Notes from Underground

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the W. W. Norton & Company edition of Notes from Underground published in 2000.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

I am a sick man. . . . I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I think my liver is diseased. Then again, I don’t know a thing about my illness; I’m not even sure what hurts. I’m not being treated and never have been, though I respect both medicine and doctors. Besides, I’m extremely superstitious—well at least enough to respect medicine. (I’m sufficiently educated not to be superstitious, but I am, anyway.) No, gentlemen, it’s out of spite that I don’t wish to be treated. . . . My liver hurts? Good, let it hurt even more!

Related Characters: The Underground Man (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

In the opening paragraph, the Underground Man introduces himself to the reader. His self-denigrating words establish the tone and themes of the rest of the novel. In this passage, we learn that the Underground Man is sick with a mysterious illness, but refuses to be treated by a doctor, a fact that immediately reveals his mistrust in society––a mistrust that he clings to even at the expense of his own health. We see that he is "spiteful," "unattractive," "extremely superstitious," and masochistic, exemplified by his declaration "My liver hurts? Good, let it hurt even more!" Yet he seems to take a perverse pride in these qualities, akin to the pride in his comment that he is "sufficiently educated not to be superstitious."

Indeed, it is clear from this passage that the Underground Man is deliberately contrarian, taking pleasure in the shock value of presenting himself as a repulsive, ignoble person, and in opposing mainstream values. He even appears proud to contradict himself, pointing out that his education and intelligence should rid him of superstition, but that he is superstitious all the same. Similarly, he respects "both medicine and doctors," but refuses to be treated "out of spite" – a deliberately irrational, self-sabotaging move. 


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Yes, sir, an intelligent man in the nineteenth century must be, is morally obliged to be, principally a characterless creature; a man possessing character, a man of action, is fundamentally a limited creature.

Related Characters: The Underground Man (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has continued to tell the reader about himself, explaining that he used to work for the government as a civil servant, and enjoyed being rude to people on purpose. He then contradicts himself, saying he was lying about ever being rude, but that he wasn't a good person either. In this passage, he concludes that "an intelligent man in the nineteenth century" must be "characterless," because to be otherwise is to be "limited." Here the Underground Man again reveals his contrarian logic; ordinarily we would think of being a man of "character" and action" as being less limited as a result of these qualities. 

By situating himself as "an intelligent man of the nineteenth century," the Underground Man emphasizes that he is presenting himself not as a curious oddity, but as a figure epitomizing certain social themes and issues of his era. Although he rejects society, he remains invested in critiquing what he perceives to be its failings.

Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

I swear to you, gentlemen, that being overly conscious is a disease, a genuine, full-fledged disease. Ordinary human consciousness would be more than sufficient for everyday human needs—that is, even half or a quarter of the amount of consciousness that’s available to a cultured man in our unfortunate nineteenth century, especially to one who has the particular misfortune of living in St. Petersburg, the most abstract and premeditated city in the whole world. (Cities can be either premeditated or unpremeditated.) It would have been entirely sufficient, for example, to have the consciousness with which all so-called spontaneous people and men of action are endowed.

Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has confessed that he has tried to become an "insect," but that it is not possible, because he is "overly conscious." In this passage, he explains that he sees being overly conscious as "a genuine, full-fledged disease," and that it would be preferable to have "even half or a quarter of the amount of consciousness" that he possesses as a cultured and well-educated resident of nineteenth-century St Petersburg. He seems to be arguing something similar to the idea that "ignorance is bliss," that thinking too much about things inevitably leads to discontent.

Having earlier in the story criticized "men of action," he now speaks of them with a degree of envy, saying that their level of consciousness is "entirely sufficient." His comment that St Petersburg is a "premeditated city" shows that even on the level of urban geography, too much thought has a negative, crippling effect. 

Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

“There is some enjoyment even in a toothache,” I reply. I’ve had a toothache for a whole month; I know what’s what. In this case, of course, people don’t rage in silence; they moan. . . . In the first place, these moans express all the aimlessness of the pain which consciousness finds so humiliating, the whole system of natural laws about which you really don’t give a damn, but as a result of which you’re suffering nonetheless, while nature isn’t. . . . I beseech you, gentlemen, to listen to the moans of an educated man of the nineteenth century who’s suffering from a toothache. . . His moans become somehow nasty, despicably spiteful, and they go on for days and nights. Yet he himself knows that his moans do him no good: he knows better than anyone else that he’s merely irritating himself and others in vain. . . Well, it’s precisely in this awareness and shame that the voluptuousness resides.

Related Characters: The Underground Man (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has taken on the voice of the reader, imagining the reader laughing at him and suggesting he will say he loves having a toothache next. The Underground Man then "responds" to this imagined interjection by saying that yes, he does derive pleasure from a toothache. This exchange between the narrator and his anticipated reader is comic; the Underground Man is aware of his own ridiculousness, and seems determined to embrace it. Yet at the same time, there is also a degree of truth within the Underground Man's foolish, flamboyant claims. The fact that people derive pleasure from an ailment such as a toothache––whether the source of the pleasure is the pain itself, or the opportunity to complain about the pain––is an example of an illogical, yet completely recognizable human characteristic. 

Indeed, the Underground Man's use of the term "voluptuousness" suggests that by behaving in irrational, contradictory, and self-sabotaging ways, people make life fuller and richer. The implication is that if everyone behaved logically and never indulged in perverse or pointless acts, life would be mechanical and dull. On the other hand, this fact does not redeem or erase the ridiculousness of indulging in one's own pain. The young man with the toothache "knows that his moans do him no good"; in fact, they make the situation worse by "irritating himself and others in vain." Yet the Underground Man implies that it would be even worse if no one ever behaved in this silly, self-destructive way.

Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

Oh, tell me who was first to announce, first to proclaim that man does nasty things simply because he doesn’t know his own true interest; and that if he were to be enlightened, if his eyes were to be opened to his true, normal interests, he would stop doing nasty things at once and would immediately become good and noble, because, being so enlightened and understanding his real advantage, he would realize that his own advantage really did lie in the good; and that it’s well known that there’s not a single man capable of acting knowingly against his own interest; consequently, he would, so to speak, begin to do good out of necessity. Oh, the child! Oh, the pure, innocent babe! Well, in the first place, when was it during all these millennia, that man has ever acted only in his own interest? . . . And what if it turns out that man’s advantage sometimes not only may, but even must in certain circumstances, consist precisely in his desiring something harmful to himself instead of something advantageous?

Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has described a greedy person he knew who only cared about red wine; he confesses that he would like to become like this person, but that it is possible only in his dreams. In this passage, he discusses the concept that people do "nasty things" only because they don't know or understand their own interests, and if they were "enlightened," then they would act in a positive, upright manner. This is a fairly well-accepted (if optimistic) view of human nature, but one that the Underground Man disagrees with vehemently. He declares that no person in "all these millennia" has acted only in his own interest, and that sometimes there is a perverse kind of advantage in "desiring something harmful" for yourself. 

While the Underground Man's claims may sound absurd, this does not mean they are inaccurate. In fact, Dostoevsky was ahead of his time in describing many aspects of human nature that became central concerns of 20th century literature, philosophy, and psychology, including neurosis, irrationality, and self-destructive behavior. However, at the time the novella was written, these phenomena were not widely discussed and acknowledged, and thus the Underground Man's views push him to the fringes of society, at odds with the people around him. 

Part 1, Chapter 8 Quotes

Who would want to desire according to some table? And that’s not all: he would immediately be transformed from a person into an organ stop or something of that sort; because what is man without desire, without will, and without wishes if not a stop in an organ pipe?

Related Symbols: The Crystal Palace
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has described the widely-held belief that as human civilization advances, we will eventually reach a "crystal palace," a state in which everyone lives happily and harmoniously according to the laws of nature. The Underground Man believes that this is neither possible nor desirable, and in this passage explains that if human free will was reducible to science, this would make a person nothing more than an "organ stop." The "stop" is the part of the organ (a musical instrument) that pushes wind through the organ's pipes in order to make sound, and it is only activated by someone pressing the keys. The Underground Man thus implies that rational, scientific viewpoints see people as a mechanism controlled by an external force – in this case, the laws of nature – and in so doing eliminate their free will, their very personhood.

But I repeat for the one-hundredth time, there is one case, only one, when a man may intentionally, consciously desire even something harmful to himself, something stupid, even very stupid, namely: in order to have the right to desire something even very stupid and not be bound by an obligation to desire only what’s smart.

Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has earlier expressed his view that scientific understandings of rationality and free will reduce a person to nothing more than an "organ stop." According to him, this cannot be true because humans do not tend to act in their own interest––rather, as he explains in this passage, people deliberately act against their own advantage simply to prove that they can. The Underground Man's statement that there is "one case, only one" in which people act against their own interest is purposely meant to be ironic, as this one case encapsulates every occasion and reason why a person might behave in a self-sabotaging manner under the umbrella of "in order to have the right to desire something very stupid." 

In short, anything can be said about world history, anything that might occur to the most disordered imagination. There’s only one thing that can’t possibly be said about it—that it’s rational.

Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has discussed people's desire to behave in a self-destructive, irrational way just to prove that they have the right to do so. Here he claims that "anything can be said about world history" except that it is "rational." Once again, the Underground Man expresses disdain for the idea that as civilization advances, humanity is becoming more logical, fair and compassionate. Instead, he views the history of humanity as chaotic, filled with meaningless suffering and nonsensical acts. This perspective directly opposed many nineteenth-century understandings of history, including Enlightenment and Marxist views. Under these ideologies, history is teleological, meaning that it operates according to cause-and-effect momentum and moves in a particular direction.

The Underground Man's view of history, meanwhile, more closely resembles movements of thought that emerged following the First World War, such as existentialism. People who had previously believed that humanity was growing more rational and compassionate over time were shocked and disillusioned by the senseless brutality of the war. As a result, many developed a more cynical understanding of mankind as cruel, illogical, and self-destructive. What is striking is that Dostoevsky's Underground Man espouses these exact ideas many decades before World War 1 took place. 

Part 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

Two times two makes four—why, in my opinion, it’s mere insolence. Two times two makes four stands there brazenly with its hands on its hips, blocking your path and spitting at you. I agree that two times two makes four is a splendid thing; but if we’re going to lavish praise, then two times two makes five is sometimes also a very charming little thing.

Related Symbols: Two Times Two Equals Four
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has claimed that the reader whom he is addressing wishes to make people more rational using the laws of science, a notion he finds outrageous. In this passage, he declares that "two times two makes four" is "mere insolence." He personifies this mathematical formula, describing it as standing brazenly with its hands on its hips." Through this personification, the Underground Man makes explicit the connection between logical thinking and rigid authoritarianism. Of course, mathematics by itself is merely an abstract mode of thought, and thus it is strange to describe it as "insolent." On the other hand, by making the connection between mathematical reason and authority, the Underground Man emphasizes that logic is used in a cruel and oppressive way.

Such thinking stands in direct opposition to the contention of Enlightenment thinkers (who were influential at the time when the novel was written) that scientific reason will automatically lead to a more humane, compassionate world. However, the Underground Man also contradicts himself in this passage; having called two times two makes four "insolence," he then describes it as "a splendid thing." Rather than undermining the Underground Man's argument, however, this contradiction actually supports it, as contradiction itself (like two times two equals five) is an example of illogical thinking. The Underground Man thereby emphasizes the connection between irrationality and freedom, even if that means the freedom to contradict oneself and not make any sense. 

Part 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

You believe in the crystal palace, eternally indestructible, that is, one at which you can never stick out your tongue furtively nor make a rude gesture, even with your fist hidden away. Well, perhaps I’m so afraid of this building precisely because it’s made of crystal and it’s eternally indestructible, and because it won’t be possible to stick one’s tongue out even furtively.

Related Symbols: The Crystal Palace
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has returned to the concept of the crystal palace, and in this passage he provides a more detailed explanation for why the idea is so reprehensible to him. He is disturbed by the notion that the palace is "indestructible," representing a frozen, unshakeable state of existence that can never be challenged or changed. However, what the Underground Man seems to find most horrifying is the prospect that in the crystal palace it would be impossible to "stick one's tongue out" or make another "rude gesture." This passage is comic, and at first seems entirely absurd. If people were living in a perfect state of reason, compassion, and peace, would it really matter that they couldn't stick their tongues out?

However, this superficial silliness belies a more incisive and serious point. The freedom to act in a rude and stupid manner is valuable not because stupidity is important, but because freedom is. As the Underground Man has previously argued, if people do not have the ability to act in a foolish and self-destructive manner, then they are really nothing more than machines. Note that sticking one's tongue out in particular is a gesture reminiscent of childhood; this is significant, as many opponents of scientific rationalism embrace childhood as a state of existence in opposition to the oppressive forces of logic and authoritarianism. 

Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

Of course, I hated all my fellow office-workers from the first to the last and despised every one of them; yet, at the same time it was as if I were afraid of them. Sometimes it happened that I would even regard them as superior to me. At this time these changes would suddenly occur: first I would despise them, then I would regard them as superior to me. . . . All others resembled one another as sheep in a flock. Perhaps I was the only one who constantly thought of himself as a coward and a slave; and I thought so precisely because I was so cultured. But not only did I think so, it actually was so: I was a coward and a slave. I say this without any embarrassment. Every decent man of our time is and must be a coward and a slave. This is how he’s made and what he’s meant to be. And not only at the present time, as the result of some accidental circumstance, but in general at all times, a decent man must be a coward and a slave.

Page Number: 30-31
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has jumped back in time, recalling his life at the age of 24 when he worked as a civil servant. He has recalled that he had no friends, and in the office didn't even look at anyone. In this passage, he describes the mixed feelings he possessed toward his coworkers––he "despised everyone one of them," but also felt inferior to them and was fixated on the idea that he himself was "a coward and a slave."

Once again, this passage powerfully describes the contradictory, irrational, and self-sabotaging nature of modern subjectivity. The Underground Man's conflicting feelings about his coworkers, while seemingly paradoxical, actually reinforce one another. He resents them for their conformity ("as sheep in a flock"), but can't help but feel isolated from the group.

One morning, although I never engaged in literary activities, it suddenly occurred to me to draft a description of this officer as a kind of exposé, a caricature, in the form of a tale. I wrote it with great pleasure. I exposed him; I even slandered him. At first I altered his name only slightly, so that it could be easily recognized; but then, upon careful reflection, I changed it. Then I sent the tale off to Notes of the Fatherland. but such exposés were no longer in fashion, and they didn’t publish my tale. I was very annoyed by that. At times I simply choked on my spite. Finally, I resolved to challenge my opponent to a duel. I composed a beautiful, charming letter to him. . . But, thank God (to this day I thank the Almighty with tears in my eyes), I didn’t send that letter.

Related Characters: The Officer
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has described an evening when he saw a man be kicked out of a bar for fighting, inspiring the Underground Man himself to try to get into a fight. His attempt to provoke an officer is unsuccessful; at first he considers challenging the officer to a duel, but instead goes home and writes a letter slandering the officer. This passage reveals the bizarre and comic lengths to which the Underground Man goes in his attempt to create conflict with the officer. He boasts of having "exposed" and "slandered" the officer, but it is unclear what this actually means––the officer treated him in an entirely nonchalant, disinterested fashion, and thus it is difficult to imagine what there is to "expose." 

This passage also highlights the fact that the Underground Man is continually out of step with the rest of society. The journal to which he sent his letter rejects it because "such exposés were no longer in fashion," and the Underground Man's reaction to this is to pursue the even more outdated, unfashionable gesture of trying to challenge the officer to a duel. The implication of these details is that the Underground Man's interest in literature has left him disconnected from the reality of contemporary society. His hope to be perceived as a bold, reckless individual results in him appearing flamboyantly and ridiculously pathetic.  

Suddenly, three paces away from my enemy, I made up my mind unexpectedly; I closed my eyes and—we bumped into each other forcefully, shoulder to shoulder! I didn’t yield an inch and walked by him on completely equal footing! He didn’t even turn around to look at me and pretended that he hadn’t even noticed; but he was merely pretending, I’m convinced of that. To this very day I’m convinced of that! Naturally, I got the worst of it; he was stronger, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that I’d achieved my goal, I’d maintained my dignity, I hadn’t yielded one step, and I’d publicly placed myself on an equal social footing with him. I returned home feeling completely avenged for everything. I was ecstatic. I rejoiced and sang Italian arias.

Related Characters: The Underground Man (speaker), The Officer
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has concocted an elaborate plan to again bump into the officer, who he now considers his mortal enemy. He has even borrowed money for expensive clothes to wear during the act, yet repeatedly loses his nerve at the last minute. Finally he achieves his aim, and in this passage describes the triumph he feels as a result––although the officer does not seem to even notice. This episode is one of the most comic moments in the novel, showing the Underground Man to be a ridiculous, delusional character. To some degree, this may decrease the reader's sympathy for him, as his bizarre, destructive desires seem not only incomprehensible, but totally disconnected from reality. 

On the other hand, this passage raises significant questions about the nature of perception and social interaction. Although the Underground Man's level of delusion is extreme, it nonetheless illustrates the fundamental impossibility of knowing what other people are really thinking. It certainly seems unlikely that the officer was "merely pretending" not to notice the Underground Man, but how could we determine this for sure? The Underground Man's assertion that he "publicly placed myself on an equal social footing with [the officer]" similarly highlights the absurd nature of social status. In all likelihood, nobody on the street noticed or cared that the Underground Man acted as he did; yet the Underground Man himself feels vindicated to the point of ecstasy. Given the Underground Man's joy, does it even matter what others around him think?  

Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

Once I even had a friend of sorts. but I was already a despot at heart; I wanted to exercise unlimited power over his soul; I wanted to instill in him contempt for his surroundings; and I demanded from him a disdainful and definitive break with those surroundings. I frightened him with my passionate friendship, and I reduced him to tears and convulsions. He was a naïve and giving soul, but as soon as he’d surrendered himself to me totally, I began to despise him and reject him immediately—as if I only needed to achieve a victory over him, merely to subjugate him.

Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has described his years in school, confessing that he was lonely and that his classmates taunted him. The Underground Man describes the way that the other boys' rejection and disdain for him made him feel disdainful to them in return. In this passage, he describes his one friendship, with a "naïve and giving" boy who the Underground Man ends up tormenting. The Underground Man's description of this episode creates a bleak and disturbing portrait of human relationships. Although the friend himself is described in positive terms, the Underground Man seems uninterested in these good qualities. Instead, the friend's appeal lies in the opportunity the Underground Man has to "subjugate him." 

Indeed, in no sense does this friendship soften or redeem the Underground Man; rather, he uses it as an opportunity to drag his friend into his own misanthropic view of the world. The Underground Man's confession that he wanted to have a friend in order to "exercise unlimited power over his soul" is comically sinister, but nonetheless speaks to the idea that all human relationships are fundamentally governed by manipulation and the desire for power. The Underground Man's ruthlessness is illustrated by his seemingly uncaring attitude toward his friend's anguish, and the fact that as soon as the friend submits to him, he begins to "despise him."  

Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

Naturally, it’ll all be over after that. The department will banish me from the face of the earth. They’ll arrest me, try me, drive me out of the service, send me to prison; ship me off to Siberia for resettlement, Never mind! Fifteen years later when they let me out of jail, a beggar in rags, I’ll drag myself off to see him. I’ll find him in some provincial town. He’ll be married and happy. He’ll have a grown daughter. . . . I’ll say, “Look, you monster, look at my sunken cheeks and my rags. I’ve lost everything—career, happiness, art science, a beloved woman—all because of you. Here are the pistols. I came here to load my pistol and . . . and I forgive you.” Then I’ll fire into the air, and he’ll never hear another word from me again. . . .
I was actually about to cry, even though I knew for a fact at that very moment that all this was straight out of Silvio and Lermontov’s Masquerade.

Related Characters: The Underground Man (speaker), Zverkov
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has embarrassed himself at Zverkov's party, drunkenly making a toast in which he insults Zverkov. Although the other guests react furiously, he nonetheless decides to follow them when they go to a brothel after the party, and begs Zverkov for forgiveness. The Underground Man journeys to the brothel separately from the other guests, and as he does so he fantasizes about violently avenging himself against Zverkov. His idea of being exiled to Siberia and returning to kill Zverkov in a duel is clearly melodramatic, with the narrative arc and detail of a fictional story––and indeed, at the end of the passage the Underground Man reveals he has derived this fantasy from actual works of fiction: Pushkin's short story "The Shot" and Lermontov's play "Masquerade." 

Once again, it is clear that the Underground Man's view of reality has been distorted by his indulgence in literature. The texts he mentions have evidently had such a great influence over him that he begins to confuse their plots with his own life. In one sense, this can be read as a subtle criticism of the literature the Underground Man describes. While these texts have given him grandiose ideas about honor, revenge, and dueling, these notions seem far from reality. The characters depicted in Notes From the Underground, rather than being courageous and noble, are instead narrow-minded, conformist people who behave in an unglamorous, unappealing manner. Although this makes for a less dramatic narrative, it is arguably closer to the truth of human nature.

Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

It’s a different thing altogether; even though I degrade and defile myself, I’m still no one’s slave; if I want to leave, I just get up and go. I shake it all off and I’m a different man. But you must realize right from the start that you’re a slave. Yes, a slave!

Related Characters: The Underground Man (speaker), Liza
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has had sex with Liza, a prostitute in the brothel, and at two in the morning wakes up next to her, feeling nauseated. They discuss her life, and the Underground has encouraged her to leave the brothel and get married. When Liza comments that not all married women are happy, the Underground Man responds by telling her that she is "a slave," and at least he himself is not a slave. This passage shows the Underground Man's senseless and seemingly boundless cruelty. There is no obvious reason why he torments Liza, who is clearly vulnerable and in an inferior social position to him, and yet he does it anyway.

Furthermore, his cruel words to Liza contradict what he has claimed earlier in the narrative, which is that he is "a coward and a slave." This contradiction suggests that the Underground Man deliberately seeks out people who are weaker to him in order to increase his sense of his own superiority. Meanwhile, Liza's suggestion that she is not necessarily less free than a married woman is apt; under many circumstances, prostitutes did indeed have more freedom than married women. By calling Liza a slave just as he earlier called himself one, however, the Underground Man emphasizes that everyone is constrained by societal expectations, material conditions, and their own mind, meaning no one is truly free. 

Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

For a while I felt that I’d turned her soul inside out and had broken her heart; the more I became convinced of this, the more I strived to reach my goal as quickly and forcefully as possible. It was the sport that attracted me; but it wasn’t only the sport. . . . I knew that I was speaking clumsily, artificially, even bookishly; in short, I didn’t know how to speak except “like a book.”

Related Characters: Liza
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has continued to taunt Liza by describing how awful her life will be; he tells her that she will become old and ugly, that she will be beaten and humiliated, and that she will grow sick and die in the brothel, and that everyone will forget her once she's dead.

Having said all this, he announces that he has "broken her heart," and describes the process of having done so as "sport" and speaking "like a book." On one level this passage reveals the alarming extent of the Underground Man's cruelty; on the other hand, it suggests that his actions are somewhat beyond his control. His obsession with literature has left him unable to communicate normally or to care about Liza's feelings.

Part 2, Chapter 8 Quotes

I felt particularly reassured and relaxed after nine o’clock in the evening and even began to daydream sweetly at times. For instance: “I save Liza, precisely because she’s come to me, and I talk to her. . . . I develop her mind, educate her. At last I notice that she loves me, loves me passionately. . . “Liza,” I say, “do you really think I haven’t noticed your love? I’ve seen everything. I guessed but dared not be first to make a claim on your heart because I had such influence over you, and because I was afraid you might deliberately force yourself to respond to my love out of gratitude. . . No, I didn’t want that because it would be . . . despotism. . . . It would be indelicate (well, in short, here I launched on some European, George Sandian, inexplicably lofty subtleties. . .) . . . In short, it became crude even to me, and I ended by sticking my tongue out at myself.

Related Characters: The Underground Man (speaker), Liza
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has spent days in fear that Liza will come to visit him, and regrets giving her his address. However, after a few days pass he relaxes and begins to fantasize about behaving in a kind, loving manner to Liza. In this dream, the Underground Man adopts a different tone from the one he uses while addressing the reader; he speaks to Liza in a gracious, magnanimous manner, telling her that he noticed her love but that he was wary of having too much power over her. This is a stark contrast to the Underground Man's earlier behavior, as well as his opinions on interpersonal relationships. While he previously confessed to being a despot, in this passage he rejects despotism, and instead of taunting Liza wishes to "save her." 

Note that these fantasies emerge only after the Underground Man has convinced himself that Liza will not see him in real life. This highlights the disconnect between the Underground Man's delusions about people (including himself) and the way in which people (and the Underground Man himself) actually behave. Indeed, the Underground Man was highly disturbed by the notion that Liza might actually come to his house, highlighting the fact that he doesn't want real people to shatter his delusions. This explains why the Underground Man is so obsessed with literature––it provides material for his fantasies (note the mention in this passage of the writer George Sand) while not threatening to destroy those fantasies in the way that real life inevitably does.

But in those days I was so embittered by everyone that I decided, heaven knows why or for what reason, to punish Apollon by not paying him his wages for two whole weeks. . . . I resolved to say nothing to him about it and even remain silent on purpose, to conquer his pride and force him to be the first one to mention it. Then I would pull all seven rubles out of a drawer and show him that I actually had the money and had intentionally set it aside, but that “I didn’t want to, didn’t want to, simply didn’t want to pay him his wages, and that I didn’t want to simply because that’s what I wanted,” because such was “my will as his master,” because he was disrespectful and because he was rude.

Related Characters: The Underground Man (speaker), Apollon
Page Number: 79-80
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has described his servant Apollon, who is elderly, dignified, and rude. The Underground Man declares that he never hated anyone has much as he hated Apollon, and confesses that sometimes he used to withhold Apollon's wages, just to demonstrate that he could. He would even show Apollon the money to emphasize that he was not paying him purely out of his own "will as his master."

Again, the Underground Man appears to derive sadistic pleasure from bullying those who are in an inferior social position and are unable to retaliate. This passage throws the rest of the Underground Man's statements about free will into a new light. If honoring freedom and irrationality means endorsing the right to treat vulnerable people badly, does this change the value of this freedom?

Part 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

But, do you know what I really want now? For you to get lost, that’s what! I need some peace. Why, I’d sell the whole world for a kopeck if people would only stop bothering me.

Related Characters: The Underground Man (speaker), Liza
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

Liza has come to the Underground Man's house, and the Underground Man has shouted at Apollon before bursting into tears in front of Liza. He first feels ashamed in front of Liza and then pities her, before growing cruel again, yelling at her to leave him alone. While this passage hardly contains a sympathetic portrayal of the Underground Man, the reader might well still be drawn to feel sorry for him. His wild mood swings and unpredictable treatment of the other characters seem to stem from a powerful sense of anguish and other emotional forces beyond his control. The Underground Man's statement about "selling the whole world for a kopeck" for some peace may be comically melodramatic, but it nonetheless reveals the Underground Man's deep torment.

Part 2, Chapter 10 Quotes

I know that I’ll be told this is incredible—that it’s impossible to be as spiteful and stupid as I am; you may even add that it was impossible not to return, or at least to appreciate, this love. But why is this so incredible? In the first place, I could no longer love because, I repeat, for me love meant tyrannizing and demonstrating my moral superiority. All my life I could never conceive of any other kind of love, and I’ve now reached the point that I sometimes think that love consists precisely in a voluntary gift by the beloved person of the right to tyrannize over him.

Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has told Liza he hates her, only to feel overwhelmed by an unfamiliar sensation––the catharsis that comes from making himself vulnerable in front of a sympathetic person. The two cry and embrace one another, but the Underground Man insists that he "hates" Liza even as he is drawn to her. In this passage he explains that, strange as it may seem, he could not return Liza's love because to him "love meant tyrannizing and demonstrating my moral superiority." This claim certainly makes the Underground Man a more sympathetic, pitiable character. If it is true that the only kind of life he's ever experienced or ever been able to imagine is "tyrannizing," can we really blame him for his cruel behavior or rejection of society?

At the same time, this passage leaves a key question unresolved. Is the Underground Man a unique case, with a particularly unhappy and desperate experience of life––or does he represent all of humanity? The Underground Man himself is certainly invested in presenting himself as an example of the typical well-educated nineteenth-century man. Yet especially at this point in the narrative, it is easy to diagnose him as an individual with an unusually sad and strange relationship to other people. 

Perhaps I should end these Notes here? I think that I made a mistake in beginning to write them. At least, I was ashamed all the time I was writing this tale: consequently, it’s not really literature, but corrective punishment. . . . A novel needs a hero, whereas here all the traits of an anti-hero have been assembled deliberately.

Page Number: 90-91
Explanation and Analysis:

The Underground Man has confessed to the reader that he never suffered as much as he did during that night with Liza, and that after she left he never saw her again. He ponders ending his "Notes," and admits that he is ashamed of having written them. He claims that the Notes are "not really literature" because they do not have a hero but "an anti-hero" whose negative traits "have been assembled deliberately." This metafictional moment indicates a level of self-awareness different from the kind previously displayed in the novella, in which the Underground Man presupposes that the reader will laugh at or disagree with him. 

Rather than express paranoid fears about being ridiculed, the Underground Man takes seriously the idea that literature needs a "hero" with different qualities from those displayed in his story. Indeed, the Underground Man's reference to his narrative as "not really literature" suggests that the Underground Man himself has a level of awareness of the innovative, avante-garde nature of the novella. As the Underground Man implies, works of art that seem strange and unconventional at the time in which they are produced can be the very works that push a medium forward into new, unexplored territory. The Underground Man's self-awareness about the literature he is writing here also has the effect of making him seem more human, less fictional – because of the way he analyzes his own work, his own writing, the Underground Man starts to feel in a way as "real" as Dostoevksy, the actual author of the book.

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