Here it is, here it is at last, the encounter with reality. . . . All is lost now!
The Underground Man says these words to himself at the beginning of Chapter V of “Apropos of the Wet Snow,” as he is running down the stairs in pursuit of his former schoolmates. The others have left Zverkov’s farewell dinner—at which the Underground Man has utterly humiliated himself and alienated them—to go to a brothel together. The Underground Man has resolved to follow them, either to receive an apology or to exact his revenge. He is elated for a number of reasons. For one, he feels that his strange brand of masochism has finally brought him to the lowest possible position, and being in this position has made some kind of confrontation inevitable. For someone as indecisive as the Underground Man, the thought of inevitability is reassuring. He is certain that the situation will resolve itself in some way, ending in either triumph or defeat. Either end will involve an “encounter with reality”: the Underground Man will finally be forced to participate in “life,” to interact with other human beings in a meaningful way. The Underground Man craves this kind of interaction, and every time he is faced with “some external event, no matter how small,” he thinks it is going to break the monotonous, lonely pattern of his life. This event promises to be monumental: a duel, or a fistfight, or the adoring and apologetic friendship of a former enemy. It is telling that the Underground Man should think of this “encounter with reality” in terms of violence. Anger, revenge, and bitterness seem to be the only realistic ways in which he can conceive of interacting with others. Consequently, he imagines duels and arguments as the only way he can participate in the social world. The Underground Man’s association of reality with violence and anger, pride and humiliation, foreshadows the failure of his relationship with Liza. He has no tools for friendship that do not involve aggression.