Notes from the Underground - Study Guide Part II: Chapters I, II and III Summary & Analysis

This Study Guide consists of approximately 31 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Notes from the Underground.
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Part II: Chapters I, II and III Summary

The author talks of his own self-consciousness about his appearance. He says that his face carried a "nasty, abject expression" and that he tried to cover that by assuming an intelligent air. He notes that he could stand the revolting facial features if only people could see through that to the intelligence. Still, he remains so aware of his shortcomings that he finds he cannot meet the eyes of others. There are no decent men who do not act as slaves and cowards, according to the writer. He notes that only "asses and their mongrel hangers-on" will show courage at all times, and that these people are not even worth consideration.

The author talks of a period of isolation. He says that others weren't like him, but perversely he would occasionally put himself in a position to be friends with everyone in his office. He says that at those times he put down his isolation to "squeamishness" that he'd actually derived from books. He's play card games and spend time with those people.

Somehow, the writer finds himself in a social setting and encounters an officer. This officer is never fully described, though he's larger than the author. When the writer is standing in an aisle down which the officer is walking, the officer bodily picks up the writer and moves him aside so that he can continue on his way. The writer is offended greatly and begins to imagine that it's an incredible wrong. He works up his courage to engage in a duel, but never makes it happen. He finally borrows money from Anton to buy a new collar for his coat in order to make himself look as presentable as possible, and goes for a walk along a particular place where the officer also often walks. For weeks, the writer works on the courage to bump the officer when they meet along this walkway, but he always steps out of the way at the last moment. Then comes the day when he suddenly works up his nerve and the two bump shoulders in passing. The writer is vindicated, though the officer seems not to even notice the contact.

He admits that he dreams a lot. In his dreams he's either the hero or he's mud. In one case, he dreams that he receives "countless millions", which he gives away to benefit humanity. But that's not the end of this dream. He also admits to everyone his shortcomings which are actually not shortcomings at all but are "lofty and beautiful". He would then accept the kisses from many, though they'd all be dolts, and would "go off, barefoot and hungry to preach new ideas and rout the reactionaries". In this dream, the Pope moves to Brazil and Lake Como is moved to Rome for the celebration. He then says that he's not ashamed of the dream.

The author says that he would alternately dream and then go out in an effort to meet friends. He has only a few who are little more than acquaintances, but feels the need for companionship anyway. One of these companions is a former classmate named Simonov. He notes that Simonov is always surprised to see him, though he apparently drops in occasionally. On one particular day, Simonov has company—two other former classmates named Trudolyubov and Ferfichkin. The three are planning a farewell dinner for another of their classmates, Zverkov. They continue their discussion of the dinner details until the author says that he'll come along—literally inviting himself. He realizes that he's committing to pay his share and is questioned by Ferfichkin about his ability to pay. Simonov seem embarrassed, and the author already owes Simonov money that he hasn't repaid. The author assures them that he has the money and they agree to meet at five o'clock at the Hotel de Paris.

As soon as he's out the door, the writer is berating himself for deciding to go. He has only a little money and he owes the monthly salary to his servant, Apollon. He recalls his childhood days without fondness. He says that the boys his age, realizing that he read books and was advanced well beyond them intellectually, did not like him. He had no friends and eventually wanted them—even had one but couldn't resist wielding control that drove that friend away. He wants not to go but finds that he's dreaming of how his life would be if he were to somehow win their friendship, and so walks out the door without paying Apollon, hires a coach, and arrives at the hotel just before five o'clock.

Part II: Chapters I, II and III Analysis

The writer talks of two men at his workplace who are regarded with disdain by the others. One has the pockmarked face of a brigand while the other is greasy and smells. The interesting thing, according to the author, is that neither cared as long as their superiors didn't hold those views. What he seems to be ignoring is that those people likely felt the same as he—that they hated those particular qualities about themselves but hoped that others could see through those to better qualities.

The author holds this grudge against the officer for years. It's a reference back to the little mouse in Part I who remembers the injustices "plus interest" until his dying day. It's interesting to note that at the end of this long encounter, the office doesn't realize anything has happened and has likely forgotten the original event in any case.

The author argues that there is no "second role". He says that a person is either a hero or mud and that there's nothing in between. It seems that this man is suffering from the same ailment many current-day people have—the inability to fit in as an ordinary person. What's particularly interesting is that this man didn't grow into this role but admits that he never fit in as a child either.

There's really no discussion as to the reason the author includes having the Pope move to Brazil in his dream. It's noteworthy that in the dream he goes off to "preach new ideas and rout the reactionaries". There's nothing to indicate that he is an atheist or that he's a believer in some alternative religion. He seems fully occupied with learning.

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