“The Dead Souls” is the unfinished novel written by Nikolay Vasilievich Gogol. Published in 1842, and used as a setting point for the Russian literary realism. “The Dead Souls” consists out of three different poems, only five fragments of the second one saved, and the third one being lost completely.
Gogol was writing the first part of the novel for seven years while he was traveling Paris, Switzerland, and Rome. Due to his psychic health becoming more unstable, he burned the second part of the novel and passed away soon after.
“The Dead Souls” is a social novel, Gogol’s attempt of displaying the bureaucracy and feudal organization in Russia at his time. The main character, former toll officer Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov had to resign his job after getting caught while cooperating with some smugglers.
This novel is enlisted in realism because of the description of a modern society of the current time period, where Gogol criticizes owners of the large estates and their lifestyles and habits , all being portrayed through the character of P. I. Chichikov.
While in Balzac’s novel “Father Goriot” reader finds all about the main character at the very beginning, information about Chichikov become known at the end of the first part of this novel, where reader finds out about his origin, former occupations and how he ended becoming the collector of corpses while he wanders around Russia.
The plot is based around a couple of encounters between the main character and the other persons appearing, so this novel is often described as the adventuristic novel in which the main character is always in the search for something new.
The novel is also known for its levity and grotesque, where the narrator communicates with the readers for the whole time,explaining his choice of Chichikov for the role of the main character. The plot itself is short, easy for paraphrasing with using only a few sentences, leaving the narration dominate.
The narrator carries the main role through the novel, choosing his sentences in a way of making them more effective.
Time: First half of the 19th century
Place: small Russian towns
The novel begins when P.I. Chichikov, former toll officer accused of theft and corruption, arrives in a small town somewhere in Russia. Agile in communication with others and with highly developed social skills, he soon adapts to the new environment. He interacts with respectful citizens, attending many lunches and dinners, winning over the society of this small town. The main reason for his arrival is actually the unusual type of commerce, as Chichikov is buying “dead souls” from various members of the nobility and other powerful people.
Gogol described a time period of Russian history when the institution of serfdom still existed, so sometimes happened that the death of the serf was left unnoticed. Therefore, it could happen that some of the dead people were still considered to be alive. Chichikov provides a role of the person who asks of the owners to sell him those dead souls, as they would in return become free of paying the fees for all the dead serves.
The actual Chichikov’s intention was to establish an estate at the region where the government was selling cheap land. He needed those dead souls as he would register them as their own servants, as the way for him to get a bank loan. At the beginning, everything was as planned, and also seemed to remain so. He starts to visit the owners of the estates who he recently met during his stay in the town, followed by his assistants. One of the estate owners, Mamilov, gives him the dead souls of his serfs for free, but the widower Korobochka was tough to persuade, although she sold him her souls as well.
The arrogant and always drunk Nozdrjov was the next serf owner who sold him his part of the dead souls as well, but Chichikov got with him in a large fight and almost got beaten.
After visiting couple of more serf owners, he collected enough of “dead souls”. He managed into persuading the town authorities in providing him all the documents needed for transferring the ownership over the “dead souls”. After owning a reputation of a successful man, rumors appeared about the strange manipulations following his purchases. He leaves town in a hurry, avoiding to get arrested and tries on repeating in some other town.
This time, he befriends some of the real estate owners, and even lives at one’s house. He spent some time trying to reconcile the Tentyonikov and Betrischev who were in a fight. Chichikov also wanted to marry Betrischev’s daughter Ulinka. His schemes become revealed in the same way as before, resulting Chichikov ending imprisoned because of falsifying a testament. He gets saved from prison with the help of a local wealthy man Morozov, and the story ends when Chichikov enters in a carriage.
Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov
The main character of the novel “The Dead Souls” around who the entire plot takes place. Despite other character being mentioned throughout the novel as well, their role is only to enhance the importance of Chichikov, by additionally describing his character.
Compared with the other novels where the main characters often being both positive and negative, Chichikov is described as an anti-hero, similar to the real-life persons. He realizes he will realize his dreams using unfair and dishonest methods, hoping he won’t end up being caught.
Chichikov is a former toll officer who got fired due to his illegal actions of theft, so he has to find a new way of earning. Unscrupulous and immoral by nature, he decides on becoming an honorable member of society with the help of the latest fraud he invented.
He was aware of the fact he will have to start his life over in a smaller town, but he gained a huge amount of confidence in his social skills, soon succeeding in tricking many of the serf owners.
Although justice remains to be slow sometimes, Chichikov almost got caught eventually so he runs away from town as a way of avoiding imprisonment. Despite those events, he starts over with his scheme, only changing the town and people involved.
At the end of the novel, he finally ends in jail, but still finds a way of getting out. Although the novel hasn’t been finished, it is presumed Chichikov remains in his efforts of gaining wealth and social acknowledgment in an unfair manner.
Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol Biography
Nikolaj Vasilievich Gogol is a founder of a Russian realism. He is born at 31st of March, 1809, in a town of Veliki Sorochinci, Ukraine, who was a part of a great Russian Empire at that time.
At the end of his education, at the age 19, he leaves for Petersburg where he becomes a clerk after trying a lot of different jobs, including acting as well.
After several years of working for the government,he decided to change his career path, becoming a history teacher in a school for ladies, working as a private tutor at the same time.
He publishes his first book of stories, “Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka”, soon becoming popular among the writers and becoming a close friend of Pushkin. In 1835. he publishes yet another book of stories, “Mirgorod”, with one of the stories being named “Taras Bulba”. That story becomes a theme for his novel,published under the same name in 1842. That same year he also publishes “Arabesque”, a book of essays and stories, beginning his cycle of “Peterburgian tales”, including the famous short stories ” The Nose” and “The Overcoat”.
The comedy “The Government Inspector” in 1836. becomes a huge success, often thought that the inspiration for that comedy and the novel “The Dead Souls” came from his friend Pushkin, originally imagined as a trilogy, modeled upon the Dante’s “Divine Comedy”.
The first part of the “The Dead Souls” are actually representing the hell, with the second part being destroyed after a decade of work by Gogol himself when he became a religious fanatic. He even traveled to Palestine as a pilgrim in 1848. It is considered that he burnt the second part of the novel influenced by one priest. Gogol dies at 4th of March, 1852.