A look at Liza from Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground.
Prostitutes are not an uncommon sight in Saint Petersburg. They are easily discernable by their lack of clothing. Prostitutes can also be identified by their demeanor. They are characterized by their world weary and cynical attitudes. They have spent a lifetime being treated as objects, and over time have broken down. There is, however, an exception to this rule. I recently heard of a prostitute named Liza who does not fit the mold of her coworkers. While her coworkers are cynical, Liza retains an almost naïve innocence. While others have been broken down by their profession, Liza remains strong and proud.
When I met with Liza, I was taken aback by her appearance. While she was dressed like a prostitute in her revealing outfit, she was not sullen or downcast. Instead she greeted me with bright eyes and a warm smile. I was struck by how young she looked. Prostitutes usually seem to age very quickly, yet here was a woman who appeared almost childlike. She was a beautiful young woman as well. Unlike many of her coworkers she appeared to take care of herself as best she could. She managed to look almost angelic despite the clothes she was wearing. When I complemented her, she simply blushed. It was no wonder that Liza was gaining so much recognition and popularity among her clients.
It is not simply Liza’s features that make her stand out. I sought her out for an interview because of her reputation for compassion. I have received reports from numerous people detailing Liza’s caring nature. I hear she actually takes a genuine interest in her clients. I sat down and began the interview.
“How do you feel about your profession and the people you meet?” I asked her.
“It can be a hard job, but I do what I can,” she replied. “There are other people struggling out there too. It just seems like listening to them and trying to help is the right thing for me to do.”
“Many other prostitutes feel bad about themselves because of what they do. Have you ever faced similar problems with your self esteem?”
“Oh no, I feel very good about myself,” she answered. “Just because this is my job doesn’t make me any less of a person. I realize that when people say mean things about me they are often unhappy with themselves.”
“Can you give an example of a time this has happened?”
“There was one man I met who had constant mood swings. First he would insult me and tell me I was going to be used up and die, and then he would act as if he pitied me and wanted to rescue me. I could tell from his erratic personality changes that he was a deeply troubled man, and I did my best to help him. I even went and visited him, but he had another outbreak while I was there. He started insulting me again and then he even tried to give me money for having come to visit. Of course I couldn’t accept the money, and I just left. I honestly feel sorrier for that man than I ever could for myself.”
“You’ve shown a remarkable amount of fortitude,” I told her. “But where does it all come from? Have you had a role model to look up to?”
Liza reached into her pocket and showed me a letter she had brought. “This letter is what helps me get through the days,” she told me. “It reminds me that I am a good and desirable woman. A medical student sent it and professed his love for me. If a man like him can love me then I obviously have some worth. Whenever I need reminding of that fact I can just look at the letter.”
Liza’s life is unlike that of any other prostitute in Saint Petersburg. She has remained proud and strong rather than letting her profession take her dignity away. She has faced more diversity in her life than most, but thanks to a simple gesture of love in the past she maintains her self esteem. Her continuous attempt to connect on a meaningful level with others reveals that she is not truly a prostitute like the others around Saint Petersburg, but a courageous woman.
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