19th Century Russian Literature


Another Poor Liza?

As an alternative to the despicable actions and words of the Underground man, Dostoevsky provides us with a prostitute whose actions speak louder than words. What is the answer to the Underground Man’s ranting and ravings? Is it important or even essential that the response resides in a woman?


  1. Elise Hanks
    April 1st, 2009 | 1:31 pm

    The Underground Man’s ravings ultimately keep him from truly being able to love. He feels a great deal- he can feel everything. Both the UM and Liza are miserable, depressed, and feeling destitue, but it is Liza’s ability to feel compassion and Christian love that set her apart and make her unattainable to the UM.

    We see the UM begin on his lecture to Liza after she has just bedded him, her first customer. He suddenly finds himself “warmed to the subject. [He] was already longing to expound the cherished ideas [he] had brooded over in [his] corner.” This marks an important change in the UM. He has gone from a tone of spite to one of belief and even optimism. He notes that although marriage might not make everyone happy, love makes life livable.

    Also, this idea of loving someone allows one to construct an identity: I am the lover of ______ who picked me because I am singular, I am _________. Also, one is able to form one’s actions, desires, and life plans around another person to give their life aim and purpose.

  2. Elise Hanks
    April 1st, 2009 | 1:40 pm

    oops posted too early…

    He is excited at his idea of love because it offers escape from amoralism and nihilism which have been plaguing his life thus far. However, once Liza tells him he is speaking like a book, he seems to change instantly. He no longer is able to believe what he is saying because he has read and studied so any books and has been disillusioned by and to them all. If his love and sentiments are like a romantic book, why they cannot be true. He is bitter and takes out his anger on Liza by reiterating her doomed fate in an attempt to truly hurt her, which he succeeeds in doing.

    Even though the UM man dreams of a life with Liza where they can be happy in love, he knows that if she comes he will have to ruin everything because deep down, he is a realist and cannot escape his belief that all action is futile. His singular attemps to defy this truth (even though he knows it is pointless) involve claiming power and control. He intentionally wishes to show Liza her doom, threaten her with it, tempt her with salvation and a way out, and then throw her headlong into the horrible life he has made her aware of.

    Liza realizes all of this. She understands that he is, infact, just wretchedly unhappy. She shows him compassion and offers him love knowing that he cannot express either. He is aware of this and hurts infinitely, responding the only way he knows how: to ruin it.

    This had to come from a woman- the idea of love and identity and completion. The “mirror-theory” of love- that it is love that enables us to actually see who we are, is what works here. He is able to see himself for a few moments thanks to Liza’s compassion, and at having been confronted, cannot deny it, run from it, or lie to himself. It drives him mad- he becomes angry and sad and utterly lost. Here his notes end because it is his self-realization and the end of anything other than a life underground.

  3. Kaylen Baker
    April 1st, 2009 | 2:27 pm

    It strikes me that the biggest difference between the U-man and Liza is that Liza is willing to make a change because she is involved with the world around her, while the U-man could propound all existential gibberish he wants to, and still wouldn’t feel compelled to act. Perhaps this is the doom of his type – his “confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless world” (wiki) forbids him to strive towards any goal.

    At the end, Liza responds to the U-man’s ideology interestingly: We know that for the U-man, “loving meant tyrannizing and showing my moral superiority,” and he explains with women like Liza, “true moral regeneration is contained in love and can only show itself in that form.” When Liza shows the U-man compassion for his troubles and embraces him, the U-man rejects her love and fires back his “love.” He offers Liza money to humiliate her and show his dominance. His plan backfires though, because he doesn’t realize Liza is strong enough to shrug him off. She wins, she can go and fix her life, while he will mope and groan forever.

    …But wait! The U-man angrily runs after her, thinks he wants her back… But he realizes that by leaving her be, he wins as well. He thinks, “Will it not be better that she carry the outrage with her forever? Outrage – why, after all, that is purification: it is the most stinging and painful consciousness!” Unintentionally, the U-man has injected some of his own medicine (or lack of) into Liza. She has been awakened to the absurd world of the existentialists and suffers in their knowledge. Now she has the choice to go back to her old life, but I don’t believe her newly-found conscience will let her. Her role as a woman was essential, because it introduced their contrasting ideals of “love,” which provoked their ultimate reactions.

  4. Kara Shurmantine
    April 1st, 2009 | 3:29 pm

    Dostoevsky could have just let the underground man stand alone, or at least stand beside other, similarly despicable characters like Zverkov: an unpleasant person with unpleasant ideas, insufferable even to those who are unpleasant like himself, but harmless aside from his unrelenting masochism. However, by introducing Liza to the story and contrasting her words and actions with his, whatever pity I felt for him or humor I found in his silly actions and ideas was completely obliterated. The underground man can have his twisted views on life, but to ravage them upon an innocent, oppressed, defenseless individual for whom he had maybe represented the solitary source of hope in her miserable life? It’s hideous, and by the end of the novel the reader has realized the gruesome tragedy of the underground man: for all the insights and perceptions he claims to possess about human nature and the human condition, he is so profoundly isolated—self-isolated—from humanity that his ideas and “hyperconsciousness” fall flat. No individual so entirely alienated and separated from humanity could ever possess true knowledge about the human condition. The underground man is so completely wrapped up in himself, so hopelessly and even blindly egocentric, that he viciously repels every offering of humanity, of human connection, of a bridge over his isolation from others. This renders him utterly monstrous, inhuman; and as we can see from the first part when, at the end of his life, nothing has changed and his isolation endures, the underground man’s soul is bleak. Liza presented perhaps his greatest opportunity for selflessness, forgiveness, and genuine, unaffected love; but he turned it down, and so he’s doomed.

  5. Anonymous
    April 1st, 2009 | 4:15 pm

    The Underground Man’s relations and ultimate rejection of Liza stem from his philosophies set forth in Part I. Liza is the Underground Man’s chance at love and possible happiness. However, he turns against her, condemning her situation and explaining in excruciating detail her step-by-step deterioration. Once again, his hyperconsciousness and anger at the laws of nature come into play. By the laws of nature, Liza’s situation seems unavoidable. Therefore, to love Liza and hope that he can bring her out of her situation would be to go against the laws of nature. Love, it seems for the underground man, is an irrational thing in itself. It is simply an emotion that often brings on irrational thoughts; love seems like the last thing to concern someone like the Underground Man.

    Ultimately, when the Underground Man turns on Liza, the laws of nature snap him back into reality. He realizes that due to Liza’s situation, love with her would be impossible. Although he badly wants Liza to come visit him, he cannot actually comprehend her doing so. When she actually visits, the Underground Man is caught completely off guard, and he once again tyrannizes Liza. The Underground Man asserts his superiority over her, suggested by his giving her money. According to the laws of nature, his superiority is the natural state of things. The Underground Man’s temporary relationship with Liza was his irrational rebellion against the laws of nature. In the end, as always, he ran into the “stone wall” and had to rid himself of his irrational desires as he cut off relations with Liza.

    Having a woman in the story is important because it actually allows the Underground Man to love. Someone like the Underground Man would argue that love is perhaps the most irrational of all emotions. Thus to see the Underground Man experience love but ultimately suppress it clearly sums up his views on the futility of action in the face of the laws of nature.

  6. Brett Basarab
    April 1st, 2009 | 4:16 pm

    sorry, number 5 was me.

  7. Alexandra Boillot
    April 1st, 2009 | 5:17 pm

    The relationship between the Underground Man and Liza is completely dictated by control and dominance. During their first encounter, the Underground Man feels in control, not just for the obvious reason that he has paid her and it is her business to please him, but because he can be completely removed from the situation and bare nothing to her while she is completely vulnerable to him. He sees her in her natural environment, in her place of work and where she lives. Just by being there, she is sharing parts of her life with him while he can stay completely closed to her and reveal nothing about himself. In this situation, the Underground Man has confidence since she can’t see how truly despicable he is and so he talks down to her, as if he were so much better than her in life. Since he treats her so condescendingly and completely preaches to her about her life, she takes him for someone on a higher level than her and she almost sees him as an escape route from her present state. He even goes so far as to offer her some kind of hospitality in telling her to come visit him.

    However, as soon as he realizes what he has done in inviting her to his house, he completely freaks out and is almost numb with the horror of it all. He is overcome with nightmarish thoughts of what will happen if she comes to his house and sees how he really lives. He is totally scared of losing the control and influence he asserted over her when she was vulnerable to him. When she does come to visit him, he cannot handle it and strives to regain control during the entire visit but fails. He tries to own up to his poverty and pretend he is fine with it but cannot even feign that and ends up in a hysterical state. When this happens she reaches out to comfort but instead of consoling him, it only strengthens his conviction that he must reassert his dominance. In the end the only way he knows how to do this is to give her money, even though he barely has enough for himself. Liza has broken the Underground Man in that he is revealed for what he is and she leaves him, also leaving behind the money he gave her, the only dignity he had in his eyes, and the Underground Man is left alone.

  8. Harry Morgenthau
    April 1st, 2009 | 8:04 pm

    For me, the most painful part of watching the underground man struggle is in seeing how close he comes to true, good things. The advice that he gives to Liza while they are lying together at the brothel is profound and correct. His deep, touching description of family life shows that he really can feel, and that he sees some of the good that the world is capable of producing. He affects Liza much more than he thinks he does, making her really begin to critically observe her life for the first time. He shows her the potential problems of her decisions, and the road she must take if she hopes to get out.
    But all of this wonderful advice spills out of him before he can really understand what he is saying, and, when he does understand, instead of embracing his own good advice, he is horrified by it. He cannot see its worth. Instead, he backtracks, doing his best to destroy everything that he has created. He is so scared of creating something of worth because he has convinced himself that life will always turn out badly, that there are no good choices. Consequently, anything that you create could just as easily turn around and destroy you. The underground man would rather have nothing than be destroyed by his own creations.
    But even as the underground man attempts to dissuade Liza, she realizes that his original advice actually does have value, no matter what he might say afterwards. She is smart enough to recognize that he is plagued by even greater demons than she is, and that his destruction stems only from his fear. She is not so far gone as he is; she can still see the good, and grasp onto it. So in the end, even without fully realizing it, the underground man has created something good in a person: a hope to lead a better life. He is too lost to ever find it, but she has succeeded.

  9. Ashley Quisol
    April 1st, 2009 | 8:18 pm

    I don’t know if there is an “answer” to the Underground Man’s ranting and ravings because it seems to me that any answer offered to him would be dissatisfying because of its satisfaction; the Underground Man will constantly fight for more, even if he has found answers to all of his questions.
    Dostoevsky’s underground man is interesting because he took the new, progressive values of the time and amplified them to their maximum degree. He created the perfect progressive intellectual who shuns romanticism and conventionality. In doing this, he essentially shows the faults in the nihilist ideologies of the younger generation and highlights the importance of love and relationships in human life. He constantly asks “which is better in fact, cheap happiness or lofty suffering?” and shows that neither, on its own, is sufficient to the “progressive man” for one leaves him without a soul while the other leaves him in agonizing misery.
    To deny love (for yourself or another) is the most detrimental act that a person can inflict on himself. The underground man alludes to the fact that he has never known love and knows neither its value nor how to recognize it. This is part of the reason that the eventual salvation of such a man resides only in a lover, and in this case a woman; the only time that he felt any kid of emotion at all and anything resembling love was in the interaction with Lisa.
    The most important reason for a woman filling the role as the “liberator” of this underground man is the fact that he cannot really compare himself to her. In describing ever male acquaintance he makes, he only diminishes them in such a way as to make himself feel superior….and then eventually inferior. He mentions that a man cannot really be compared to a woman, and inspecting Lisa, therefore, gives him a chance to scrutinize her as something other than competition.

  10. Catherine Ahearn
    April 1st, 2009 | 9:36 pm

    I think it’s very clear that the answer to his ranting and raving is action. The UM is very much an internal person who spends most of his time and life creating scenarios in his mind that usually do not pan out the way he imagines them to. He is disgusted with his life but does little to better his position. I actually believe that Poor liza had more initiative and was better off than the UM because she acted upon her love and was not as regretful for her inaction despite the fact that things did not end in her favor. The UM is in his position because of his inaction. Liza found herself in a despicable position because of her actions, and her lover’s inaction.
    I think it is essential that the UM is forced to face his reality through the gaz of another. The fact that this is a woman is insignificant. I think that making the UM’s looking glass a prostitute in despair says more about his own position than anything else. Even more importantly, I see Liza as better than the UM because she does go to see the UM at his apartment. The UM is seemingly helpless and yet helps herself through actively seeking the one who offers help. This is the real crook in the narrative; the appearance of the UM as a savior propels Liza to seek his helping hand, only to find that it is merely an illusion. Therefore, the illusion the UM puts forward in front of Liza eventually forces him to see himself as he really is.
    For the UM to feel love would be to give too much of himself to something he has not personally constructed. It would be too much for him to believe positively in something because he has shaded the world around him in pessimism and has become irrevocably jaded to let himself begin to believe he can possibly feel something new, something worth feeling. The reader sees him come close to this when he is speaking with Liza in the brothel, however he quickly reneges his candid words when he returns back to the reality of his life. I got the distinct sense that he wanted Liza to come, even though the thought of her seeing him in his home horrified him. He anticipated her arrival and was disappointed when she did not come to him at first. This made him a character who the reader could sympathize with, a character who was trapped in his own institution of self- detrimental habits.

  11. Ben Tabb
    April 1st, 2009 | 9:42 pm

    The relationship between the Underground man and Liza is a curious one. Although their attraction to each other may seem strange, both of them see the same thing in each other: a chance to change for the better. Liza understand the points that the underground man makes early on. Initially she pretends to be unfeeling and uncaring, but he is able to break her, and she realizes there is truth and wisdom in what he says. She becomes attached to him and realizes that she is not living the life she wants; The underground man was right in calling her nothing more than a slave to her madam. In him, she sees the opportunity to change her perceived fate. He is the only way she could escape the control of her boss or find someone to care for her. For the first time, it appears his actions are noble: it is a rarity to find a client who visits a prostitute for an emotional connection. She appreciates him, not realizing that her words were meant to hurt and establish dominance, rather than comfort or inspire.

    The underground man, on the other hand, sees an opportunity in Liza to rid himself of his miserable life underground. He imagines her confessing her love to him, and how they could be together. It is clear to every reader that he would be happier if he abandoned his foolish ideals and just accepted something that could make him happy, and for a moment it appears he sees the same opportunity. Whereas Liza realizes what she wants and is willing to pursue it, though, the underground man once again lets his vanity and pride get in the way. Unwilling to accept that he needs anyone else, and unwilling to let Liza play any role other than the oppressed, he selfishly insults and humiliates her when she selflessly forgives and attempts to comfort her. Whereas she understands the idea of a selfless love, such an idea is beyond the grasp of the underground man. All he wants is to inflate his ego and prove that he is above her. In the end, he justifies his actions, even thinking that he helped Liza with the experience. Even after running to try and find her in the snow, he is too proud to admit that he let her slip away.

  12. Anonymous
    April 1st, 2009 | 9:53 pm

    I hate my life right now as much as the underground man. Just spent the last hour toiling over an unassigned reading. My copy of Notes from the Underground includes “A Confession” by Tolstoy at the end. However, there is no clear page saying: “STOP right here, you just finished ‘Notes from Underground’ no need to read further.” No, instead, like a cruel advertising ploy by a dead Tolstoy, ‘Confessions’ appears to be merely the third chapter of ‘Notes.’ It seemed plausible—I had read somewhere that ‘notes’ was actually originally called ‘Confessions.’


    I was so confused reading ‘Confessions.’ Suddenly, the underground man’s whole personally seemed to have changed. He embraced religion as the only way to calm his consuming questions on the meaning of life. I was so shocked to read the first few blogs and see no mention of religion.

    Alkdfjlksdfkljds… apologies if my blog makes no sense, but my head is filled with tolstoy’s musing on the meaning of life—not light stuff.

    I found the answer (or the reason for) the Uman’s rants and raves to be explained in his name: the Underground man. It is important that Dostoevsky never actually gives his hero a name, merely a description. A name is not necessary because he is, in fact, “underground” in both parts—physically in part I and mentally in part II. This mental isolation is what drives the UMan to almost obsessive insanity. In the European atmosphere (that Dostoevsky is obviously mocking) of Russia at this time, the Uman rarely has an opportunity to NOT be underground. Even when he has the urge to see a friend, he has to wait for a specific day and time to “call” upon him. The only “love” he experiences is planned out—a trip to a brothel.
    I think that his ‘feelings’—the innermost thoughts he revels to the readers—are not that strange or irregular. Rather, I think it is the society he is in that is nonconductive to these feelings and makes him appear so despicable.
    Because, lets think about it, the Uman’s habitual response to interaction with other people is pretty normal (at least I hope so because I feel like that a lot….) He begins by wanting interaction. When he gets this interaction, however, like the man in the short story “The Cloak,” he become self-conscious and convinces himself that everyone hates him, and purposefully leaves him out, and treats him like a fly. His reaction to this is to convince himself that he doesn’t need interaction, and that no one is as smart as him and in fact he is some sort of Napoleonic ultraconcious man superior to his merely normal peers.
    I didn’t see Liza as any sort of answer to the Umans rants and raves. In fact, he treats her the same way as he treats anyone he comes into contact with. At first, he is eager to have interaction, especially when he lectures her about her future and feels like he has dominance (unlike his unsuccessful attempts to dominate the officer in the beginning of part II). However when he begins to feel uneasy, threatened, and self-conscious—when she comes to visit him at his house—he immediately recoils into his protective egotistical shell to convince himself of his superiority.
    Instead, I think there is no ‘answer’ to the Uman’s rants and raves. As seen in Part I, Liza has in no way ‘cured’ the Uman. In fact, he is more underground than ever. I think it is the oppressive atmosphere that surrounds the Uman that drives him further and further underground.

  13. Jennifer Ridder
    April 1st, 2009 | 10:00 pm

    The Underground Man’s first encounter with Liza is tender and out of character for the desolate man. He engages her in heartbreaking conversation of his own sad childhood, and commiserates with her unhappy past. His evolution makes the reader consider new emotions for the cynical man. Though oddly, and perhaps its contradictions are a foreshadowing, the Underground Man suddenly transforms into a didactic moralist. He Teaches poor Liza of the destitution and degradation her profession will surely provide and contrasts it to the idyllic picture of family life (to which he himself does not even have). The Underground Man brings Christian thought into the forefront; he says, “judge not least you be judged” and assures Liza that “the blessing of God is upon it”. He seems to earnestly believe in divine forgiveness. The reader begins to feel compassion from the Underground Man as he wants to “save” Liza. However, the Underground Man destroys our sympathy by again becoming self-indulgent through his paranoia of Liza coming to visit and his subsequent cruelty towards her. He self-loathes in his own poverty and loneliness instead of rejoicing in her decision. Dostoevsky does not want the reader to pity him as he declares that his actions were for “power, power was what I wanted”. His tyranny is directed towards himself and not Liza. The Underground Man continually victimizes himself so that he never gets out from the Underground. It is not “poor Liza” as she saves herself and digs herself up from the ground. Although Liza is a contradiction of purity and prostitution, she remains innocent by listening to the Underground Man’s advice. She is follows Christian morality and is forgiven for her past as a prostitute. In contrast, The Underground Man does nothing to “save” himself from his emotionless pit, he only glances as Liza leaves and feels sorry for himself for not following her. Perhaps, the reader is supposed to think it is “poor Underground Man,” however his perpetual lack of love, emotions, and action does not succeed in gaining the readers pity.

  14. Susanna Merrill
    April 1st, 2009 | 10:56 pm

    The most significant narrative impact, at least, of the episode with Liza is to make it sickeningly clear that the Underground Man’s depravity goes beyond mere “ranting and ravings.” We can pity his self-defeating mental gymnastics, and the sense of paralysis that comes from too-clear awareness of the lack of purity in his motives whenever he attempts to do good, but hopefully we cannot pity him for his dealings with a human being who has put aside her defensive irony to trust him only to be insulted in the basest, cruelest way. What can be more disgusting than the Underground Man’s treatment of Liza? She dared to show kindness toward him, and to respond to a kindness in him that he does not trust, and he slaps her into her place by sleeping with her from spite and trying to pay her for it. As he himself told her three days before, there can be no greater insult to a woman, to make a mockery and a lie out of what should be a consummation of respect and love.

    Liza does what the Underground Man cannot: she stops thinking, and stops wondering whether to trust her own attraction to positive ideals, and just goes for them, shamelessly, directly. We see this once when she announces her intention to leave the profession of which she is ashamed, and again, more significantly, when the Underground Man greets her in his apartment with rambling abuse and she responds not to his words, but to his underlying unhappiness. She is able to forget both pride and self-loathing, an accomplishment beyond the worthless, parasitical Underground Man.

    What seems really important, however, as I said before, is not so much Liza’s contrast with the Underground Man, but that she exposes him as truly socially dangerous. He is not just rotting in his corner, harming no one but himself; he is capable, not matter how eloquently and accurately he is able to describe his motives, of real cruelty. He is not a prophet or a hero but a hurtful, vicious man whose type we should discourage from arising in our world.

  15. Zachary Harris
    April 1st, 2009 | 10:59 pm

    As Ashley said, I don’t think that there is an answer to the Underground Man’s problems. I think the UM has horrible depression and anxiety problems that will not allow him to ever remove himself from his tragic situation. His depression and anxiety make him a person that is incapable of living in society, and because of this he cloisters himself away which further fuels his negative mental state. In order to justify his behavior, he tells himself that he is better than everyone else and that no matter what anyone else thinks of him or what his situation is, he will always be superior to others. Yet since he is a human like everyone else he craves interaction and wants to be loved by others which he cannot receive if he continues to act the way he does. When he does attempt to reach out to society, he acts in such a bizarre and offensive manner that he is scorned completely. This worsens his mental state and further convinces him to keep to himself and not seek help for his problems.

    His interaction with Liza reveals a lot about the UM. He understands Liza’s plight and questions why she is a prostitute if that will only lead her to a life of misery. Yet at the same time he is not able to realize that he is doing the same thing to himself by not escaping from his own poorly chosen life path. Liza and the UM are in similarly wretched situations, yet there is hope for Liza as she has the mental capacity to guide herself out of her situation, as is shown by the fact that she attempts to escape her life as a prostitute by coming to the UM.

    Liza can be contrasted with the UM not because of anything related to her being a woman. It is her ability to attempt to better herself that distinguishes her from the UM, who only writhes in his misery and spreads it to others.

  16. Casey Mahoney
    April 1st, 2009 | 11:20 pm

    To first address the question of whether or not Liza’s womanhood is essential, I think that it isn’t exactly her womanhood, but her qualities of humility and meekness which are what I think Dostoevsky wants his readers to find as the foil to the underground man’s pride.
    If we look at the book as being a philosophical monologue in the first half, and then a real-world trial of the monologue’s author/performer in the latter, some of our initial reactions to the underground man’s ideas are vastly informed. The images of the narrator sneaking through the crowds, being a complete jerk at the party, and going off on Liza paint a new picture a man whose complex ideas about the world are simply ‘too much’. His “consciousness,” in which he takes so much pride in part one, is shown as necessarily suspended when he must stop thinking and take action and live his life. Not that this totally goes against his philosophy recognizing man’s inherent want to act on his own desires, but it shows that at every moment of his existence, he cannot be calculating these desires, but that he must give himself to the moment, he must feel, he must interact with others despite his misanthropy. What the underground man learns, and what we learn about him, though, comes from this real world experience: that actual human interaction, specifically ones of fraternal and/or erotic love, necessarily leads to at least some measure of selflessness–something we could never have expected of him in the beginning of the book. Even though Dostoevsky is successful in communicating this message to us as a somewhat lasting, finite philosophy, moral to the story, point of his book, etc., the underground man, on the other hand, must return to his notes in his self-imposed retreat from reality where the unpredictability of real human life is again removed from his self-satisfying rationalizing, musing and ranting.

  17. Lisa Eppich
    April 2nd, 2009 | 12:17 am

    I agree with Ashley in that there are no answers to or for the Underground Man’s rantings, because by his logic he will go against any concrete answers out of spite and desire to exert his own will. Liza’s gender is important for two reasons: Firstly, like Bazarov, love proves to be the ultimate foil to UM’s way of life because it forces him to act in a way that is harder for him to apologize for and also forces him to be selfless, to an extent. Liza can almost be seen as a Mary-figure because she offers UM some kind of pitty and understanding. She weeps for him and for herself because she is the only character who can understand UM’s misery, even if we as readers recognize it as self-inflicted, yet none of us probably have had the kind of lives and upbringings as UM and Liza did. If anything, UM’s actions speak louder than words because he’s constantly lying or making up excuses as to why he acts the way he does, when really he’s too stubborn or timid to change. He asks “What is better- cheap love or exhaled suffering?”, implying that it’s better to suffer, when really through his tirades it’s clear that Liza is the only thing he’s come in contact with that had the power to change him, and it effects him deeply even though he calls it “cheap love” because of how he ran after her.
    Liza is also the strong female character that nearly all of Russian literature has. The relationship reminds me of the Mikhail question of the pure and the putrid: for every UM that exists, there needs to be a Liza, because in Russian lit there always needs to be the hope of salvation, and since both UM and Liza will probably always be impoverished and miserable, at least they could be impoverished and miserable together and rely on that bond to help each other. However, for UM this is ultimately impossible because he cares more for his ideology and himself than anything else.

  18. Hannah Wilson
    April 2nd, 2009 | 12:45 am

    The cause of the underground man’s ranting and raving seems to be his over-education and intellectual snobbiness. Liza here allows him to see the naïveté of common folk and almost envy it. Throughout the first part of the novel, he focuses on creates metaphors and arguments that support his way of thinking. By creating these arguments in his notes, he must critically analyze his situation to the point where he no longer is living nor experiencing it, only analyzing it.
    By the second part of the book we begin to see him taking more action and initiative in his life, however he is still plagued by his thoughts. The dinner is a disaster and his attempt to convince Liza that her life as prostitute is not only amoral, but also inferior to his highly conscious being. Dostoevsky here gives us the opportunity to compare a naïve life to a hyper-conscious. Ultimately we are left with the feeling that the hyper-conscious life is not necessarily worth the heightened intellectual awareness. We finally see that the underground man is able to express emotion, however, but it is only after he has destroyed Liza’s way of life. By acting with the best of intentions, the underground man slowly realizes that perhaps his constant state of illness and unhappiness is not necessarily a human condition.
    This is perhaps one of the reasons why he ends his novel without reaching any overarching conclusions and simply leaves it as notes. He is unwilling to admit that his intellect is unable to bring him happiness. At the beginning of the notes I believed that he really didn’t that what other considered happiness was truly happiness. It is only after he talks to Liza that he realizes he may have misjudged the situation.
    And yes, I do think it is important to note that Liza was a woman. Why? Well, that I’ll leave for class tomorrow.

  19. Patrick O'Neill
    April 2nd, 2009 | 1:00 am

    Throughout the entire book, the thing I despised above all about the Underground Man was just his baseness or egocentrism, but his excessively whimsical nature exhibited through his tremendous mood swings that in effect would alter the content and tone of his discourse and opinions seemingly from one pole to the other. He seems to have little grasp on the rest of the world and little connection with others due to his extreme egocentrism. Personally, I feel it safe to say that although he may be more “aware” than everybody else with his “hyperconscious”, he is nothing more than a lost soul destined to be unhappy and tormented by the subjects of his rantings until the day he dies. I think the character of Liza, whom one could interpret as being equally lost as evident from her situation at the brothel, provides an effective counter (note, not counterbalance) to the Underground Man. Unlike the narrator, she genuinely seems convinced of his words and is thus moved to act, which ultimately brings about the conflict between the two characters in the final pages of the novel that seem to have a profound impact upon the Underground Man, leaving him alone and isolated to eventually become the older and embittered man we read in the first part.

    As to whether Liza’s femininity plays an important part in this matter, I do believe so. From what I have read so far in Russian Literature and learned in class, etc. it only seems fitting that a woman should become involved in such a situation. Russian men, especially in the case of the Underground Man, often fall far short of the mark and time and time again lack many important qualities and graces. However, the women seem nonetheless to always stand by their men despite all their shortcomings and more often than not are their men’s (and by that logic their country’s) saving grace. The Underground Man refused Liza, though, and so along these lines received a fitting end.

  20. Stewart Moore
    April 2nd, 2009 | 6:48 am

    Quite plainly and simply, the underground man is an a$$. Its seems that through out the entire second half he is deeply concerned with elevating himself to the same status as his former school mates. However he can never be on equal footing with anyone. While he says many things I actually liked in his huge preachings to Liza, he can never put himself on equal footing with her. He is scared to do so
    (but would probably not admit it) so he changes the motivations for his actions to make himself appear better than or more detatched from the world.

    I doubt that that underground man loved or deeply cared for Liza, but he does offer some good advice (although this advice is not offered in a kind manner). He then proceeds to dub his advice as a game, so no matter what the outcome, he will be ‘the winner’ because he is faking his advice. Even when he breaks down in front of Liza a few days later, he quickly regains control of himself and turns on her confirming that he only broke down because she broke down earlier and so he was playing a cruel joke on her. He is so concerned with his image that he cannot raise or lower himself to anyone’s level and then whines and cries saying the world is a dark dead place.

    I don’t want to make huge generalazations, but I think Liza is in the story to BE a woman, acting in the way Dostoevsky thinks women act. He (D) uses Liza to show the opposite of the underground man. Where he can never raise or lower himself to other people, I find Liza portrayed almost as motherly, forgiving the wretched heap of a man. The underground man needs a hug and a pscologist.

  21. Matthew Lazarus
    April 2nd, 2009 | 8:21 am

    The Underground Man just needs a little lovin’. Anyone who feels this passionate about the world deserves to be liberated from negativism. He’s just really really negative and really really stubborn and we might call him hopeless but I think he’s got some potential under all that doom and gloom. It’s an act, isn’t it? He’s indulging himself in himself because he’s addicted to depressing himself. He wants a fix and he continues to give himself one but only by holding the mirror up to himself and ranting about that. He should try holding the mirror up to the world, to nature maybe. Heck, do one of those things where you hold a camera away from two people and take a picture of each other making a silly face? I guess he wouldn’t have had a digital camera to play with but a mirror can definitely work. He needs to chill outttt. Nabokov: “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” It’s not worth it, man, there’s nothing out there. To quote the doctor from the Jason Segal’s triumphant mopus Forgetting Sarah Marshall: “Your girlfriend left you. Are you hurt? You’re hurtin’? Stop hurting.” He then goes on to suggest that the depressed character become sexually active. Sexual healing is real and the Uman needs a little lovin’ before he becomes the Unibomber. Liza is perfect! But underpants goes about it in the completely wrong way, “If it weren’t for Liza, none of this would have happened!” No you idiot you’re staring a gift lifesaving farm animal in the mouth and you think Liza has made things worse? Yeah, she will if you twist her around in your mind until it makes sense to you (and only you) that she has in fact hurt you even more. Women can save men. Get them on the right track. Remind them of what’s really important. It is essential that Liza is a woman. Men would not be able to convey what needs to be conveyed, while a woman can almost do it while she’s got a laundry list going on in her head. Mammals. Us. Nothing but. There’s definitely a place for Uman’s depressingly astute yet phony facts of life… it’s called thinking for ten minutes about existentialism when you’re on wikipedia. Then you gotta let it go and find some happiness, dude!

  22. Adam Levine
    April 2nd, 2009 | 9:27 am

    While I do think there is truth in Matthew Lazarus’ claim that “he’s got some potential under all that doom and gloom,” the protagonist of “Notes from Underground” (or antagonist to some – even the Underground Man considers himself an “anti-hero”) never divulges any effort to reach within and show it. All humans have “potential,” but potential is only worth the amount that one uses it. In the case of the Underground Man, his indolence and cynicism prevents him from perceiving the importance of productivity, and as a result he remains stubborn and dissatisfied. This makes his potential equivalent to being absent. While “a little lovin’” would certainly be good for him, he also needs a little kick in the ass. This is clear from his contradictory interactions with Liza when she visits his apartment. He craves her intimacy (he cries, “Liza! Liza!” and even says, “I felt horribly oppressed” when she departs), yet he acts condescendingly towards her, and somehow he expects that this will achieve affinity?

    I agree with Ashley and Zachary that the Underground Man’s dissatisfaction stems from an inability to resolve his constant questioning. For him, there is no “answer.” Not only does this appear to be true, but it also seems that he cannot accept this lack of resolution. It is problematic that he disregards every philosophy and perspective yet continues to seek the “truth” because this process does not guarantee an outcome. He could continue to attack every possible “answer” and never find the “right” one, and this high level of negativity mixed with a high level of anxiety seems counterproductive.

    This is where the last few sentences of the novella become very significant for me. The Underground Man admits at the conclusion that he doesn’t “want to write more from ‘Underground’,” and yet Dostoevsky informs us that “[t]he notes of this paradoxalist do not end here, however. He could not refrain from going on with them…” Even when the “anti-hero” claims that he has finished his obsessive questioning, the reader discovers that this is simply temporary, and Dostoevsky’s use of the word “paradoxalist” sums up the Underground Man very well, since his process of analyzing humanity and determining the correct courses of action and thought appears skewed and fruitless. Either he needs to accept that he will not be satisfied and move on, or he needs to find comfort in one of the ideologies that he criticizes and degrades.

  23. Sophie Clarke
    April 2nd, 2009 | 10:07 am

    anonymous was me (the one with all the alkdfjlksjelifjw’s)

  24. Gabriel G Suarez
    April 2nd, 2009 | 10:39 am

    Dostoevsky presented us with the Underground Man at the beginning of this story. He was a sick man, a wicked man, and an unattractive man. He was unpleasant, dirty, acidic, and obnoxious. This seemed like it was becoming another story about a pathetic, muddy man. As soon as we started hearing the Liza speak, however, it became something incredibly different. He realized that he no longer had thoughts, or opinions of his own. He wasn’t a person or even a process, he was just a constantly repeating regurgitation of what he’d read and learned. The promises of rationality, education, liberal humanism, etc. etc. etc., had failed him. It is clear to me, at least, that this is the point when Dostoevsky’s message comes across strongest: the Underground Man is what we are all destined to become if we abandon God and mystery. If we live as slaves to “reason” (a fabricated set of rules, no more organic, fundamental, or self-evident than vending machines,) we will lose more than we gain. In the absence of God, morality disappears. Many contemporary “atheists” contest that, but I’ll maintain that without an uncontestable arbiter of right and wrong, we move into a morality of “might makes right.” For evidence of this, look at the American Declaration of Independence. The Founders recognized that their only recourse was not to King George, but to “Nature’s God.” They referenced the tale of Jephthah in the Bible, which refers to revolution as an “appeal to heaven.”

    Anyways, I’m off-track; I just wanted to comment on how that exchange really struck me. If Christopher Hitchens had his way, we’d all be Underground Men (kind of like him).

    As to Liza, I think that it is absolutely important, perhaps even essential, that it is a woman who is telling this to our Underground Man. Women were not educated to the same level that men were at the time, and we can probably assume that prostitutes were even less “well-read” and “cultured.” Liza was not a product of a liberal, European upbringing, which promised the world but lacked love and mystery. The Underground Man lacks romanticism, he is the most cruelly realist creature there is. It’s a miracle that “reason” and “humanism” can still carry such unassailably positive connotations.

  25. Alicia Wright
    April 2nd, 2009 | 10:41 am

    Uman is a reactionary man, but wasn’t always. I find there to be a certain strength in his renditions of his conversations with Liza, despite himself. It is essential that she is a woman, for it is in her, opposite yet similar, invoking the whole “father” conversation…He is convinced that if he cannot save himself, or find meaning in himself, then there is no point in bringing Liza into his life. Is he trying to protect her? Possibly vaguely. I’m not sure. But he cannot act on the redemptive qualities that love inspires…or maybe I’m just a 20 year old idealist and go out of my gourd by the time I’m 40.

  26. Natalie Komrovsky
    April 2nd, 2009 | 10:57 am

    I think it’s very important that the response to the Underground Man’s rantings and ravings came from a woman because a man wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to say it. The men that the Underground Man interacts with are all enemies to him. He is constantly trying to overpower them, challenge them. I think he was caught off guard by Liza, and by his feelings for her. In addition, she was able to see a weaker, more vulnerable side to him, one that no one else was able to see. None of this could have come from a man.

    Also, there is no answer to the Underground Man’s problems. He should probably just stay underground.

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