Study Guide

Notes from the Underground Part 2, Chapter 9

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Part 2, Chapter 9

  • (Chapter Nine has its own mini-epigraph, the final two lines of the same Nekrasov poem we've seen twice already.)
  • Apollon invites Liza in, so we cut to her standing in front of the Underground Man awkwardly.
  • And, just as he imagined, the Underground Man is ashamed of his ratty dressing down.
  • He tells her to sit down. She does. And suddenly, he feels like, since this is all her fault, she should have to pay for it.
  • In a lecturing tone, he begins to explain that, despite all appearances, he is not ashamed of his poverty. But he cuts himself off by going to fetch some tea, which is a great excuse for running out of the room.
  • So he runs out, finds Apollon, and demands that tea be brought immediately. He explains in a frenzy that this is very important, that this woman "is everything."
  • Apollon takes his sweet time before standing up and getting around to the tea business.
  • The Underground Man goes back to Liza, but not before contemplating whether he should just run away, in his dressing gown and all.
  • The first thing he does when he gets back to his room is declare to Liza that he's going to kill Apollon, his torturer and the bane of existence.
  • Needless to say, the young prostitute is confused. When the Underground Man bursts into tears, she tries to comfort him.
  • The Underground Man, in the midst of his panic attack, asks for water, though he knows that he's faking both his thirst and the faint voice in which he asks for water. Does he really need water, he wonders? Not really, he concludes.
  • When Apollon brings in the tea and again leaves, the Underground Man is suddenly struck by how undignified and crude this whole scene is. He is suddenly angry at Liza beyond all words, because she is the cause of it.
  • The tea sits on the table untouched and five terrible minutes of silence go by.
  • Finally, she pulls herself together and sputters out something about her wanting to leave the brothel.
  • The Underground Man declares – to us, not to Liza – that this was the worst thing she could have said to such a stupid man as himself. He starts to pity her, but this quickly turns to further rage against her.
  • Liza suggests that maybe she should leave. This provokes the Underground Man to begin another lecture.
  • He begins by asking her, rhetorically, why she has come to see him. He then suggests the reason lies in his sentimentality. Well, he explains, she should know that he was faking it. In fact, he was just laughing at her the whole time. In fact, he's laughing at her right now.
  • He admits to her that, on the night he came to see her, he had been humiliated. He explains that he wanted to humiliate someone else in return, wanted to feel as though he was powerful, too.
  • Liza sinks into her chair while the Underground Man continues.
  • He could never have really wanted to save her, he explains. He just wanted power. He only gave his address to her by accident, because he was overwhelmed with the passion of the moment.
  • What does he really want? What he really wants is for everyone to go to hell. He only cares about himself. In fact, as far as he's concerned, he'd rather the whole world go to hell than miss his afternoon tea.
  • Then his tone seems to shift. What has most worried him since he left the brothel, he says, is that she would come to him and see that he isn't really a hero after all, that he's in fact a slovenly man of poverty.
  • Actually, he says, he'd like to take back what he said earlier about not being ashamed of his poverty. He is ashamed of it. A lot. So much so that he'll never forgive her for seeing him in his ratty dressing gown.
  • As for the fact that he just cried in front of her, he will never forgive her for that, either.
  • He is a nasty, stupid worm, he tells her – just like everyone else – and it is his doom that everyone will insult him even though they're all nasty stupid worms, too.
  • He adds that it is only once in a lifetime that a man speaks out this way, in these kinds of hysterics.
  • At this point, the narrator Underground Man tells us, a very strange thing happened. Liza really understood what he was saying. She understood that he was very unhappy. She stands up, rushes forward, and throws her arms around him.
  • The Underground Man, though he claims he was repulsed by her, sobs into her shoulder. The most he manages to say is, "They won't let me…I can't be good!" before he collapses completely.
  • As he lies sobbing face down on the couch, the Underground Man realizes that he has reversed roles with Liza. Now she is the heroine and he the one who needs saving. Of course, this disgusts him. What could be worse than envying a prostitute?
  • He breaks his narration for a moment to admit that, even now, at forty, telling us this story, he can't be sure of what he was feeling at the time. But, he concludes, since you can't explain anything by reasoning, it's no use trying.
  • Back to the story. When the Underground Man finally raises his head from the couch, he feels ashamed to look at Liza. At the same time, though, he experiences a feeling "of mastery and possession."
  • He grips her tightly, she embraces him back, and we assume they sleep together for the second time.