Study Guide

Notes from the Underground Part 2, Chapter 10

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Part 2, Chapter 10

  • Fifteen minutes later, the Underground Man is pacing up and down the room. Liza is sitting against the bed crying. He wishes she would go away.
  • The sex, he explains to his reader, was his way of revenge. Now not only does he hate her for being a prostitute, but he hates her personally, because he envied her for a moment (you know, back when she was his heroine, a whole fifteen minutes ago).
  • He figures she doesn't understand all the subtle complexities of his hatred for her, but that she probably knows he is despicable and incapable of ever loving her.
  • And now for a brief discourse of love. (This is part of the retrospective narrative to his readers, not another speech to Liza). Love, he begins, is a kind of tyrant. For him, loving a woman means subjugating her and showing his moral superiority. For a woman to return his love means for her to allow him to tyrannize her.
  • Love, he continues, is a struggle. It begins with hatred and ends with moral subjugation, and when he's done, he never knows what to do with the poor object that he now controls.
  • Looking back on it at the age of forty, he understands now that Liza came to his home to love him, not to hear him wax poetic on the way to live. For a woman, he knows, love is salvation and reformation.
  • But back to the story. As the Underground Man runs around the room at a frenzied pace, he doesn't feel hatred for Liza. He does, however, feel oppressed by her presence. He wants her to leave so he can breathe comfortably.
  • He then proceeds to drop hints that she should leave, as clear as it can get without saying, "Hey! Scram!"
  • Liza, in a moment of infinite perception, gathers up her things and heads for the door. The Underground Man forces a smile at her for the sake of appearances, and then he forces a five-rouble note into her hand for the sake of humiliation.
  • The Underground Man admits to us that he gave her the money not out of any impulse. Instead, he acted out of the depths of his cruel and calculating mind.
  • Of course, immediately afterwards, he regrets his action and calls after her as she runs down the stairs and outside. We hear the slamming of the door echo up the staircase.
  • He turns, defeated, back to his room, only to find the crumpled rouble-note left behind on the table.
  • He never could have expected this, because he hadn't thought any fellow creature capable of such a noble act.
  • The Underground Man promptly goes dashing out into the streets after her, but he is too late; Liza is gone. So he takes a moment to ponder why he went running after her at all.
  • To beg her forgiveness, he concludes. But then he realizes that, even if he did kiss her feet today, he would hate himself tomorrow for having done so.
  • Flip-flopping yet again, he congratulates himself for having insulted her, since it will probably cause her to reflect, grow, and change her life. Having been forced to suffer an insult, she will probably be a better person.
  • Then he wonders which is better, "cheap happiness" or "exalted suffering." In other words, is it better for her to have never been insulted (which would have made her happier) but to have a cheap life as a prostitute, or is it better for her to have suffered the pain of his insults, but be raised to a higher self-understanding because of them?
  • That night, he tells us, the night after Liza left, he suffered horribly with remorse at his actions, though he admits that, even when he went rushing out of his house after her, he knew he would turn back halfway.
  • In other words…he gets that he's fickle. And, he adds, he never saw Liza again. And while he suffered and suffered with misery after the fact, he was still proud of himself for one of the clever phrases he came up with while insulting her.
  • The Underground Man is done with his reminiscing, so we're back to the forty-year-old guy in the hole that we started with at the beginning. He thinks now would be a good time to end his notes.
  • Actually, now that he thinks about it, starting them in the first place was probably a bad idea. He was so ashamed of his stories while he was telling them that this writing is really more a punishment for him than anything else.
  • After all, he says, a novel needs a hero, and all he's done is intentionally serve as the epitome of an anti-hero.
  • All his writing has accomplished, he says, is to produce an "unpleasant impression."
  • He goes on to argue that all of us are removed from life, all of us are crippled, and all of us loathe real living because we are so separate from it. We prefer the worlds portrayed in books. (This is basically a "You're just like me!" argument.)
  • The Underground Man adds that, if any of us were given a little more freedom and independence, we would soon enough be begging to be tied up again. He knows we will likely be angry at him for saying as much, but he doesn't care.
  • He imagines his reader saying something along the lines of, "Just because you're miserable, don't try to say that everyone else is too!"
  • His response is that he has carried his life to the extreme, whereas we haven't even taken ours halfway. We have consoled ourselves, he argues, by pretending our cowardice is good sense. He even goes so far as to argue that he is more alive than all of us, his readers.
  • Everyone, he says, is oppressed by the very fact of being alive.
  • Because he's decided to go out in the blazing glory of a fiery last metaphor, he argues that "we are [all] still-born," and that we haven't been conceived by real fathers in the first place, and what's more, we like it this way. We like that we are retreating from the physical and the real into the abstract and the literary. Soon, he adds, we will figure out a way to be born simply from an idea.
  • But that's enough, he says. He doesn't want to write anymore "from Underground."
  • After this comes a note, similar to the Author's Note at the very beginning, which reads: "The notes of this paradoxalist do not end here, however. He could not refrain from going on with them, but it seems to us that we may stop here."

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