Summary and Analysis
Walking home from Liza's, the Underground Man recognized a "loathsome truth," but he did not want to recognize it, so he tried to put it out of his mind. Later he was surprised at the sentimentality he expressed with Liza. He is aghast that he would give her his address. Too many thoughts have crowded his mind, so he decided to think of something more immediate: he had to redeem himself with Simonov for last night's behavior. And, in order to repay the money, he must go to his superior, Anton Antonich. After borrowing the money, he sat down and wrote Simonov a long letter blaming the wine, and lying further as he explained that he had had several drinks before the others arrived. Having finished the letter, he began to consider himself rather aristocratic and good-humored. Thus he tucked in the six rubles he had borrowed from Simonov, and then dismissed the entire episode.
He was not long at peace. He began to worry that Liza might show up at his lodgings. He was horrified that she should see the way he lived. Yesterday he was a hero to her, but what would he be after she saw the poverty he lived in? What was even worse, he would have to pretend again and "put on the dishonest, lying mask again." Even now, as he writes this confession more than fifteen years later, he says that he can still remember how Liza looked when he struck the match and saw her face. He is haunted by her pale, distorted features; and he is still more than a little impressed how a few words can suffice to completely alter a human life.
Days passed and every evening after 9 o'clock, he felt safer, surer that she would not come. Gradually he began to create scenes between himself and Liza. She would come and listen to him and fall in love with him and, finally, would — all trembling and sobbing — fling herself at his feet declaring her everlasting love for him. They would begin living together and perhaps go abroad. At the same time he was having these dreams, he recognized that the dreams were vulgar. Furthermore, he knew that a prostitute would not be allowed to leave her house during the evening. But he was still frightened that someday she might actually appear at his door.
During these difficult days, his servant Apollon was very trying and rude. Apollon had been the bane of the Underground Man's existence for years, and he hated his servant, but could do nothing about it. He knew that Apollon looked down on him and despised him. And he had sometimes tried to withhold Apollon's seven rubles, which constituted his salary, until the servant would come and humbly request his wages. The plan had never worked; instead, he would come into the Underground Man's room and stand staring at him, then would reappear later and continue staring. The Underground Man broke under such treatment; he had never been successful at playing the master. He would scream and rail and curse his servant and one time he even demanded that Apollon send for the police. During this scene, when the Underground Man was screaming at his servant, Liza suddenly appeared in the entranceway. He rushed to his room, but Apollon followed and quietly announced the presence of the young woman.
The mysterious "loathsome truth" that the Underground Man is reluctant to recognize is that he needs Liza and is, at the same time, frightened at the prospect of entering into a close relationship with another person. We know already that he can endure a friendship only if he can be a tyrant in that relationship. In reviewing his behavior on the night before, he is shocked at his sentimentality; he is horrified that Liza might actually visit him, and tries his best to dismiss the entire affair as though "it didn't matter." Paradoxically, it does matter — as evidenced by his extreme nervous apprehension.
To escape his haunting thoughts about Liza's impending visit, the Underground Man composes a letter to Simonov, including the six rubles he had borrowed. The letter is another of his attempts to escape facing the reality of his shameful behavior. He blames his actions on wine which he had not drunk and, after composing a letter filled with "aristocratic playfulness," he feels that the episode is closed.
He cannot, however, escape so easily from the tormenting thoughts about Liza. Knowing that he needs her and knowing that through his rhetoric that night he succeeded in impressing her as a man of distinction and compassion, he is horrified of her seeing that in actuality he is not compassionate but spiteful and tyrannical, and that he is not distinguished, but frightened and insecure. Furthermore, to rise again to such rhetorical heights would be too emotionally demanding. Liza's appearance would also involve him in a responsibility for which he is not prepared and which he is unable to cope with. As a person who lives underground, who lives in a world of dreams, the reality of actually meeting Liza again would be almost more than a man of acute consciousness could endure. It is for him much easier to create in his dreams imaginary scenes and situations involving the two of them than it would be to meet her again face to face.
Apollon, his servant, functions as his main distraction to keep his mind off Liza's possible visit. The fact that he does become involved in such an outrageously ridiculous argument with his servant is more proof of how trubled he is. And the final irony is that in the midst of the most absurd behavior, Liza actually does arrive and witnesses the Underground Man's wild ravings.