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Free Study Guide for Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 5

Summary

The underground man takes a coach in an effort to catch up with the three men who are headed to the whorehouse. On the way he grows ashamed and angry about his treatment at dinner and decides that he will slap Zverkov as soon as he arrives. He pictures his enemy sitting with Olympia, one of the prostitutes, and imagines himself causing him great embarrassment when he strikes him across the face. He also imagines pulling Olympia's hair. He then imagines the anger or Ferfichkin and Trudolyubov when they hear that Zverkov has been slapped by the underground man. He is sure that Ferfichkin will now challenge him to a duel, and he worries about where he will be able to find a pistol. As these thoughts pass through his mind, the young narrator realizes his thinking is melodramatic and absurd. He tells himself that he should simply return home; instead he urges the driver of the coach to go forward.

The young narrator then worries about the possibility of the other men having him arrested. He pictures himself in prison for a period of fifteen years. When he emerges, he is a changed man who finds Zverkov and forgives him. He feels sure that such a noble scene has been captured in Romantic literature.

When the underground man reaches the whorehouse, he discovers that the three men have already left. He feels relieved that he will not have to slap Zverkov. Before he can depart, a girl enters the room and looks at him. At the moment he is pleased to be unattractive, for he does not want her to be interested in him.


Notes

The underground man chases after the three men who are on their way to a whorehouse. He knows that they really do not want his company there, and he tries to convince himself to simply return home. Since he is not a man of action, however, he cannot stop the progress of events and urges the driver onward.

The underground man reflects on the humiliation that he has endured during the course of the evening. He decides that when he reaches the whorehouse, he will go inside and slap Zverkov. Of course, no one believes that he is really capable of such an act of revenge, for he has earlier explained that conscious men, like himself, cannot be vengeful.

When he arrives at the whorehouse and finds the others have left, the young narrator is greatly relieved that he will not have to slap Zverkov. He is also relieved when a quiet, shy prostitute enters the room and seems not to pay him any attention. He knows it is because he is unattractive.

It is important to notice that throughout this chapter there is an emphasis on the poor weather conditions. As the young narrator travels to the whorehouse, it is very cold and the streets are filled with snow and slush. The winter imagery is a reflection of the cold, miserable state of the young narrator's mind and his inability to take any real action. He dreams of slapping Zverkov and dueling with Ferfichkin, but he knows his dreams are absurd, just as his life is absurd.

CHAPTER 6

Summary

The young narrator is awakened in the middle of the night and realizes that he is in bed with the young prostitute, who is also awake. He asks her about herself. She tells him that her name is Liza and that she has only been a prostitute for a couple of weeks. He advises her to leave prostitution, warning her that the madam of the whorehouse will strip her freedom and that a pitiable end awaits all in her profession. He proves his point by describing what he has seen only the day before. The coffin of a young prostitute was carried out of a dirty house and buried in an icy grave. He then talks to her about death. Liza, however, says she is not worried about dying. Still trying to convince Liza to change, the underground man tells her she should marry, settle down, and have children. His attempt to manipulate her feelings proves quite successful.

Notes

At the end of the previous chapter, the underground man had no interest in the young prostitute who had come into the room. In fact, he seemed greatly relieved that she seemed to have no interest in him. Obviously, he let the course of events unfold without his taking care to direct them. When he wakes up during the night, the prostitute is by his side. Since she is also awake, the young narrator questions her about herself and learns that her name is Liza. During their conversation, the young narrator decides that her family has pushed her into prostitution, a profession that she claims to have joined only two weeks before. By painting horrible images, the young narrator tries to convince Liza to leave prostitution before it is too late. She, however, does not seem to heed his warnings.

In several of Dostoevsky's book, he paints a miserable picture of the life of a prostitute. In this chapter, the young narrator's descriptions of the horrors of prostitution are very realistic and descriptive. As he gives a detailed description of the disgusting life of a prostitute, the young narrator wants to shock Liza and make her suffer, just as he suffers. In truth, Liza probably already suffers more genuinely than he does. Since she has probably been pushed into early prostitution by a family who did not love her, her suffering is real. In contrast, the suffering of the underground man is manufactured, artificial, self-inflicted and greatly exaggerated.

The young narrator seems to take pleasure in the power he has over Liza. Having just been rejected and humiliated by his previous classmates, he turns his emotions on someone else and enjoys hearing himself talk as he preaches to her. It is true that he has a captive audience in the helpless Liza, a fact that makes him feel important; but his manipulation of her will come back to haunt him.

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