Notes from Underground

by: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Part II, Chapter III

Summary Part II, Chapter III

The account of the Underground Man’s time at school helps to explain his bitterness. An orphan who was always too sensitive and antisocial to win much love or affection at school, the Underground Man has gone through life unloved. His relationship with his one friend at school shows us that, even as a young person, he had no idea how to conduct a real relationship. He does not understand love or faith, only domination and submission. He craves power because all his life he has had to stand by in impotent rage and submit to the will of stronger and more powerful people.

Two manifestations of the Underground Man’s masochism appear in this chapter. We learn that the Underground Man quit his lucrative and prestigious career in civil service simply out of spite, just as he now refuses to go to the doctor out of spite. Moreover, the Underground Man decides to go to the dinner for Zverkov even though he clearly is not wanted, partially because of an inexplicable desire to plunge himself into uncomfortable situations. The Underground Man imagines that these situations are the only way for him to experience real life. Indeed, as we have noticed, his only emotional interchanges with others involve anger, hate, and discomfort. He believes these uncomfortable sensations to be strongly tied to any kind of social behavior.

The Underground Man continues to be obsessed with external appearances, just as he was when he plotted his revenge on the officer. The Underground Man frets because of the shabby condition of his clothes, particularly his stained pair of trousers, imagining that the four friends at the restaurant will look down on him because of his slovenly appearance. Though this concern is not wholly unfounded, it reveals that the Underground Man sees the world—not just the readers of his memoirs—as a panel of judges. For the Underground Man, external appearances and the meanings they conceal are often one and the same. At the end of the chapter, the wall clock “hisse[s]” five o’clock. The Underground Man’s use of such a negative word to describe the sounds of a clock indicates that he projects his discontent onto the world around him. These word choices remind us that we should be careful about accepting any information the Underground Man gives us—he likely observes all people and objects with the same distorted hatred he applies to the wall clock.