Dead Souls Study Guide

Dead Souls

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

Dead Souls is an incomplete prose poem by Nikolai Gogol published in 1942. The novel satirizes elements of Russian society, especially the middle class and landowners, and contains themes of greed, pettiness, deception and the Russian national identity. The story follows Chichikov, a non-descript traveler who goes from town to town on an absurd quest to buy up "dead souls"--the names of serfs who have died but have not yet been reported dead in the census.

Of all Gogol's creations, Chichikov stands out as the incarnation of poshlost . His psychological leitmotiv is complacency, and his geometrical expression roundness.

The other characters— the squires Chichikov visits on his shady business — are typical "humors" (for Gogol's method of comic character drawing, with its exaggerations and geometrical simplification, is strongly reminiscent of Ben Jonson's).

Sobakevich, the strong, silent, economical man, square and bearlike; Manilov, the silly sentimentalist with pursed lips; Mme Korobochka, the stupid widow; Nozdryov, the cheat and bully, with the manners of a hearty good fellow— are all types of eternal solidity.

Plyushkin, the miser, stands apart, for in him Gogol sounds a note of tragedy— he is the man ruined by his "humor"; he transcends poshlost , for in the depth of his degradation he is not complacent but miserable; he has a tragic greatness. The lamentful description of Plyushkin's garden was hailed by Nabokov as the pinnacle of Gogol's art.

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