Notes from Underground | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Notes from Underground | Part 2, Chapter 9 : Apropos of the Wet Snow | Summary

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Summary

The Underground Man stands "disgustingly embarrassed" before Liza, who also becomes embarrassed. He is agitated and nervous. He tells Liza he's "not ashamed of his poverty ... [but] looks on it with pride." She refuses his offer of tea, but the Underground Man rushes off to find Apollon and demands he go to a tavern to get some tea.

The Underground Man sits silently with Liza for a few minutes, then scares her out of her wits when he suddenly screams, "I'll kill him! I'll kill him!" and pounds his fist on the table. He is venting his fury at Apollon, though Liza has no idea the Underground Man is shrieking about his servant. Finally Apollon enters with the tea.

The Underground Man asks Liza if she "despises" him, but she's too embarrassed to answer. Turning his self-loathing onto Liza, he feels angry enough to kill her, as if she is the source of all his problems. They sit together in a long silence, neither touching the tea. Liza is "sad ... [and] perplexed," but the Underground Man maintains his stubborn silence because he feels he's the "chief martyr" in this situation.

Liza breaks the silence by saying she "wants to get out of there (the brothel) ... for good." For a moment he pities her, but he suppresses this feeling, and they sit another five minutes in silence. At last Liza rises and apologizes for disturbing him. The enraged Underground Man demands, "What did you come to me for? Why did you come? Answer! Answer!" He answers his own question, telling Liza she came to him because she wants more "pathetic words" like the ones he'd spoken to her several nights ago. He tells her he's been "laughing at her" all along, and he admits he did that to assuage his humiliation at Simonov's dinner. Liza "turns white as a sheet" but says nothing.

She trembles in fear as the Underground Man continues his tirade, admitting he wanted to humiliate her. He explains he gave her his address because he realized how badly he was behaving but then regretted it. He has hated her since that night, because he lied to her. What he really wants, he says, is for "you all go to hell ... I want peace. . . [and] not to be bothered." He tells Liza what most troubled him was he'd presented himself to her as a hero, but once she saw him at home she'd realize what a "blackguard, a scoundrel" he really was and how "vile [and] abject" his impoverished life is. He's ashamed of his poverty and "will never forgive" Liza for seeing it. Further, he will never forgive her for having seen him now, in his terrible state. He claims he does not "care about [Liza] and whether [she] perishes or not."

In the midst of his rant the Underground Man suddenly realizes Liza understands him better than he thinks she does. She recognizes his unhappiness and how difficult it must have been for him to admit his feelings to her. Rising from her chair, she opens her arms to the Underground Man and rushes to embrace him. She bursts into such heartrending tears he begins to weep too.

He tells her haltingly, "I can't be ... good" and then throws himself down on the sofa, sobbing. As he weeps, Liza holds him in her arms. As his crying subsides he starts to feel ashamed of behaving so emotionally. He thinks now she is the hero and he the "crushed ... creature." He can't believe he's beginning to envy her. At this point he realizes he "can't live" unless he has power over someone. As he lifts his head, the will to dominate her overwhelms him. "How I hated her," he states, "and how drawn I was to her at that moment." Liza continues to embrace the Underground Man "ardently."

Analysis

If readers did not know from reading Part 1 things probably will not go well for the Underground Man and Liza, they might think the narrator has a chance for redemption in this chapter. He begs his servant to go to buy tea for Liza, saying, "If you refuse to go, you'll ruin a man's happiness." It's possible to interpret this as the Underground Man abandoning his romantic pretensions and recognizing the happiness he might find with her. Perhaps his innate need for the deep human contact that is essential for human happiness hasn't been extinguished. And although he has unleashed spite and revenge on Liza, he has a rare moment of self-awareness when he says he "can't be good" and sobs in humiliation.

But for this antihero, the search for happiness is mired in paradox. Although the Underground Man senses the potential for happiness with Liza, he cannot resist the part of his nature that wants to destroy it. His humiliation will always lead to hatred and revenge. He explodes into a frenzy of hate and the desire for revenge when he thinks about how Apollon had humiliated him earlier. And like other people who hate themselves, the Underground Man must deliberately destroy the one person who can love him. He must reject love to preserve his self-loathing. "Something ugly immediately suppressed all pity in me; it even egged me on" to greater cruelty toward Liza, he thinks.

In another paradox the Underground Man understands the inauthenticity of romanticism in this chapter at the same time he succumbs to its spell. He can recognize he is putting on a show for Liza, yet when she says she wants to leave the brothel he pities her "unnecessary candor." He has even called the tea "prosaic," as if it were subpar literature.

Succumbing to Liza's loving embrace threatens the Underground Man's sense of superiority and makes him feel vulnerable. He can't love unless he is in a position of "domination and possession" over the beloved. The chapter ends with him thinking, "How I hated her and how drawn I was to her at that moment ... This was almost like revenge." Liza looks perplexed at the gleam of passion in the Underground Man's eyes; it could be love or hate. She seems to decide to ignore it or to interpret it as real love, and she embraces him "rapturously."

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