Apollon, who did no work but received his wages every month, read from the Psalter, and had a lisp of which he was very proud. Apollon wouldn't leave, and the Underground Man could not get rid of him for seven years.

This time the Underground Man had decided not to pay Apollon his wages until his servant asked for them respectfully. He had tried this before, but Apollon would begin entering his room and staring at him severely, then contemptuously, and finally staring and sighing at the same time. The Underground Man would yell at him but in the end would always give in, and Apollon would never have to mention his wages. This time, again, Apollon began walking into his room and staring and the Underground Man exploded at him. He yelled at his servant, insisting that the latter wants his wages but won't get them until he asks respectfully and apologizes for his behavior. Apollon calmly replied that this will not happen. The Underground Man then called Apollon his executioner and insisted that he go at once and call the police. Apollon refused, saying that no would ever call the police against himself. The Underground Man, angered, grabbed his servant and was about to strike him when Liza walked in. The Underground Man rushed to his room and remained there until Apollon let Liza in two minutes later.

Chapter 8 Analysis:

The Underground Man goes off to write a letter to Simonov. He hopes, by this single letter, to smooth out all the embarrassment of the night before. Of course this hope is only a dream. The insults, the pointless pacing around the room, the apologies at the end, and finally begging Simonov for money to come to the brothel are things that will not be forgotten on account of a single letter. The Underground Man's fantasy is emphasized even further by his conviction that he has written an excellent letter because he is so cultured. In fact, as he has repeatedly pointed out throughout the novel, the fact that he is cultured‹too cultured‹is precisely the source of his problems. It is the reason why he was unable to tolerate his dining companions, and it was also the reason that he decided to make a fool of himself instead of leaving. Culture is the Underground Man's curse. His attempt to think of it as a positive trait is almost laughable.

The day after his encounter with Liza, the Underground Man goes for a stroll and reports that, "something hadn't yet died within me, deep within my heart and conscience; it didn't want to die, and it expressed itself as burning anguish." This is the Underground Man's feeling for Liza, which we have already seen him exhibiting. The Underground Man will not, however, allow his feelings to come to the surface. He is driven by spite, so anything that does not fit in with the personality he has created for himself must be suppressed.

At one point in his meditations the Underground Man insists that with Liza he did not put on a deceitful mask. He claims that he spoke sincerely and that he felt genuine emotions. Though this may be true, the Underground Man's mask is still deceitful. It is deceitful not because the emotions he expressed were false, but because he spoke to dominate Liza rather than to redeem her. The Underground Man can justify his actions to himself only so long as he does not look beyond the surface and analyze his motivations.

In his fantasies about Liza, the Underground Man imagines a future where Liza loves him but he does not tell her that he also loves her because he does not want to force her to respond with love. In fantasies, the Underground Man imagines himself as someone who is completely opposed to domination and capable of true selfless love. The Underground Man aspires to a higher ideal, but he never attempts to reach this ideal in real life because it is much easier for him to simply fantasize that he has reached it. This is part of Dostoevsky's critique of the liberal romantics, who sit around imagining a better world while continuing to live their lives in exactly the same way as before.

The narrator's encounter with his servant is also interesting. Apollon clearly has the upper hand in their interactions. Having failed to make Apollon submit morally, the Underground Man instead attempts to dominate him by refusing to give him his wages. In this way, the Underground Man tries to put Apollon in place by reminding him that he is in a lower social position. There is a strong irony here. Zverkov treats the Underground Man with contempt because of the Underground Man's inferior social status, and the Underground Man attempts throughout Part II to assert his "moral superiority" in order to compensate for his low social standing. In fact, he hates those who treat him poorly based on his social status and instead wants to be admired for his moral superiority. It is clear, however, that the Underground Man takes this approach with his social superiors only because he is inferior to them. In the case of Apollon, to whom he is socially superior, he reverses his position and attempts to dominate him based on social status. Apollon, on the other hand, defeats the Underground Man every time as a result of his own moral superiority.

This chapter also uses, at the end, the image of the clock. The clock is a recurring image, used when the Underground Man experiences extreme social awkwardness. For example, while he is pacing around the room during dinner with his schoolmates, the narrator notes that "the clock struck eight, then nine." Coming to in the brothel, the Underground Man reports that "somewhere behind a partition a clock was wheezing as if under some strong pressure." In this chapter, when Liza comes in as the Underground Man is attacking Apollon, the "clock strained, wheezed, and struck seven." Something seems to be very important about the image of the clock and the fact that it seems to appear in the narrative during such moments of turmoil. The solid rigidity of the clock serves as a counterweight to the chaos in the Underground Man's mind. The clock represents the immutable laws of nature and the wall of impossibility. Time moves forward, always at the same pace, regardless of anything human beings might do. It is impervious to human desires, free will, and fantasy. Whatever the Underground Man might do, however he might choose to act, and no matter what chaos he causes, the clock will still move at the same speed, turning his messy life into a rationalist ideal, broken up into clean and identical units of time.

Chapter 9 Summary:

The chapter opens with two lines from the same poem that started Part II, where the man welcomes the redeemed prostitute into his home, in contrast to the actual events of the novel. As Liza came in, the Underground Man attempted to wrap himself in his robe. Liza was embarrassed to see him in his poverty. The Underground Man was ashamed to be seen by her and hated her for causing his shame. Attempting to break the tension, the Underground Man ran to Apollon, gave him his wages, and begged him to go and bring them some tea. The Underground Man began complaining to Liza about Apollon, but suddenly had a nervous attack. He burst into tears and, in order to make the attack look even more convincing to Liza, asked for some water. When Apollon brought in the tea, the Underground Man refused to have any of it so as to torture Liza since he knew that she would be unable to drink until he started.

Finally, to break the tension, Liza said that she wanted to leave the brothel. The Underground Man felt a moment's sympathy for her, but then his anger rose up and he began telling her that he was only laughing at hear at the brothel when he pretended to be kind to her. He had wanted to fight Zverkov, who had insulted him, but since he couldn't find him, he was forced to avenge himself on someone else, on Liza. He only wanted to humiliate someone because he himself had been humiliated. The Underground Man yelled that he only wanted power over someone and he enjoyed the sport of dominating her, but now he only wants her to leave. He said that he was ashamed that earlier he had looked like a hero to her, but now she saw him impoverished and attacking his servant. He told her that he is ashamed of his poverty because he is extremely vain. Then, after throwing a string of insults at himself, the Underground Man told Liza that he hates her because she has seen all of this and heard everything he had just said, and that he wants her to leave.

Instead of leaving, however, Liza realized that the Underground Man was unhappy. Unexpectedly, she rushed toward him and embraced him. He burst out crying and she stayed with him for the whole time. Eventually, however, the Underground Man realized that he was ashamed and that their positions had been reversed: Liza was now the heroine. For a moment he attempted to understand her feelings, but then he again remembered his need to dominate and took her in his arms.

Chapter 9 Analysis:

We see here how desperately the Underground Man need the approval of others. He hates Liza because she sees his poverty and thus must form a negative opinion of him. He wants to be judged positively, and as a result hates everyone who judges him negatively. The need to be viewed positively is what drove the Underground Man to speak to Liza in the first place. Now that she has seen his poverty, he feels his pride has been damaged by her embarrassment at what she sees. He goes so far as to ask Liza whether or not she despises him. He needs to know what she thinks of him because this is what determines his own self-esteem.

The narrator realizes at one point that he feels sympathy for Liza. Almost as soon as he feels this, however, his anger at her overtakes him. Repressing his positive feelings, the Underground Man acts out of spite. He intentionally draws out the tension in the room so as to torture Liza, though of course this tension is even more unbearable to him. He refuses to drink the tea intentionally so that Liza also will not be able to touch it. The Underground Man wants to act spitefully and he cannot allow himself to experience genuine emotion.

The two lines of the poem quoted at the beginning of the chapter are extremely ironic. The hero of the poem welcomes the redeemed prostitute into his house. The Underground Man mocks this romantic fantasy. Instead, he tortures Liza out of spite and insults. When his insults fail to drive Liza away, he finally abandons her to make her believe he had simply used her and, at the end, hands her money to complete her humiliation. The romantic ideal is flipped on its head. The prostitute is not redeemed, but rather is humiliated even more than she could ever be in her job.

While shouting at Liza, the Underground Man exclaims: "should the world go to hell, or should I go without my tea? I say, let the world go to hell as long as I can always have my tea." This is the ultimate expression of his egoism. He doesn't care at all about the world. Nothing positive needs to be done about the world; there is no reason to care for anyone or anything. Such concerns can be far more easily resolved in dreams and fantasies. The real world itself is completely unimportant to the Underground Man who, isolated in his underground, cares only about himself.

When he breaks out in hysterics in Liza's arms, the Underground Man exclaims, "they won't let meŠ I can't beŠ good." The Russian word for good, "dobryi," can here be contrasted with the word "zloi," which means both evil and spiteful. Since spite is the Underground Man's most consistent feature, it is interesting that his most honest admission here is that he has to be spiteful; he can't be anything else. He is trapped in the persona of cruelty and domination that he has adopted for himself.

In response to the insults that the Underground Man throws at her, Liza "understood out of all this what a woman always understands first of all, if she sincerely loves‹namely, that I myself was unhappy." Liza's compassion for the Underground Man is brought on by her selfless love. We may, of course, doubt that after only such a brief encounter Liza already feels love for the Underground Man. Dostoevsky asks here for a suspension of disbelief, for it is through Liza's love that he shows us the positive ideal of the novel, the only way that leads out of the worlds of reason, of utopia, and of the underground.

Zverkov, as we have seen, lives in the real world, where social status determines human interactions. The narrator lives in the underground, a world of literature, dreams, and fantasies, where he dreams that his alleged moral superiority will always raise him above others. Liza represents a third alternative, a higher ideal. When Zverkov is insulted, he treats the Underground Man with contempt. The Underground Man, in response to an insult, always attempts to dominate the other or challenge him to a duel. Liza, on the other hand, responds to the Underground Man's insults with compassion. She thus represents a different and higher world, the "something better" that the Underground Man was searching for at the end of Part I. He, however, fails to accept this ideal.

For a moment, as Liza stays with him, the Underground Man almost thinks he might envy her. He says that he still cannot understand this envy because he cannot live without exercising power over someone. Liza, on the other hand, does not need to dominate. She is capable of feeling pure love for another, thus escaping from the need to control or belittle others that most other characters in the novel exhibit. The Underground Man does see something in her that he envies, but he does not understand what he sees precisely because it is so opposed to his own way of life.

This chapter is the climax of the novel. Liza offers the Underground Man something he cannot accept: salvation. While he wanted to pretend to redeem her, she comes to him with the ability to redeem him, an offer he turns down because he doesn't understand it. This theme of redemption through love, though it occurs only in this chapter, is the most important theme of the novel. This theme appears again in other novels by Dostoevsky, perhaps most powerfully in Crime and Punishment. This is what the Underground Man was searching for in the climax of Part I, where he insisted that he wanted to find something better than the underground. At the critical moment, however, he fails his test, preferring the underground to the salvation he is shown.

Chapter 10 Summary:

Shortly after his physical encounter with Liza, the Underground Man was running around the room waiting for her to leave. He was thinking about his conception of love as tyranny and about his inability to deal with reality. He realized that Liza had not come for his pity but only to love him. He wanted her to leave because he wanted to be alone again, to escape reality and remain in the underground.

Finally the Underground Man tapped on the screen behind which Liza was sitting. She got up and left. At the last moment he thrust a five-ruble note into her hand. A moment later he ran out onto the stairs and called after her, but heard her leaving through the door at the bottom of the stairs. Coming back into his room, the Underground Man saw that she had tossed the money back instead of taking it. At this he suddenly started throwing his clothes on and ran out after her into the street.

It was snowing heavily. The Underground Man ran down the street and then stopped. He wanted to find Liza and beg for her forgiveness, but then he realized that even if she forgave him, he would hate her for it the next day and would torment her. He decided that it would be better if she went on her whole life remembering only his insult, and he became convinced that this insult could purify her.

The Underground Man then breaks off his narrative and says that he was ashamed the entire time he has been writing this memoir, making his Notes corrective punishment rather than literature. He insists that what he has written cannot be called a novel, since a novel must have a hero and this one only contains the traits of an anti-hero. Finally, he claims that his Notes are unpleasant because all of us, both he and his readers, are estranged from real life. We live only in books and in fantasies, and are no longer capable of dealing with life. If the rest of us don't notice this, it is only because he, the Underground Man, has gone further in what all of us normally do, immersing himself completely in the underground world of dreams. All of us, he says, now live in ideas and are ashamed of our own real physical bodies. He concludes, at last, by saying that he is tired of writing from the underground. The "editor" of the Notes then mentions that the Underground Man continues writing after this but it is just as well that we stop here.

Chapter 10 Analysis:

Here the Underground Man explains that he was, indeed, aware of Liza's love. The problem was that he could neither return it nor appreciate it. He was, essentially, beyond redemption. Since love, for him, "meant tyrannizing and demonstrating [his] moral superiority," he could not be touched by Liza's pure love. As a result, the Underground Man remains trapped forever in his underground. This is, essentially, what makes him a tragic figure. He rejects human society as stupid and the liberal ideal as restrictive, hiding out in his underground. Yet while he searches for something higher than the underground, he cannot accept it once it is placed before him. The Underground Man is trapped in his underground as a prisoner in a prison.

As Liza is leaving, the Underground Man slips money into her hand. He says that this gesture, clearly intended to humiliate her even further, came "not from my heart, but from my stupid head." Though in his heart the Underground Man knows what is right and wrong, his mind will not allow him to rely on his heart. He cruelty to others, which he has exhibited throughout the novel, is not a real cruelty: it comes from his head, from literature and fantasy. It is an invented and rationalized cruelty that he does not feel. The Underground Man's mind, manufacturing this cruelty for him, will not allow him to act in any other way. It is his mind, his reason, and his literary culture that keep him trapped in the underground.

The Underground Man is shocked to see that Liza has thrown the money back. He writes that he was too much of an egoist to ever expect other people to have dignity. Liza has returned the money out of pride, but the Underground Man could never have expected another human being to have pride. Ironically, while his own pride is at issue in every social interaction, he never expects the same of others. The recognition of Liza as a separate, independent individual with her own dignity and pride is what drives the Underground Man after her into the snow.

We should also note that, when the Underground Man rushes out after her, he is acting based on the instincts of his heart and not his head. He doesn't think but simply acts. His head is what prevents him from completing his search for Liza, stopping his action with questions and doubts. But for that moment when he rushes outside, he acts purely based on his natural feelings. This is emphasized by the way that the Underground Man gets dressed to go out: "I threw on whatever I happened to find, and rushed headlong after her." We have seen throughout the novel that normally the Underground Man takes a long time to dress and picks his clothes with great care. It is only when he acts based on feeling and not on a pre-planned and rationalized idea, that he can dress in anything he finds lying around without care for his appearance.

As the Underground Man stops running after Liza and begins to think, we see again that he is incapable of accepting the Christian ideal of love and the surrender of one's ego. He knows that he is running after Liza because he wants her forgiveness, but he also realizes that, if he begs for her forgiveness, he will hate her for it the next day. He can never ask for forgiveness because he cannot stand to be forgiven.

The image of snow again recurs in this chapter, as it has throughout Part II, giving one explanation for why this part is called "Apropos of Wet Snow." The snow covers Liza's tracks, leaving the Underground Man unable to follow her. He stops short and begins to think. His heart is "being torn apart" as he must choose between love and domination, between reality and the underground, and between feeling and reason. Finally the Underground Man decides to turn back. He can no longer see anything else through the snow as he stands "peering into the murky mist." The snow cuts the Underground Man off from the rest of the world, leaving him alone with himself in his underground. The snow, then, is a metaphor for everything that keeps the Underground Man trapped in his solitary world. The snow here serves to wipe away everything that has happened and all his interactions with others. Yet the snow has more than the power to destroy memories, since it is also the snow that brings back the memory of this event to the Underground Man, causing him to write Part II of the Notes.

Near the very end, as the Underground Man writes about the entire work, he states that it is not a novel because a novel needs a hero. Here, on the other hand, "all the traits of an anti-hero have been assembled deliberately." One on level, this is a masked reference to the fact that we are reading a novel and not a genuine confession. The character of the Underground Man, with all his traits, has been written the way he is deliberately. But also this is the Underground Man's comment on himself, as a self-invented individual. The Underground Man constantly lies, attempts to justify his actions, and pretends to be something he is not around others. He recognizes that he has made himself into a fictional character, though an unpleasant one, by deliberately sequestering himself in the underground.

Closing the novel, the Underground Man accuses all of us‹both himself and his readers‹of having become estranged from reality. He insists that we all live in literary worlds, we have all become too cultured. Though he has taken this literary life to an extreme, all of us are implicated in his actions and thoughts. This final thought reinforces the claim that Dostoevsky was doing much more than attempting to convey the psychology of a deranged individual. His novel is a critique of society as a whole, since all of us are implicated in the Underground Man's actions.

Finally, the novel ends as the fictional "editor" of the Notes steps in, saying that more was written but there is no need to publish the rest. He refers to the Underground Man as a paradoxalist, which is an excellent way of describing him. Everything about the Underground Man is paradox or contradiction. He claims, for example, that he is spiteful while, at the same time, insisting that he is note spiteful. Yet his very claim that he is was made out of spite. The most important paradox is that the Underground Man searches, with his reason, for an ideal that his reason will not allow him to accept.