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

Summary

The Underground Man's periods of dissipation would be followed by periods of deep remorse. And then to escape the sickening feeling of remorse, he would resort to daydreaming which would totally occupy him for long periods of time, even up to three months. After a particularly lurid spell of dissipation, his dreams would then be more "sweet and vivid."

Whereas in real life the Underground Man was merely anonymously miserable, in his dreams he could either ride the apex of fame and honor, or else grovel in utter debauchery; "there was nothing in between." But even when he was dreaming of himself as heroically good and beautiful, he was always aware of compelling, sensuous desires. Being a dream hero, however, allowed him to surround himself with imaginary dream people who would excuse his shameful deeds and thoughts, as they kissed him and wept. He was a fascinating, Manfred-like dream hero to all his friends; even his shameful deeds had something about them that was "good and beautiful."

In his dreams, he inherits untold millions and immediately contributes them to the benefit of mankind while he goes among the people "barefoot and hungry preaching new ideas." A new millennium will occur: a universal amnesty will be declared; the pope will resign and go to Brazil, and Lake Como will be transferred from northern Italy to Rome for a grand ball. Finishing his discussion of dreams, the Underground Man admits that he could never stand more than three months of isolated daydreaming before he would be forced to seek the society of other men.

Plunging back into society meant visiting his superior, Anton Antonich Syetochkin. But he could go see Anton Antonich only on Tuesdays, the day his superior received visitors. Thus, if the Underground Man's passionate "desire to embrace humanity" fell on any other day, he had to curb that passion until Tuesday. The Underground Man did have one other acquaintance, an old school friend of a sort, Simonov. He didn't particularly like Simonov, though, and had a strong suspicion that Simonov had an aversion for him. But, on one occasion, when he was especially lonely, he decided to go see his old schoolmate.

Analysis

This section shows the Underground Man's fluctuation between reality and illusion. He can live for only so long in a dream world before he is forced to face reality again. The dichotomy between the two worlds is worth noticing. In his dream world, he is a lover of all that is good and beautiful, he is the champion of the people, and he is filled with love for all of humanity. But in reality, he cannot tolerate the individual person and becomes a spiteful man in the presence of others.

This dichotomy is directly related to the Madonna-Sodom concept discussed in Part 1. Since the Underground Man's periods of dissipation force him to retire from the world, he then goes to the opposite extreme where he dreams of being the poet and hero, and where all his friends cluster about him and will even forgive him his shameful deeds when he confesses them. This love-of-humanity-and-hatred-of-neighbor idea is one which Dostoevsky further developed in the character of Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov. For someone like Ivan or the Underground Man, it is much easier to love mankind in the abstract than it is to love one's next-door neighbor.

The duality in man's character is expressed in the fact that the Underground Man cannot bear dreaming for a long period any more than he can stand dissipating for a long period. So, after "three months" of dreaming, he confesses that he was forced again to seek the company of mankind. It is ironic (and humorous) that when this desire to embrace humanity overtook him, he could not do so immediately but had to wait until his superior at the office had his open house on Tuesday afternoon.

The puzzling aspect of the Underground Man's compulsive nature is that at the end of this section, he is convinced that his old schoolmate Simonov does not like him, yet he is determined to put himself "into a false position." This drive will later involve him in the episode concerning Liza.

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