September 12, 2010
BRIC – Nikolai Gogol
Professor Brian Seitz
Russians Know Crisis, Money & Women
This is not the new James Bond movie. This is a literary analysis of the novel Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol published in 1842. Gogol’s literary work depicts rural life through the adventures of our “hero” Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov in the 1800’s. This character’s main goal isto attain as much dead souls as possible. Souls are all those serfs that during the 1800’s were the slaves and property of land owners. In this satire of Russian life our hero is a great con artist that found a loophole in the system. When slaves die, the land owners are still obliged to pay taxes as if they were alive until the next census. So according to the documents, slaves are dead until thefollowing census. The goal of Chichikov is to acquire as many dead souls as he can get his hands on, and therefore appear to be a powerful landlord that owns several hundreds of slaves. This analysis illustrates the idea of Chichikov and Russian men to get rich and married, fast and easy. Furthermore, the author draws a parallel between this, and Russia’s attempts to expand and change. Chichicovis like the Russian nation, always on a race to become the greatest without difficulty, constantly having fallbacks and without learning from their experiences.
Russian men are the base of the nation. This country has been a male dominant nation for a really long time and in Dead Souls, Gogol illustrates how men were back in the 1800’s. According to Gogol, Russian men were divided in two kinds,the slim ones, who kept mincing around the ladies, and the fat ones.
“These [fat ones] were the distinguished officials of the town. Alas! the fat know better than the slim how to handle their affairs in this world. The slim serve mostly on special missions, or else more nominally, and shift about here and there; their existence is somehow too light, airy, and altogether unreliable. Whereas thefat never occupy indirect positions, but always direct ones, and once they sit somewhere, they sit reliably and firmly, so that the position will sooner creak and sag under them than they will fall off of it.”(Gogol 11)
By analyzing the quote, it becomes evident that Gogol puts emphasis on the physical aspects of the society’s men and yet the aspect itself becomes a symbol of the men’s statuswithin their society. Obesity and slimness are ways of depicting a man’s way of living which in Dead Souls are seen in several ways such that slim men were considered unreliable. It is interesting how the narrator considers that fat men are wise and therefore are more suited to be in higher positions. The narrator does not elude the possibility that wise men that get higher positions become fat andnot the other way around. In the past the weight of a man could be attributed to his wealth and position, since they had more money to purchase food and perform less manual labor. Lower classes were slim because of limited access to food and plenty manual labor. Russian men were very self conscious about their class and appearance, therefore their appearance and way of living was closely tied totheir class.
Our hero was neither fat nor slim and in the dinner when choosing with which group he should sit with, Chichikov obviously preferred the fat ones. He was seeking to establish relationships with wealthy men in order to accomplish his goal of purchasing dead souls. Establishing relationships with unknown Russian aristocrats is not an easy task, but Chichikov was a great con artist andhe knew how to get around. He made people around him feel comfortable and said the right things at the right time. The following is a description of the impression he made on towns people after the dinner.
“The newcomer was somehow never at a loss and showed himself to be an experienced man of the world. Whatever the conversation, he always knew how to keep up his end: if the talk was of horse...