Notes from Underground | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Notes from Underground | Part 2, Chapter 8 : Apropos of the Wet Snow | Summary

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Summary

When he awakens the next morning, the Underground Man is amazed at himself for his "sentimentality" with Liza. He immediately begins to chastise himself for giving her his home address, and he worries she might come to visit him. Then he decides it's not a problem.

The main thing the Underground Man must do right away, he realizes, is "save [his] reputation in the eyes of Zverkov and Simonov." He borrows yet more money from his boss, Anton Antonych, then returns home to write a letter to Simonov. The Underground Man is proud of the tone of this letter because it's "gentlemanly, good-natured, [and] frank." He "blames himself for everything," but then excuses his behavior on his susceptibility to alcohol and his having had a drink before his friends arrived. He implores Simonov to convey his apologies to Zverkov for insulting him in any way. He admits he's "ashamed" of his behavior at the dinner but stresses he was drunk. Contemplating his letter, the Underground Man is pleased, even though he admits he lied to Simonov about the previous drink but "is not ashamed" of that. At least he's relieved he's "out of it, that's the main thing." He puts some of the money he owes Simonov into the envelope and seals it.

The Underground Man has his servant, Apollon, convey the letter. That evening he goes for a stroll, but his head is aching and his thoughts are "changing and tangling." He admits his conscience is bothering him for some reason. As he walks the main thoroughfares he finds the crowds of people he usually likes being with now irritate him. Something painful is arising in his soul, so he returns home.

In his rooms he is "constantly tormented" by the thought of Liza's arrival. The memory of her and what happened between them the previous night also torments him. Somehow the thought of the incident with Liza is more painful to him than the dinner. Besides his general unease, he is rather ashamed of the shoddy, unkempt condition of his apartment. He worries Apollon will insult Liza and he, the Underground Man, will be too cowardly to confront Apollon for his rudeness. The Underground Man will cover up the "vileness" by putting on a "lying mask" to hide his shame at his earlier behavior.

He rejects the idea he had acted "dishonorably" to Liza the previous night. He tries to convince himself he'd acted with "true feeling" and "evoked noble feelings in her." Yet he still feels uneasy and agitated. That night he remembers vividly a moment when he saw Liza's face "twisted ... pale [and] distorted" with anguish. He tells the reader he will remember that moment for the rest of his life and could not know he'd still be recalling it years later.

The next day he attributes the past night's memory to "frazzled nerves" and "above all, exaggeration," which he identifies as his main character flaw. He begins wanting Liza to come to see him, and he wonders why she hasn't come already. He thinks about how easily he "turn[ed] a whole human soul" the night before. He even wonders if he should go visit her, but the thought fills him with such spite he imagines spitting on her if he sees her.

Three days pass and still Liza does not come. The Underground Man begins to calm down. He starts having dreams in which Liza arrives and says she "loves [him] passionately" and "throws herself at [his] feet." In his deep humility he claims he never dared to imagine what was in her heart. And then they live happily ever after. This dream makes him feel "vile" about himself.

The Underground Man is diverted by Apollon's rudeness. He characterizes Apollon as "my thorn, my scourge" whom the Underground Man says he hates more than anyone else in the world. Apollon, in turn, "despises [Underground Man] beyond all measure." Apollon also has supreme self-confidence and is a vain "pedant." Although Apollon is the Underground Man's servant, he treats his master "quite despotically" and regards him with a "permanently mocking look." The Underground Man, in turn, says Apollon does no work but "sticks around" only to collect his wages. He continues to enumerate all the things he hates about Apollon, especially his dedication to religion and his reading of the Psalter. Yet despite their mutual animosity neither seems able to quit the other.

The Underground Man describes how he "punishes" Apollon by withholding his wages to show his servant he should "not get so puffed up over me." Withholding wages will, the Underground Man thinks, crush Apollon's pride and reestablish him as "the master." But Apollon fights back by silently staring at the Underground Man in a stern and supercilious way. This makes the Underground Man furious, and he tries to outstare Apollon. Eventually Apollon wins the contest, and the Underground Man gives up and pays him.

The Underground Man is withholding Apollon's wages now. When Apollon stares at him sternly, his master roars abuse at him. Apollon remains calm and silent throughout the raging tirade. As Apollon turns to leave, the Underground Man hands him his wages while demanding his servant treat him "respectfully." Apollon replies he will never be able to treat the Underground Man with respect, and this rekindles his master's fury. The Underground Man has called Apollon a "hangman," something the servant takes great offense at. Apollon threatens to go to the police to file a complaint against his master, who resignedly tells him to "go without delay." This remark causes Apollon to laugh derisively and tell the Underground Man he's "not in [his] right senses."

The Underground Man nearly hits Apollon. He is so beside himself with rage he doesn't hear the door to his apartment open and a figure enter his rooms. He is "frozen" with shock to see Liza. He screams at Apollon, "Get out! Get out!"

Analysis

A criticism of romanticism is the primary focus of this chapter. When the Underground Man sneeringly recalls his "sentimentality" with Liza the night before, he is betraying the feeling and emotion that are fundamental to the romanticism he embraces. His next concern is saving his "reputation," his superiority, with Simonov and Zverkov. He's forced to lie, however, to achieve this goal. He writes he's "ashamed [if he] seemed to have insulted" Zverkov, yet he knows full well how deliberately insulting he was to Zverkov.

He refers to himself as "a self-respecting gentleman" and congratulates himself for being an "educated and developed man of our times," a superior romantic individual. Yet he has a conscience that bothers him; something "deep in his heart and conscience" betrays itself. It is not clear if his torment is because of his humiliation at the dinner or because of his cruelty toward Liza. In fact, it is difficult to know which is the 'real' Underground Man: the man of feeling or the would-be contemptuous and shamefully cruel romantic. The pleasure he gets remembering the power he had over Liza mirrors the cruelty he showed his boyhood friend, whom he discarded once the Underground Man had complete control over him. But either way, his feelings indicate a conscience is intrinsic to human nature and is something he cannot escape.

The Underground Man's internal conflicts are rooted in contradictions, which Dostoevsky again uses to satirize romanticism. For example, the Underground Man insists he acted the "hero" to Liza the night before, but he becomes desperate at the thought she'll discover how unheroic he really is. He daydreams of living happily with the innocent Liza, then reverts to thinking of her as a "slut." He contradicts himself frequently, falling in and out of his romantic persona as his mood (and circumstances) changes. Romantic ideals are so unrealistic and unnatural, even the avowed romantic cannot hold on to them from one sentence to the next.

The Underground Man's relationship with his servant, Apollon, shows another unrealistic romantic ideal. He hates Apollon because he mocks and disdains his master. The Underground Man can't tolerate such treatment; he must be superior even to a "pedantic" (educated) servant. So the Underground Man engages in petty meanness, withholding Apollon's wages, in a vain and fairly ridiculous attempt to assert his superiority. That Apollon reacts to this pettiness with silence and contempt drives the Underground Man to distraction.

Readers will note, however, Apollon is not depicted as a romantic. He is supremely self-confident, but his self-confidence comes from an understanding of his self-worth. Apollon does not need others' approval or acknowledgment to feel good about himself; he is above his master's pathetic, petty, egotistical games. In the characters of the Underground Man and Apollon Dostoevsky clearly and somewhat satirically draws a sharp contrast between the false, pretentious superiority of the romantic, which depends on the respect of others, and the true self-confident person who needs no external affirmation.

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