Notes from Underground By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part 2: Section 4

Summary

When the Underground Man arrived at the hotel, not only did he have difficulty finding his comrades, but he also had truble finding the room. After many inquiries he discovered that the dinner had been rescheduled for an hour later, at six o'clock. He sat sullenly and brooded about not being informed. When the others arrived, however, he was not angry; instead of being offended he was overjoyed to see them. He had especially expected Zverkov to make some insipid jokes, but was taken aback when he did not. In fact, Zverkov treated him with courteous cordiality.

Everyone was surprised to learn that the narrator had been waiting for over an hour. They all laughed and the blame was finally placed on Simonov. Zverkov was astounded that the Underground Man didn't at least order a drink for himself while he was waiting. When they were seated, Zverkov asked the Underground Man some questions about his job but, for the narrator, each question seemed to carry a taint of superiority. And, when queried about his salary, the Underground Man felt that he was being cross-examined. But he told his salary anyway. Noting that it was indeed a rather miserable sum, Zverkov and the others commented on the salary. This caused the narrator severe agony; he became offended and loudly announced that he was paying his own way. He continued, spouting a few more spiteful remarks, then was told, "You invited yourself to join us, so don't disturb the general harmony."

After this, no one paid any attention to the Underground Man, who sat silently and broodingly while Zverkov narrated an episode about how he almost got married. The Underground Man was almost determined to get up and leave the others without a word, but he knew that he could not do this. When Zverkov mentioned the name of a famous prince, the Underground Man was certain that Zverkov was "name-dropping," so he offered an impertinent and rude remark. Zverkov merely looked at the narrator as though he were an insect. Later, the Underground Man attempted to make a speech and since he was unused to drinking and spirits, he became confused and insulting. The others, regretting that he was present, tried to ignore him and after dinner, they did not invite him to join them on the sofa. Instead, the Underground Man paced loudly back and forth on the other side of the room for three hours, while the others ignored him.

When they were about to leave to visit a brothel, the Underground Man approached Zverkov and apologized to him for having insulted him. Zverkov responded that it was impossible for such a person as he to ever be insulted by the Underground Man. Then everyone left except Simonov who stayed behind to tip the waiters. The Underground Man decided he wanted to go with the others to the brothel and tried to borrow six rubles from Simonov. Simonov hesitated, but felt so embarrassed by his friend's begging that he finally gave him the money.

Analysis

The Underground Man's arrival an hour early for the party sets a tone of tension for the entire evening. Ultimately, it is his own fault for the initial confusion since he did intrude upon the private party and also because, having had nothing to do with the group, they did not know his address, thus could not inform him of the change in plans. However, with his over-sensitive awareness, his acute consciousness, and his sense of shame over his "threadbare" clothes, he feels that he is the epitome of ridiculousness for having waited an entire hour. When the others fail to understand why he didn't order something to drink, he cannot tell them that he spent his last ruble to arrive in style for their sake — an hour early. Thus, only the Underground Man is aware of the absurdity of his situation. He feels that he is ludicrous, so takes offense at every statement; even when the others try to bring him into the conversation, he is painfully aware of what they are doing.

As a man of acute consciousness, the Underground Man cannot perform any direct action. Throughout this scene, he was aware that he should take his hat and simply leave. But this would be a positive action — one beyond the scope of a man of acute consciousness. Instead, he remained and became more and more absurd and created more and more disorder.

The absurdity of his position is represented by the fact that he stomped up and down the room while the others were talking. He was fully aware that his actions were an attempt to draw attention to himself, and therefore he became more incensed when "they paid no attention" to him. As he confessed in the preceding section, he has always needed to dominate or tyrannize any relationship; therefore, we now see that he cannot enter into any normal conversation or relationship with these people so does everything to dominate the situation. It is a vicious circle: when he is ignored, he becomes more and more determined to bring a climax to the relationship.

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