Notes from Underground

The Underground Man Character Analysis

The unnamed protagonist of the novella, who is introduced as “representative of the current generation.” He is sick, spiteful, self-contradictory, and pessimistic, and his rambling thoughts and monologues make up the majority of the novella. He repeatedly addresses his readers, and tells them that he is “overly conscious.” He continually over-thinks and questions things, and this hyper-consciousness prevents him from taking any real action. He is a lonely man who constantly vacillates between wanting society’s acknowledgment and approval and wanting nothing to do with any other person. He has a low opinion of humanity and denies the idea that humans are essentially rational and only desire what is best for them, thinking instead that men are foolish, irrational, and cruel. The underground man is obsessed with literature and often models his thoughts and actions on things he has read. He is thus separated in a certain sense from reality, as well as from society. He is presented as a pessimistic exemplar of modern man, and claims that he merely takes to extremes the qualities that most people suppress in themselves. Dostoevsky thus suggests that everyone has a little bit of the underground man’s pessimism and spite in him or her.

The Underground Man Quotes in Notes from Underground

The Notes from Underground quotes below are all either spoken by The Underground Man or refer to The Underground Man. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
). 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:

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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:

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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:

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Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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The Underground Man Character Timeline in Notes from Underground

The timeline below shows where the character The Underground Man appears in Notes from Underground. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Human Nature Theme Icon
Literature and Writing Theme Icon
...note from the author informs the reader that the following notes and their author (the underground man ) are both fictional, but that people like the underground man must exist in society.... (full context)
Reason and Rationality Theme Icon
Spite, Pain, and Suffering Theme Icon
The underground man begins by telling the reader, “I am a sick man. . . I am a... (full context)
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
Reason and Rationality Theme Icon
Spite, Pain, and Suffering Theme Icon
Literature and Writing Theme Icon
The underground man says he’s been living underground for about twenty years. He used to be “in the... (full context)
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Human Nature Theme Icon
The underground man says that he couldn’t be spiteful, but he couldn’t be good either. He was “neither... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
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The underground man again says he couldn’t even become an insect, even though he often wished he would... (full context)
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The underground man says that he is not to blame for being a bad person, because “overly acute... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
Human Nature Theme Icon
Continuing to talk about taking revenge, the underground man says that those who are able to do so act on impulse like a bull... (full context)
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
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Reason and Rationality Theme Icon
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The underground man continues to describe the mouse in terms that seem to resemble his own life: retreating... (full context)
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According to the underground man , most people see the laws of nature and mathematics as inviolable, thinking it is... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
Reason and Rationality Theme Icon
Spite, Pain, and Suffering Theme Icon
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The underground man anticipates that his reader might be thinking, “Ha, ha, ha! Why, you’ll be finding enjoyment... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Spite, Pain, and Suffering Theme Icon
The underground man says he is generally incapable of apologizing. When he was a child, he would sometimes... (full context)
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Spite, Pain, and Suffering Theme Icon
Men of action, the underground man says, are all active because they are stupid. They take action because they think they... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
The underground man says that he does not do nothing simply out of laziness. He wishes this were... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
Human Nature Theme Icon
Reason and Rationality Theme Icon
Spite, Pain, and Suffering Theme Icon
The underground man , though, says that becoming such a person is only a dream. He talks about... (full context)
Human Nature Theme Icon
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The underground man says he is sure his readers are laughing at him, but he insists that he... (full context)
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Spite, Pain, and Suffering Theme Icon
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The underground man says that most people think that as science advances, more people will live peacefully in... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
Human Nature Theme Icon
Reason and Rationality Theme Icon
The underground man imagines that his readers think science can explain man’s desires and free will. But he... (full context)
Human Nature Theme Icon
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Spite, Pain, and Suffering Theme Icon
The underground man defines man as “a creature who walks on two legs and is ungrateful.” He says... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
Human Nature Theme Icon
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The underground man says that his readers probably think they can “cure man of his old habits” with... (full context)
Reason and Rationality Theme Icon
The underground man describes how mankind “loves only the process of achieving his goal and not the goal... (full context)
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
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Continuing to dispute the idea that mankind only acts in his own best interest, the underground man says that suffering can be just as advantageous as pleasure. He claims, “man sometimes loves... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 10
Human Nature Theme Icon
Reason and Rationality Theme Icon
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The underground man says his readers believe in the ideal world of the crystal palace, but says that... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 11
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
Reason and Rationality Theme Icon
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The underground man says that it’s best simply to do nothing, to live in “conscious inertia” underground. He... (full context)
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
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The underground man asks why he is even addressing his readers, and says that he has no plans... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
Human Nature Theme Icon
The underground man’s story takes place when he is 24, living a very solitary life. He doesn’t even... (full context)
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
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At times, the underground man would try to talk with those in his office and make friends, but at other... (full context)
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
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The underground man says that he spent most of his time at home reading, but “sank into dark,... (full context)
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One night, the underground man sees a man get kicked out of a bar for fighting. He goes into the... (full context)
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
Spite, Pain, and Suffering Theme Icon
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The underground man would frequently see the officer on the street after this event, and would often stare... (full context)
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
Human Nature Theme Icon
The underground man describes how he used to stroll along a particular street sometimes, and “darted in and... (full context)
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
First, though, the underground man wants to get nice clothes, ones that would make him look respectable. He buys all... (full context)
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
One time, the underground man trips and falls, and the officer merely steps over him. Finally, he carries out his... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
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The underground man’s happiness wears off soon after this, though. He seeks escape into “all that was beautiful... (full context)
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
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The underground man alternates between feeling like a hero and feeling in “the lowest depths.” Nonetheless, he finds... (full context)
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
After three months of such dreams, though, the underground man feels “an irresistible urge to plunge into society.” He says that he would normally alleviate... (full context)
Thought vs. Action Theme Icon
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
The underground man describes another acquaintance, a former schoolmate named Simonov. He absolutely hated school, but still knows... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
Spite, Pain, and Suffering Theme Icon
The underground man enters Simonov’s apartment. Some other former schoolmates are also there, but no one seems to... (full context)
Human Nature Theme Icon
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The underground man remembers how once Zverkov was bragging about his romantic exploits with peasant girls and how... (full context)
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One of Simonov’s guests at his apartment is Ferfichkin, who had been the underground man’s “bitterest enemy” in school. Ferfichkin was “a despicable, impudent show-off.” Also there is Trudolyubov, a... (full context)
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
Simonov and the others reluctantly agree to let the underground man come to their party and tell him to meet them the next day at five... (full context)
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The underground man leaves Simonov and berates himself for interfering with the party. He is angry with himself... (full context)
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The underground man recalls his school years. He was “a lonely boy,” and didn’t get along with any... (full context)
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The next day, the underground man plans anxiously for the party. He doesn’t want to arrive first, because then he would... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
The underground man arrives at the party before anyone else, and finds that the table isn’t even set... (full context)
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Zverkov asks the underground man about his work, speaking with long, drawn-out words, and the underground man mockingly imitates this... (full context)
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
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The underground man watches the other guests as he drinks more and more wine. He comments that they... (full context)
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The underground man stands up to make a toast and makes a comment about how he hates “obscene... (full context)
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The underground man stays at the party, where he continues to drink. He tells the reader about how... (full context)
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The underground man asks Zverkov and everyone else for their forgiveness, apologizing for his behavior and for insulting... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5
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Everyone else has left without the underground man , so he follows after in a cab, talking to himself. He resolves to slap... (full context)
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The underground man says that even then he was aware of “the disgusting absurdity of my intentions,” but... (full context)
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It is snowing outside as the underground man finally arrives at the brothel. He goes inside, but Simonov and the others have already... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
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The underground man resumes his story at two in the morning, when he wakes in the dark next... (full context)
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The underground man tells Liza about how earlier in the day he saw people carrying a coffin out... (full context)
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The underground man tells Liza that she will grow older, “fade,” and eventually end up like this deceased... (full context)
Loneliness, Isolation, and Society Theme Icon
The underground man says that it is “a disgrace” how he and Liza just slept together, and she... (full context)
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The underground man says that families in which children are sold off are unfortunate, but that such unhappiness... (full context)
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The underground man continues to speak about marriage, and optimistically talks about the endurance of love between husband... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
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Encouraging Liza to realize her sad situation as a prostitute, the underground man asks her, “Do you seriously think that you’ll never grow old, that you’ll always be... (full context)
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The underground man continues to emphasize the sadness of Liza’s life, saying that none of her lovers respect... (full context)
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The underground man says that perhaps Liza will grow sick in the brothel, and no one will care... (full context)
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The underground man stops talking to Liza and says he felt like he had “turned her soul inside... (full context)
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Before the underground man leaves, Liza shows him a love letter to her from a medical student she had... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
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The next day, the underground man awakes and is surprised to remember his “sentimentality” the previous night. He decides that he... (full context)
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Back home, the underground man writes a letter to Simonov, asking for his forgiveness and saying that he was extremely... (full context)
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The underground man worries that Liza might pay him a visit and regrets giving her his address. He... (full context)
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The next day, the underground man is still thinking about Liza. He is angry at her “damned romanticism” that allowed him... (full context)
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Several days pass, though, without Liza coming to visit him. The underground man imagines himself saving Liza, Liza declaring her love for him, and him accepting her as... (full context)
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The underground man describes his servant Apollon, whose rudeness distracts him from thinking about Liza. He talks of... (full context)
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The underground man wanted Apollon to have to ask for his wages, but the plan never worked. Apollon... (full context)
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The underground man finally confronts Apollon, calling him a “torturer,” and demands that Apollon show him respect before... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 9
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The underground man feels ashamed in front of Liza. He tells her not to assume anything from the... (full context)
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The underground man suddenly shouts that he will kill Apollon and refers to him as his executioner. He... (full context)
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The underground man tells the reader that he felt pity for Liza, but that “something hideous immediately suppressed”... (full context)
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The underground man tells Liza to leave him alone, wishes the world would stop bothering him, and tells... (full context)
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The underground man tells Liza that he hates her, and then he tells the reader that something strange... (full context)
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Liza embraces the underground man , as the two both cry. He says that he can’t be “good,” and then... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10
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About fifteen minutes later, the underground man has stopped crying and is watching Liza. He tells the reader that he could not... (full context)
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Liza finally prepares to leave, and before she goes, the underground man slips some money into her hand “out of spite.” He says that he did this... (full context)
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The underground man sees that Liza has left the money he gave her on a table. He decides... (full context)
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The underground man tells the reader that he had “never before endured so much suffering and remorse” as... (full context)
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The underground man says that he has been ashamed while writing these notes, and that a novel “needs... (full context)
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The underground man guesses that his readers think he speaks only for himself, and not for mankind in... (full context)