Notes from Underground By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part 2: Section 9

Summary

Standing before Liza completely confused and embarrassed by his ragged dressing gown and his obvious poverty, the Underground Man finally asked her to sit down. Then he immediately began to justify and defend his poverty, asserting that he was an honorable man, in spite of his poverty. Even though Liza refused his offer for tea, he ran out of the room to ask Apollon to run to the restaurant and fetch some tea and something to eat. For a while, Apollon ignored both the seven rubles salary, which the Underground Man had just given him, and also his master's presence. But, after a bit, he agreed to go on the errand.

Returning to his room, the Underground Man started screaming about the necessity to kill Apollon who had become such a torturer to him. Then he burst into hysterics and even though his attack was a genuine one, he delighted in making it sound even worse. Liza brought him water and, at the same moment, Apollon arrived with the tea.

Alone with Liza, the Underground Man gave her some tea and decided that he would not speak to her, and for five minutes there was total silence. During this time, the Underground Man was aware of the "disgusting meanness of [his] spiteful stupidity." When Liza hesitantly announced that she wanted to escape from her employment, the Underground Man allowed another five minutes to pass without saying a word. And even though his heart ached for Liza, "something hideous suddenly stifled all compassion" in him.

After Liza volunteered to leave, the Underground Man broke his silence and began a hysterical attack on the girl, demanding to know why she came. He told her that he was laughing at her that night in the brothel. He explained that he had been insulted just before he arrived and so he had wanted to insult someone in return. He spoke very fast, knowing that Liza would not understand all of it, but he also knew that she would get the general gist of it.

He ridiculed Liza for allowing him to treat her the way he did that night. All he wanted was power over her, and he used sentimental talk to gain this power. He then confessed that he was horrified by the thought that she would actually come to his apartment and see him in a "wretched, torn dressing-gown, beggarly, loathsome." He can never forgive her for having seen him this way and for having been present during his hysterics.

Suddenly, when he stopped, he observed that Liza had understood much more than he thought she was capable of She realized that the Underground Man was dreadfully unhappy. She jumped up from her chair, rushed to him and embraced him. The Underground Man then collapsed into "genuine hysterics" which lasted at least fifteen minutes. But even in the midst of these hysterics, lying face down on the sofa, he was fully conscious that the hysterics could not last forever and that he must soon face Liza again. Suddenly he hated her because she now had mastery over him. Yet, while hating her, he was also drawn to her. She merely looked at him and embraced him.

Analysis

This section fully illustrates the spite and the spiritual void of the Underground Man. His inability to love or communicate with another person renders him a pathetic case. Such a man whose intellect is so powerful that he cannot function as a human being becomes the epitome of moral bankruptcy. Dostoevsky continued to use this intellectual type in later novels. For example, Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment and Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov are both characters who commit horrible acts because they are dominated by intellect rather than human compassion. The Underground Man is an early study of this type.

This section also offers the concluding proof that the Underground Man cannot love because of his desire to dominate and tyrannize the other person — "I cannot get on without domineering and tyrannizing over someone." As seen in later Dostoevsky characters, to love and to commune with another person involves revealing one's weaknesses. The Underground Man has an inordinate fear of being ridiculed because of his weaknesses. He is horrified that Liza sees him in ragged clothes, in a poor apartment, and in a ridiculous argument with his servant. "I stood before her crushed, crest-fallen, revoltingly confused." His immediate attempt to justify his poverty reveals his absurdity in that there should be, in reality, no need to justify oneself before a prostitute.

That the Underground Man needs an emotional outlet is illustrated by the hysterics which he engages in and which he even exaggerates. Yet, his duality forces him to hate Liza because she has witnessed this weakness in himself. The Underground Man spoke of contradictory impulses inhabiting the same person in Part 1, and now we see his own contradictory nature in action. For example, his own compulsive desire to be punished is partly the rationale behind his spiteful behavior toward Liza.

The Underground Man's fear of Liza is partly due to his realization that she is more in touch with basic humanity than he is. In this scene, she intuitively responds to his agony in a compassionate manner which is more genuine and sincere than all his emotions. Her simple love and human warmth far exceed his intellectuality. His ambiguous reaction toward her — "How I hated her and how I was drawn to her" — contrasts to her simple, warm, and compassionate response to him.

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