The hero of the “underground”, the author of the notes, is a collegiate assessor who recently resigned after receiving a small inheritance. Now he is forty. He lives “in the corner” – a “crappy, nasty” room on the edge of Petersburg. In the “underground” he is psychologically: almost always alone, he is betrayed by an unrestrained “dream”, whose motives and images are taken from “books”. In addition, the unnamed hero, showing an extraordinary mind and courage, explores his own consciousness, his own soul. The purpose of his confession is “to test: is it possible, at least with oneself, to be completely frank and not be afraid of all the truth?”.
He believes that an intelligent man in the sixties. XIX century. is doomed to be “spineless”. Activities – the lot of stupid, limited people. But the latter is the “norm”, and the intensified consciousness is “a
real, complete disease.” The mind forces us to rebel against the laws of nature open by modern science, the “stone wall” of which is “indubitable” only for the “dumb” immediate man. The hero of the “underground” does not agree to be reconciled to the evidence and experiences a “feeling of guilt” for the imperfect world order that causes him suffering. “Science is lying” that a person can be reduced to the intellect, an insignificant share of the “ability to live,” and “calculated” according to the “tablet.” “Hottie” is the “manifestation of all life.” Contrary to the “scientific”
“In our negative age,” the “hero” yearns for an ideal that is able to satisfy his inner “breadth.” This is not pleasure, not career and not even the “crystal palace” of the socialists, which takes the most important of the “benefits” from the person – own “desire”. The hero protests against the identification of good
and knowledge, against an unconditional belief in the progress of science and civilization. The latter “does not soften anything in us,” but only develops “the versatility of sensations,” so that pleasure is sought both in humiliation, in the “poison of unfulfilled desire,” and in someone else’s blood… For in human nature, not only the need for order, , happiness, but also – chaos, destruction, suffering. “Crystal Palace”, in which there is no last place, is untenable as an ideal, because it deprives a person of freedom of choice. And so it is better – a modern “chicken coop”, “conscious inertia”, “underground”.
But the longing for “reality”, sometimes, drove from the “corner.” One of these attempts is described in detail by the author of the notes.
At twenty-four, he served in the office and, being “terribly selfish, hypocritical and touchy,” hated and despised, “but at the same time he was afraid” of “normal” colleagues. He considered himself a “coward and slave,” as any “developed and decent man.” Dialogue with people replaced with intensified reading, at night “debauched” in “dark places”.
Once in the tavern, watching the game on the billiard, accidentally blocked the way to one officer. High and strong, he silently moved the “low and exhausted” hero to another place. “Underground” wanted to start a “correct”, “literary” quarrel, but “preferred to be embittered” for fear that they would not take him seriously. For several years he dreamed of vengeance, many times tried not to turn first when he met on Nevsky. When, finally, they “hit shoulder tightly against the shoulder”, the officer paid no attention to it, and the hero was “delighted”: he “supported the dignity, did not yield a single step and publicly placed himself with him on an equal social foot “.
The need for a man of the “underground” to occasionally “rush into society” was satisfied by single acquaintances: the chief of staff Sitochkin and the former schoolmate Simonov. During the visit to the latter, the hero learns about the forthcoming dinner in honor of one of the fellow practitioners and “enters into a share” with others. Fear of possible insults and humiliations pursues the “underground” long before dinner: after all, “reality” does not obey the laws of literature, and real people are unlikely to fulfill the roles prescribed by the dreamer in his imagination, for example, “love” him for mental superiority. At dinner he tries to offend and offend his comrades. Those in response stop noticing it. “Underground” falls into the other extreme – public self-abasement. The companions leave for the brothel without having invited him with them. Now, for “literary”, he is obliged to avenge the deported shame. For this purpose, he goes for everyone, but they have already gone to the rooms of prostitutes. He is offered Lisa.
After the “rude and shameless” “debauchery” the hero starts a conversation with the girl. She is 20 years old, she is a petty bourgeois from Riga and recently in Petersburg. Guessing her sensitivity, he decides to recoup for the transferred from his comrades: he paints before Lisa picturesque pictures of the terrible future of a prostitute, then her family happiness is inaccessible to her, entering “pathos to the point that the throat spasm itself was prepared.” And achieves the “effect”: aversion to his base life leads the girl to sobs and cramps. LEAVING, the “savior” leaves her address “misguided”. However, through “literary”, genuine pity for Lisa and shame for his “rascality” break through him.
Three days later she comes. “Disgustingly confused” the hero cynically opens to the girl the motives of his behavior, but unexpectedly meets with her hand love and sympathy. He is also touched: “They do not give me… I can not be… kind!” But soon ashamed of “weakness”, vindictively takes possession of Lisa, and for complete “triumph” – sticks in her hand five rubles, as a prostitute. Leaving, she quietly leaves money.
“Underground” admits that he wrote his memoirs with shame, And yet he “only brought life to the extreme that”, that others “did not dare to bring up to half.” He was able to abandon the vulgar goals of the surrounding society, but also the “underground” – “moral corruption.” Deep relations with people, “living life”, inspire him with fear.