Notes from Underground By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part 2: Section 5

Summary

On the way to the brothel, the Underground Man compared what happened at dinner with his dreams of the pope, Lake Como, and the grand ball. The memory of how he cringed before Simonov begging for the six rubles made him double up in shame. He was determined to make everything right, but realized that probably everything he tried would be futile; the others would never get on their knees and beg his pardon. Therefore, his only alternative was to slap Zverkov in the face. He pictured the scene in the drawing room of the brothel where Zverkov would be sitting with the prostitute, Olympia. The Underground Man then decided that not only Zverkov should be punished; if necessary, he would also pull Olympia's hair.

The Underground Man knew that Ferfichkin and Trudolyubov would probably beat him, but he didn't care so long as they were "forced at last to see the tragedy of it all." He also knew that the slap would lead to a duel and although he had no idea where he would find pistols and a second before sunrise, he would absolutely be forced to duel. In the midst of these wild imaginings, he recognized the disgusting absurdity of his plans to wreak revenge. It would probably be better simply to go home and forget it all. He knew this, yet he urged the driver on.

Another thought occurred to him: perhaps the others would have him arrested! He conceived of a prison sentence lasting fifteen years; then, released, he would find Zverkov, would offer him a pistol and moments before the duel he would forgive his enemy. As he thought of the grand gesture of nobility, the Underground Man was on the point of tears — when he suddenly remembered that the exact, same scene had been written about in Romantic literature. He knew now, for a certainty, that he would have to slap Zverkov.

When he arrived at the brothel, he found himself alone. Everyone else had retired. So, being spared the task of slapping Zverkov, the Underground Man felt extremely relieved, as though he "had been saved from death." Then he noticed he was no longer alone; a girl had entered. She was very quiet, very simply dressed, and very well developed. The Underground Man felt something loathsome stir within him and was also secretly pleased that he must seem repulsive to the prostitute.

Analysis

The Underground Man, who had just emerged from isolation after three months, felt as if he were embracing real life as he rushed from the Hotel de Paris to join his dinner companions at the brothel. How different this was from his dream world in which the pope abdicated and a ball was held on Lake Como in Rome. Yet the paradox is that his concept of the real world is as fantastic as his dream world. In other words, his belief that he will be able to make his four companions "go down on their knees and beg" for his friendship has no relationship to reality. It is as absurd as his dreams. For the Underground Man, stark reality is often converted into dream fantasy. This scene is concrete; it illustrates his contention in Part 1: direct action is impossible for the man of acute consciousness. Note, for example, how utterly relieved he is when he discovers that Zverkov and the others have already gone, thus removing the need for him to slap Zverkov. His relief is as great as being "saved from death."

Furthermore, unlike the Underground Man, the man of action would not be trubled or plagued by the implications inherent in previous actions, but the Underground Man is so horrified over the disgraceful manner in which he begged for six rubles from Simonov and is so plagued by the remembrance of Simonov's reaction to him that he "tumbled into the sledge like a sack."

The image of the wet snow dominates the action of this section, reminding us again of the cold, frigid approach the Underground Man has toward life and toward human relations. His delight at the end of the section that the prostitute (he thinks) finds him repulsive underscores his own view of himself.

Throughout this section, we see that the Underground Man, while attempting to actually perform some definite act is constantly confronted by so many alternatives that any act becomes impossible. Even as he conceives of some fantastic plan in which he will return from fifteen years in prison in order to forgive his enemy, he must also admit that he is not even original in his dreams — that Romantic writers of the previous decades have already depicted such scenes. His awareness forces him to admit that he often tries to make his own life conform to that found in literature, and he is thus disgusted with his own commonplace thoughts.

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