Part 2 of Notes From Underground provides a personal example that illustrates the points that are expressed as abstractions in part 1. The first person narrator seems compelled to prove that he is as “unpleasant” as he claims to be. At age forty when the novel begins, he looks back...
Part 2 of Notes From Underground provides a personal example that illustrates the points that are expressed as abstractions in part 1. The first person narrator seems compelled to prove that he is as “unpleasant” as he claims to be. At age forty when the novel begins, he looks back sixteen years at his offensive behavior, which he uses to support his claims about human nature and demonstrate his cynical attitude toward society.
In part 1, the narrator addresses an audience of “gentlemen.” It seems, however, that this narrator –the underground man—has imagined and senses the antagonism of this audience. The commentary of the narrator, who insists that he is “spiteful” as well as ill, is focused on society. Particularly skeptical of logic and rationalism, he doubts that a perfect society could ever exist. Instead, he strongly advocates for free will as the quintessential human value. The narrator draws a contrast between happiness and freedom. For him, freedom of expression includes the liberty to choose actions that are fundamentally wrong. The suffering that may result from this “negative freedom” is an inescapable—but not necessarily undesirable—quality of human experience.
The sharp change that begins part 2 is marked by a poem about wet snow. The underground man switches from philosophical reflections to sharing personal anecdotes about his past. While in his twenties, he had wanted to be humiliated, but after experiencing one shameful incident, he harbored a grudge against the officer responsible. He became obsessed with exacting his revenge, which took two years to accomplish but did not leave him feeling satisfied. Hoping that socializing with his former schoolmates, even though he disliked them, would lift him out of depression, he attended a party with them.
The rest of the anecdote concerns his shameful behavior with a young prostitute he met when he accompanied the friends to a brothel. Because he mistreated her, he was surprised to hear her declare that she was giving up prostitution and, a few weeks later, stunned when she turned up at his house to thank him for helping her. Rather than accept her gratitude and her decision, he sexually assaulted her and threw money at her. This episode seems adequate, in his view, to prove his point that free will leads to bad decisions, and to support his self-characterization as an unpleasant character.