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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, and that she is an innocent victim?

15 Responses to “More on the Underground Man”

  1. Katherine Burdine says:

    In the second part of Notes from the Underground, the Underground Man makes two distinct attempts to escape from the Underground his self-imposed prison. The first is by using the camaraderie of friends. This attempt is an utter failure. The three young men see nothing to like or respect in the UM and are unwilling to reach out to him, to help him, or even to let him join their circle. Rejected, the UM slinks to a prostitute, Liza, whose love offers him his second chance to leave the Underground. In his long speech about mothers and children, the UM seems himself to sense what a redemptive power a woman’s love might have on his life, talking about the joy of a mother with her child. There is something almost holy, “bookish” about his description, raising his subject to almost biblical importance. The nursing mother becomes the madonna, the baby, her child. In Notes from the Underground, the presence of a woman is, in fact, Dostoevsky’s answer to the Underground Man’s prison, and the remedy for his despair. Liza sees his faults, but decides to love him anyway, with an unconditional, christlike love. From his loveless childhood on, it seems clear that she is the only person to see him as he is, pity him, and love him despite all. Her love, echoing the divine love so important to the very religious Dostoevsky, represents the Underground Man’s escape. But he can’t see or accept what she offers and slinks back permanently into his corner, alone.

  2. Anna Mackey says:

    Like others have said, Liza was first used for the underground man to exert his power, to attempt to feel in control, to feel capable of something. Since she is a woman and a prostitute, Dostoyevsky sets her up to be on the lowest possible plane. However, she is still shown to be relatively pretty and smart, so she is still a worthy subject, someone he can easily dominate but still feel triumphant about it.

    Love is an important and central theme here. Even Liza can attain love, as we see with her love note. As long as others do not know she is a prostitute, Liza has the chance and the ability to be loved. However, no matter what he does, everyone can see exactly what the underground man is. Even with his classmates, one of his greatest attempts to act, they see right through him. He is “infuriated that he [Simonov] knew me so thoroughly”. Even when the underground man was pontificating about Liza and her life and what could possibly become of her, she was in fact seeing through him even more deeply, and the underground man knew it. As a female she, “understood from all this what a woman understands first of all, if she feels genuine love, that is, that I was myself unhappy.” The underground man cannot escape his identity. Even when he has the power to insult and demean, he does not have the power to control, and it is he who remains a slave to his identity and the choices he has made.

  3. Sarah Bellingham says:

    As far as this poor Liza knew, the Underground Man had insulted her on the most despicable levels. He broke through the wall that she placed between herself and her ‘clients,’ he reminded her of her miserable state, and then he gave her false hopes. She had lost what little dignity she had been preserving for herself then, and lost it again when the Underground Man received her as he did. He made a mockery of her. He made a fool of her.

    “Then she suddenly rushed up to me, threw her arms around me and burst into tears.” (86)

    As the Underground Man wallowed in self pity, Liza rushes to him and comforts him. Liza had shown already that she, too, was a creature of thought. At the same time, however, she also was able to act. I think that it is at very least interesting that this response resides in a woman because in Part I, the Underground Man speaks of the shortcomings of “men,” not “people.” Unlike the Underground Man, who considers himself to be the afflicted, Liza actually is an innocent victim. That is a very important thing to note because it contrasts two people in awful states: the Underground Man, who brings it on himself with his foolish behavior, and Liza, who has most likely been sold into prostitution by her own father. How can the Underground Man explain that phenomenon?

  4. Laura Howard says:

    What is the answer to the Underground Man’s rantings and ravings? He seems to think that he has presented himself to Liza as a hero. On page 85 the Underground Man tells Liza, “ I wanted to show my power.” He really fancies that Liza saw him that night as a hero; that her interpretation of him that night at the brothel was one in which he was stronger than she, bigger, and had more answers. In reality, however, the opposite is true. The Underground Man was the smaller person in that situation. He was on her territory. He had paid to see her. He was in a house of ill-repute – a situation which for him is a situation of lowness and shame.
    Though the Underground Man was definitely not in a position of power, I don’t see how the prostitute is an “alternative” to the Underground Man. It seems to me that neither Liza nor the Underground Man has enough gumption to become bigger than society. They are both oppressed by it. The question that is posed essentially makes two statements: that the response to the Underground Man’s rantings and ravings is a woman, and that this woman (Liza) is an innocent victim. From what the Underground Man tells us, we know that Liza left her home. She is a victim of her home life, possibly – but how are we to know she is innocent? Is a victim always innocent?

  5. Russell Jacobs says:

    If there’s hope for humanity in the world that continues after “Notes from the Underground,” it’s in Liza. One of the passages that left me the most affected (and confused) was the Underground Man’s opinions on parenthood and femininity in his monologue at the brothel. His first comments, which draw her in, are about children and his delight in their innocence. My reading is that he is being honest in his profession of his adoration for children, or at least that he actually thinks one should adore children. He believes (although there is no textual evidence I can see that he, himself, is a father; he was also, he says, an orphan) that sacrifice for one’s children is “a joy.” “Joy” is a rare word in the raving monologues of the Underground Man, and so the passage sticks out. After reflecting on the adorable qualities of infants, he begins a catalog of the challenges Liza faces as a woman. He describes a world that is weighted against her, a cruel system that will abuse her for her femininity. As an annotation to his “joy” at the innocence of children he asks Liza “do you really think that you will never grow old, that you will always be good-looking, and that they will keep you here forever?” Liza is not, however, the slave that the Underground Man imagines and she eagerly (with the “expression with which children look at people they are very fond of”) shows him that she might escape the restrictive, oppressive path that he foresees. She attempts to make him, as a child might make a parent, have faith in her and assist her.

    She also has a christlike aspect to her. I didn’t see it until I thought of the Grand Inquisitor’s face-to-face moment with Jesus in another Dostoyevsky story. When the UM rejects Liza and condemns her she looks at him and we learn that she “understood from all this what a woman understands first of all, if she feels genuine love, that is, that I was myself unhappy.” She reaches out to the UM, feels sorry for him, despite his repulsive treatment of her. Her awareness, unlike the awareness that the UM prides himself on, is a redeeming awareness, a motherly, christlike awareness. I see it as a statement of faith in women and praise (on Dostoyevsky’s part more than the UM’s) for their forgiving, nurturing qualities. Professor Beyer’s comment about Gynecocracy as a solution to the world’s problems crossed my mind as a suddenly Dostoyevskian ideal. I know I haven’t fully fleshed out the “christ” comparison and wouldn’t have space in my post to do so but there’s a definitely self-sacrifice for and forgiveness of the Underground Man on Liza’s part which are, at least, the two most basic Christ-ian (or, I suppose, “Christian”) values.

  6. Margaret Fulford says:

    The external nature of the Underground Man’s locus of control in his outlook on life, his actions, and the responses of others is absolutely infuriating. He accepts, perhaps more than most, his own role in the progression of events and the changing of his moods; in this sense he has an internal locus of control. However, time and again, events play out in such a different way from how he envisioned, and he somehow manages to pin his emotions on the things that other people do to him! It is somehow Zverkov & Co’s fault that he feels impotent, inferior, humiliated, degraded, etc; he dreads what people will think of him if he has a stain on his pants, or what Liza will think of his dingy apartment. Other people’s opinions have enormous influence over the way he feels, and he is in this way emotionally way out of control. He has no sense of self-regulation, like many literary characters. He truly models his life, perhaps unconsciously, after the books he has spent so long reading. How could he not, when his knowledge of social interactions is limited to what he reads in books, and the limited and unpleasant interactions he engages in with real people? No doubt the literary worlds are much more pleasant than his actual existence; this is evidenced by the much-improved mood he experiences after spending time dreaming. As soon as he is plunged into the reality of his social life again, he loses the zeal he briefly possessed for spending time with other people.

    I don’t know if there is an “answer” to his rantings. There are certainly things to be learned from his memoirs, and it begs to be recognized by the reader that each and every one of us reflects certain traits of the Underground Man. Perhaps this is why he is so easy to despise — we hate most what we see, but wish not to see, in ourselves.

    I think that is is important that his only chance at change or redemption came in the form of a woman, and that she is a victim. Only by seeing the reserved, noble love that Liza could express, was emotion awakened within the Underground man. Even this was not enough to break down his lifelong pathology, but it came closer than anything else. Perhaps love is the answer to his ravings, but it was simply administered too late in his life for him to be saved.

  7. Bryanna Kleber says:

    I began to feel bad for the Underground Man in Part II. In Part I, I really couldn’t stand his rants. He came across as way to self-involved for me to be able to think fondly of him. In Part II though, we begin to see the Underground man in real settings and plots. The character that solely discusses his existence and beliefs in Part I is now put into social contexts. These situations make him come off as a pathetic and pitiful character. While I originally thought that he was a pompous man who walked around with his nose in the air, we learn that he is instead completely disregarded in public. Not only is he just disregarded, but he is rejected, like a fly. This rejection and worthlessness really gets to the Underground Man. For years, he stews in anger about being pushed aside in a bar. This anger consumes part of his life. The Underground Man wants to go to a dinner that he knows he is not fully welcome to. He tries to look nice, but is so worried that his clothes are unacceptable. And when he meets Liza, he is embarrassed at the quality of his apartment and living situation. All this made me feel really sorry for the Underground Man, and it seemed like he was just stuck. Then, Liza comes around and gives the Underground Man the opportunity to turn his life around, gain happiness, and change his unbecoming characteristics. He however, rejects the situation completely, and takes it one step further by trying to damage Liza. He will never be happy or satisfied in life and will forever be considered worthless by society.

  8. Vanda Gaidamovic says:

    As Billington, the author of “Face of Russia” points out: Russia’s “relentlessly horizontal plain seem to have intensified the individual longing to find a vertical link with God and some higher plane of reality”, and the “difficult material conditions and severe colds seem to have produced a compensating warmth in communal relations.” The Underground Man is not a part of any community. He is always lonesome and it was not always his choice. Unlike Bazarov, who as a déclassé with not yet developed consciousness and a sense of belonging in the Russian society felt alienated, the Underground Man is also an orphan (“I’ve been sent off to that school by some distant relatives on whom I was dependent and about whom I’ve never head ever since.”) Even as a child he never had any bonding experience, except for that minor ‘exception’, when he wanted to “exercise unlimited power of his [friend’s] soul.” Angry at the world he never sought communication with any other human being, and the world didn’t seek it either. Symbolically, the action takes place in St. Petersburg. The city with the architecture that sought to endorse imperial power resembled “a new Babylon, rather than a new Rome” [Billington], where individuals, with all their truths speak almost different languages, and eventually lose the ability to communicate.
    This is the world the Underground Man inhabits. After his almost sadistic attempt to reconcile with his school acquaintances, he finally finds someone who, not only acknowledges his presence, but also listens to his ‘preaching’. His ranting to Liza is, if not a confession, then a verbalized form of his inner complexes and desires: family, children, love, friendship… I am not sure whether he wanted to save her. It seems to me that he wanted her to save him. I agree with Juan. His preaching is an exercise of authority and superiority over a fallen woman (just like with his school ‘friend’ previously). There seems to be a logical succession from Erast through Bazarov, to the Underground Man, finally culminating in Raskolnikov, who also claims god-like powers, when he assumes the privilege to decide who has the right to live and who does not.

  9. Ben Kingstone says:

    The Underground Man falls in love with Liza, realizes that that he has surrendered to this impulsive affection, and rejects her. He sends Apollon from the house and stands before her; she enters and he says, “I stood before her, crushed, humiliated, abominably ashamed” (82). He “sits down mechanically” (82).
    His words at the brother appeared sincere. Now, he fights the element the feeling of fate–losing control–that resembled his interaction with her. Dostoevsky uses shame to represent his fall from grace (or continual fall).
    It is ironic, then, that Liza becomes the most influential character in the story’s plot; like most of Dostoevsky’s female characters, she represents a female. She hardly exhibits the qualities of a rounded character–Apollon announces, “There’s some woman asking for you,” with “some woman” italicized.
    Finally, The Underground Man has to destroy her to demonstrate his power over her, choosing to leave her with a scar–a legacy, some monument to remember him by: “wouldn’t it be better if she were to carry the insult with her forever?” (90). Liza remains the only character (Apollon aside, as already stated), who is lower (by occupation, but also humbled by coming to visit him) that him, and the the UM crushes her.

  10. Brandt Silver-Korn says:

    I think one answer is that hyperconsciousness does not necessarily mean intelligence. The UM has no ability to act “intelligently” in social situations and thus he constantly looks like a fool. He is even looked down on by his servant. His constant contradictions (which he realizes exist but really places no true meaning to) highlight how delusional his grandiose beliefs are. Just one of many examples…he expresses anger at his rhetoric being labeled “like a book” because he feels the need to reject a statement made by someone inferior to him, and then a few pages later announces “I could not speak ‘except like a book.’” Right until the end… the UM announces he is done writing from “Underground” and yet the author, beyond the pages of the Notes, must inform us that “the notes…do not end here.” Liza shows us that these constant contradictions are what makes the fool. The UM wants to be honorable and make assertive statements, and like it was mentioned in an earlier post, he has the means (brains) to make money and presumably live a good life. Yet he is constantly borrowing (not very honorable) in order to give off a façade of wealth and importance/superiority and contradicting his strong assertions. Liza does not put on a façade. She realizes her poverty, does not have honorable means, yet does not feel the need to PRETEND she honorable because she is ACTUALLY honorable (she throws away the money the UM gives her).

    I do think it is important that the response resides in a woman because he sets up the female prostitute as the ultimate inferior creature (like Romany states) and in time, we see how her actions make a far more laudable individual. As the UM states, she is not like the lowest class of man (a “ labourer [who] hires himself a workman”) but rather, a slave. And that even the lowest class of man, who will presumably be her faux lover, will be able to beat her and laugh at her, and thus is higher on the food chain. But we later see that she is in fact loved, in a way that the UM can never hope to be. So despite the UM’s intelligence and supposed knowledge on how love works (and the world works), it is the prostitute that ends up pitying him at the end, for his ignorance, and foolishness.

  11. Melody Wang says:

    I think the answer to the Underground Man’s ranting is the surrender to fate. In other words, no matter how hard he struggles to prove his control of his own freedom and self, every attempt further shows his subjection to the power of fate. Even to the very end, where the Underground man insists: “But enough; I don’t want to write more from ‘Underground’,” paradoxically, this is not the end of “the notes of this paradoxalist, just as the author intrudes and asserts, “because he could not refrain from going on with them”. Essentially speaking, we need someone to intrude to the Underground man’ notes to stop his notes/further attempt to evade his underground fate. I do think that Liza the prostitute is important to the Underground man, because what he desperately needs respect/recognition, and to feel the power of his will over other will. Especially after his mortifying humiliation with his childhood acquaintances, someone need to pay for the humiliation he had suffered, and Liza is vulnerable yet noble enough to be the person because she momentarily provides him with the chance to exercise all of eloquence and wits. Liza refuses to act the ways the Underground Man’s expected her to , as just Romany has argues, “the unpredictability of Liza’s actions and responses compromises the UM’s notion of a formulaic world.
    Liza does not hurt him back when he hurts her. And when the Underground man openly insults and mocks at Liza, she recognizes the Underground Man’s unhappiness: such moment makes him break down because her altruistic and compassionate concern for him, nevertheless, his original expectation of making Liza aware of her own despair becomes frustrated when he realizes that he is the humiliated creature. FAILED.

  12. Alexandra Siega says:

    The Underground Man charms and intrigues us with his unique attitude towards life in Part I of the story, however in Part II, as a result of his rapport with Liza, we lose the strong sense of a sentimental connection with the character. Specifically, the lack of pity for the Underground Man evaporates. We pity the victimized Liza instead because she’s trying to make the worst of her awful situation; we reject the ungrateful Underground Man because he is digging his own grave of misery.

    With the introduction of Liza, the Underground Man loses the title of “victim” that he had previously gained in Part I. The first part of “Notes from the Underground” is a dialogue of the Underground Man with himself, so we get his singular perspective without any sort of control. However, once we see the elements of reality and society thrown in, the reactions of others (though of course from the Underground Man’s point of view) help us to understand how much of the Underground Man’s misery derives from his own actions. Therefore, we cease to categorize the Underground Man as a victim of his circumstances and of his surroundings. As Romany pointed out, the protagonist thinks in a “formulaic world”: he tries to theorize and rationalize his entire existence. However, his actions in Part II are completely irrational and destructive to not only him but to other fundamentally good characters like Liza around him. Liza is respected over the Underground Man because she is able to absorb his destructive nature and turn it into a positive message.

  13. Flora Weeks says:

    Obviously, in comparison it is hard to know much about Liza. Dostoyevsky spends the entire book letting the reader into the thoughts of the underground man. While we see some of the actions of Liza, she is a fairly quiet, subdued character, and so even those actions do not tell the reader too much about her thoughts or motives.

    In some ways it is striking that she seems so calm, at peace with her surroundings, and with her own actions. Her actions do not seek the attention and anger that many of the underground man’s actions seem to. There are times when she is upset, but she manifests her anger in a much more understated way; “She did not want anyone here, not a living soul, to know of her anguish and her tears” (72). She clearly does not seek attention and pity, in the way that the underground man does.

    Her understated actions are all the more noticeable because by anyone’s standards, she is much worse off than the underground man. Liza is female, is a prostitute, has never been educated, has no money, no future. And yet, the Underground Man, who admittedly is not particularly well off, has put himself into that situation, and is making no effort to get out of poverty, even though he most likely has the means to do so. I do not think it is essential that the response to the underground man and his actions comes from a woman, but there is certainly something in this contrast between their two situations. I think it is important that the response comes from someone who is less well off, yet more accepting of his/her situation.

  14. Romany Redman says:

    The underground man’s classmates behaved as he predicted and feared they would. This fear was grounded in his assertions that he had no value, that the actions of his classmates would reflect the insignificance of his existence. They didn’t care.
    Liza, on the other hand, challenges the UM’s attitudes in a few ways. First, he could manipulate her. Liza’s smile, her whimper, and her perplexed facial expression all appear and alter under the attacks of UM’s speech. She cared enough about what he is saying to suffer emotional change.
    Even more significant, the unpredictability of Liza’s actions and responses compromises the UM’s notion of a formulaic world.
    “I was so accustomed to think and imagine everything from books, and to picture everything in the world to myself just as I had made it up in my dreams beforehand, that I could not even take in this strange circumstance all at once. What happened was this: Liza, wounded and crushed by me, understood a great deal more than I imagined. She understood from all this what a woman understands first of all, if she feels genuine love, that is, that I was myself unhappy.” (155)
    First, the UM’s attempts to break down his own calculations of life by his own humiliation failed when he affronted people in positions superior to his own. Examples include both his meetings with his classmates as well as his attempt to get the policeman to bump him (from Part 1). Second, his attempts that involved people lower on the social ladder also did not quite work. Apollon’s actions do not challenge UM’s world view, partly due to their relationship as employer-servant. Liza, being a woman, is “a slave from the start” (86) with even less agency and social capital to resist power structures or reinvent oneself. A prostitute is UM’s extreme for someone who should feel contempt at the social structures defining their fate and act “accordingly”. So when Liza still expresses love and even forgiveness… there go all the calculated theories.

  15. Juan Machado says:

    When the underground man, as if he were one of Chernyshevsky’s characters, attempts to rehabilitate the prostitute, he is surprised by her outburst of emotion. After returning home, he hopes that she will not actually come to his residence.

    For the underground man, it was easily to deal with the men of action he describes in Part I. His classmates are a good example; they are not hyperconscious like the author, and they are extremely ambitious, always looking to advance themselves and greedy for the luxuries of life like fine dining and fine wine. Liza, however, is a counterexample to his classmates. She is a poor, sentimental girl and her helplessness makes the underground man feel “as if I were some kind of higher being who was supposed to know everything.”

    I think the encounter with Liza disturbs the underground man for several reasons, but I think one of them is that it forces him to consider religion and the possible existence of God. Here he is put in the role of God, with complete control over Liza. He even speaks like God, in a “bookish” way and he has to power to completely crush her, which he eventually does. His God-like power must mean that someone else, perhaps even God Himself, must have such a similar power over the underground man. If that is the case, the role that free will plays in his life is drastically limited and he may be someone’s piano key.

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