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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
PART II: A Propos of the Wet Snow
In Part II, the narrator gives a flashback to his past, when he was twenty-four years old. Because he felt inferior, he lived a lonely life with no friends. At work, he felt self-conscious and believed his peers looked down on him. He worried about his appearance and began to hate the look of his own face, for he believed others judged him as ugly even though they were unconcerned about their own appearance. As time passed, he both feared and hated his co- workers.
Since he had no companions, the young narrator spent a lot of time reading in solitude. When he longed for excitement, he would go out and indulge in some "filthy vice," usually at a house of prostitution; afterwards, he would always feel ashamed of his behavior. One night as he traveled towards home after one of his forays, he saw a man being tossed out the window of a tavern. He entered the tavern to see what was happening. When an officer pushed him out of the way, he felt greatly insulted and believed he had not been treated like a human being. He wanted to protest, but instead he sneaked away, for he lacked the moral courage to challenge the officer.
Although the narrator longed to return to the tavern and settle the insult, he could not do it, for he feared others would laugh at him. Instead, he stewed about it for years. To retaliate, he wrote a satire about the officer and tried unsuccessfully to have it published. He then composed a letter to the officer asking for an apology, but he never mailed it. He then came up with a plan to make the officer step aside for him on the street. Since the officer always stepped aside in respect for important people, the narrator decided to dress himself up. He took an advance from work and borrowed money in order to buy some appropriate clothing. Then dressing himself as a person of importance, he went to Nevsky Street, where the officer worked; but when the narrator met the officer, he found himself stepping aside for the uniformed man. Horrified at his own behavior, he decided he would try again. Every time he dressed up and encountered the officer, the same thing would happen. The narrator would loose courage and step aside for the officer. After each failure, he would literally feel sick.
One day the narrator saw the officer, closed his eyes, and did not step aside. As a result, the two of them bumped into each other. The narrator was delighted that he had held his ground and went home feeling triumphant.
Part II contains flashbacks to the time when the narrator was twenty-four years old, sixteen years before the first section of the book. The narrator was a self-conscious young man who fretted over his shortcomings. He judged himself to be different, ugly, and hated by everyone.
This second section is appropriately called "A Propos of the Wet Snow." The narrator will frequently refer to the wet, snowy St. Petersburg weather. In fact, it was the falling snow that made him recall this flashback at the end of the last chapter of Part I. More importantly, the wet snow is indicative of the negative state of mind of the young narrator, who lives a cold, lonely existence without friends. Even at this young age, he is filled with bitterness and self-hatred.
The narrator admits he was a lonely young man, whose "chief occupation" was reading in solitude. He found in books a life nobler and more satisfying than what his world allowed him. At times, however, he found that books were not enough. "I longed to move about, and would suddenly plunge into dark, surreptitious, sordid debauchery." His forays into the dark world would always leave him feeling ashamed and cowardly.
To prove he is not really a coward, the narrator tells about his experience with the officer. Although he was not brave enough to fight the officer in the tavern, he wanted to, proving he was not a coward at heart only in action. After sulking over the insult delivered by the officer, the narrator pens him a letter demanding an apology, but he is never brave enough in action to mail it. He then comes up with a plan to make the officer step aside for him in respect. During many encounters, the narrator fails miserably in his attempt, for he steps aside for the office. Then one day he finally closes his eyes and bumps into the officer, rather than stepping aside. Although he does not really take any definite action or act of revenge, the narrator feels triumphant.
This chapter contains a satirical description of the Russian romantic writers, who claimed to be idealists with "broad, generous natures," but whose actions were geared towards material, practical advantage, no matter how low they might have to sink to achieve it. Like the romantics, the young narrator claims he is different. But the romantics feel freed by their difference, while the narrator is immobilized by his.
The young narrator at first feels bad about his escapades, but they become such a habit that he is no longer bothered by them. To take his mind off the reality of his existence, he daydreams for long stretches of time and derives considerable satisfaction and happiness from his reveries. Sometimes the period of daydreaming lasts for as long as three months, and most of the dreams include sensuous longings. The dreams usually picture him as a hero, surrounded by people who genuinely care about him and who excuse him for his immorality. The dreams also picture him receiving millions of dollars, most of which he contributes to the poor who are more needy than he.
There is a pattern to the narrator's daydreams. The worse his debaucheries, the longer he daydreams and the sweeter the dreams become. When he tires of dreaming, he longs for human company and will visit with either Anton Antonych Setochkin (his office supervisor) or Simonov (his former schoolmate). The visits bring him little satisfaction, for he does not have a real friendship with either man.
Since the young narrator has no real life, he immerses himself in a dream world, where he participates in rapturous love and heroic feats. He admits, however, that his dreaming has contributed to his downfall. Since he pictures himself as a hero in his dreams, it helps him to excuse his debaucheries in real life.
The dream world is completely opposite the young narrator's real existence. In his daydreams, he is kind, considerate, generous, and filled with a love of goodness and humanity. In his everyday existence, he is mean, spiteful and intolerant of others. Also in his dreams, he is well-liked by a large number of people, who kiss him and forgive him of his sins. In real life, he is liked by no one, not even Anton or Simonov.
It is obvious that even as a young man, the narrator feels isolated and alienated. He longs for human companionship, but he has no true friends. When he visits with Anton, which he can only do on Tuesdays, he is usually ignored; and when he visits with Simonov, he does not feel welcome. He blames his miserable state of existence on the fact that his childhood was "detestable."