Study Guide

Notes from the Underground Part 2, Chapter 6

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Part 2, Chapter 6

  • At around 2am the Underground Man wakes up next to the girl. The events of the preceding day slowly come back to him, and he mulls them over until he sees that the prostitute is awake and looking at him intently.
  • This awkward staring goes on for a while until he asks her name. She answers "Liza" and finally turns her eyes away.
  • Unsure of what to talk about, the Underground Man brings up…the weather. (Slick.)
  • She doesn't respond, so the Underground Man just keeps asking her questions to keep up conversation and avoid uncomfortable silence. Through this stilted conversation, we find out that Liza is twenty, that her parents are "tradespeople" (or lower middle class), and that she doesn't really want to talk about why she left her home and now works in a brothel.
  • Then, the Underground Man suddenly remembers something he saw earlier that day and decides that now would be the perfect time to talk about it. Unfortunately, that something is the coffin of a dead prostitute.
  • The Underground Man finds this horrible, especially since it was such a dirty, dismal day to be buried and there was water in the grave. Liza, on the other hand, doesn't think it matters – who cares once you're dead?
  • The Underground Man explains that the dead prostitute died of consumption (tuberculosis) and that she probably went on "earning for her madame" right up to the end. She didn't even get to go to the hospital. And everyone was laughing at her funeral.
  • Liza still doesn't see what this has to do with her.
  • The Underground Man embarks on an inspiring motivational speech. He kindly explains that Liza may be young, fresh, and pretty now, but pretty soon she'll be old, ugly, and diseased. As she deteriorates, she'll have to move to dirtier and less reputable brothels, until she finally ends up at the lowest of the low, like the girl whose coffin he saw today.
  • And then she'll die.
  • This has to be the worst morning-after conversation ever.
  • Liza still doesn't care.
  • The Underground Man hints at his being sorry for her, and she's all, "I don't need pity."
  • This really pisses him off; he feels like he's been gentle and kind with her and now she's treating him badly by writing him off.
  • He tries to tell her what she could do if she weren't a prostitute. For example, she could get married.
  • When Liza responds that not all married women are happy, the Underground Man retorts that love is more important than happiness. With love, you don't need to be happy.
  • Then he gets pretty fired up. He tells Liza not to think of him as an example for her, since men are completely different from women to begin with. Men might fall into slavery now and again, but they can stand up and shake it off. Liza has made herself a slave with no chance of escape by going into prostitution.
  • He tells her that the way they just met and had sex is "hideous"; she agrees with a sharp "Yes!"
  • This very much surprises the Underground Man, since it means she is capable of such thoughts. This is fascinating for him because it means that he and Liza share something in common.
  • But mostly, the thing that excites him the most is that now he has an opportunity to exercise his power.
  • So the Underground Man gets on his high preachy horse. He asks her why she came to the brothel, admitting that he himself had no good home life and perhaps that is why he's become so unfeeling.
  • When Liza doesn't answer him in any clear way, he starts talking about fathers and children. If he were a father, he says, he would love his daughter more than his sons. He would dote over them, would be jealous of any man they wanted to marry.
  • Liza comments that some fathers aren't so great. Some fathers sell their daughters to brothels.
  • The Underground Man is all, "A-ha!", thinking he's figured out her back-story. He tells Liza that she was unfortunate, and that that has a lot to do with her family being somewhat poor.
  • Together they conclude that unhappiness is everywhere, not just among the poor classes. But the Underground Man offers that one can be happy in the midst of suffering. (Remember back in Part I, when he argues that you can take pleasure in your own degradation? Go and check that out again.)
  • As an example, he offers women who argue with their husbands. They nag and pick fights because they love their spouses. They argue in part, he says, because it's so sweet to make up afterwards – as though they've just been married again.
  • He talks about the way a marriage between two people changes over time. Their love may shape-shift a bit, but it will never go away. At first there is excitement and newness, which passes, but it is replaced by a deeper love, the true union of two souls. This is the good stuff, he argues, when even toil is enjoyable because you're toiling alongside someone else.
  • And having children – that's even better! he says. He is awfully fond of children himself.
  • The idea seems so appealing, he says, that a person could forgive a lot for the sake of having a family. He adds that a person needs to learn first how to live before he can ever blame others. (These last two thoughts form a very odd conclusion, especially since it seems a random tangent from the discussion of children.)
  • The Underground Man realizes that he is speaking with genuine sentiment, and he suddenly fears horribly that Liza will laugh at him.
  • When she finally does respond, she tells the Underground Man that he speaks "like a book," meaning his language and thoughts are very intellectually advanced.
  • Now this is interesting. Don't forget that the Underground Man is evaluating the whole situation in retrospect – he's forty and telling us the story of when he was younger. What he says is that he realizes now that he's older that she was using irony to hide her true feelings, that irony is the last refuge of modest and chaste people. He had just invaded her soul, he explains, so she took refuge in irony.
  • But, at the time, while lying in bed with her, he didn't realize this. Instead, he felt angry at her for being sarcastic with him.

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