Notes from Underground By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part 2: Section 10

Summary

Fifteen minutes later, the Underground Man peeked through a screen to see what Liza was doing. She was on the floor with her head leaning against the bed. The Underground Man was pleased that she had been so thoroughly insulted. Finally, he had made her understand that his outburst of passion was merely a method of getting revenge.

For the Underground Man, love means tyrannizing and dominating a person and once he has subjugated the person, he no longer loves that person. Instead, by then he hates the person. But, as he peeks at Liza, he does not overtly hate her as much as he is simply oppressed by her presence. He wanted her to disappear so that he could return to the peace of his underground world. Real life is so oppressive that he could hardly breathe.

A few minutes later when she emerged and told him goodbye, he seized her hand, forced something into it, and dashed away to another part of the room. He confesses to us that he stuffed money into her hand — out of spite. The act was not an impulse from the heart; it was conceived in his evil brain. Almost immediately he rushed to the door to catch her before she disappeared but there was no answer to his calls.

Returning to his room, he wandered aimlessly about until he noticed a crumpled five-ruble note lying on the table. It had to be the same note he had tried to force on Liza. Being an egotist, he was not able to imagine doing her such a thing. Immediately, he flung on his clothes, rushed out into the streets, but was unable to find her.

He then began to question why he was searching for her so frantically. His answer was that he wanted to "fall down before her, to sob with remorse, to kiss her feet to entreat her forgiveness!" He knew that if he did not find her, he would begin to hate her the next day. Perhaps it would be best for her to keep her resentment of the insult. He has never seen Liza again.

Even now, after so many years, this is still an evil memory. And, in writing these notes, he has felt shame, partly because these scribblings aren't literature but a type of self-punishment. Why should anyone want to read about a man who has ruined his life by spite, through divorce from reality, and through moral disintegration? A novel needs a hero, and he admits that he is an anti-hero. Furthermore, the public itself is afraid to read of real life and prefers stories and novels. Yet by being honest, the Underground Man contends that he has faced life more acutely than do his readers.

Analysis

This final section shows concisely how thoroughly spiteful the Underground Man is. After this section, we wonder what qualities are left him. He still possesses his intellectual honesty and there is a quality of sincerity in his narration, especially since few people would have the courage to admit to performing such spiteful, horrible acts. But sincerity in such a hateful person is a questionable quality.

The Underground Man's original purpose in narrating this second part was to purge himself of all guilt feelings concerning his relations with Liza. He thought that by confessing his disgraceful behavior that he would purify himself. Instead, however, he now understands that he can only enter into a relationship by "tyrannizing and showing [his] moral superiority." Thus this idea of his inability to enter into a relationship without dominating that relationship has become the central theme of Part 2.

In Section 9, the Underground Man comes to realize that he cannot achieve a real domination over Liza. Through her simple and innocent approach to life, she possesses a "moral superiority" to the Underground Man simply because she intuitively understands and responds to his agonized suffering and gives herself freely to him out of human compassion. There was no subtle intellectualizing connected with her actions. She responded to the Underground Man as a human being who was in distress and who needed affection. This basic response makes her morally superior.

If, therefore, the Underground Man cannot dominate her by "moral superiority," there is only one course open to him: he must spitefully subjugate her and force her to see that he was using her and ridiculing her and that his every act, even his screaming hysterics, were intentionally dramatic enough to create an effect.

To subjugate her completely, he forces a five-ruble note into her hand, an act performed out of spite to remind Liza that she is nothing but a prostitute. He admits that the act "was not an impulse from the heart, but came from [his] evil brain." This contrasts to Liza's impulse earlier when she "warmly and rapturously embraced" the Underground Man. Her action was that of responding compassionately; his was malicious spite.

The Underground Man, however, still fails to subjugate Liza since she, quietly and unknown to the Underground Man, leaves the five-ruble note on the table. This act reaffirms her basic goodness and reveals the Underground Man as a spiteful and malicious creature.

The final conclusion of the Underground Man is that even though he has the qualities of the anti-hero, he is no more divorced from life than anyone else. He, at least, has faced life more realistically than most, because he has dared look at the unpleasant side of his own life. Thus, the Notes from Underground, as Dostoevsky himself points out, ends with a paradoxical twist.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Dostoevsky was condemned to be shot by firing squad because he




Quiz