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Digression In Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls

1744 words - 7 pages

Nikolai Gogol's masterpiece novel, Dead Souls, remains faithful to the Gogolian tradition in terms of absurdity, lavish detail, and abundant digressions. Although these three literary techniques coexist, interact, and augment each other-the focus of this analysis is to examine how Gogol (or the narrator) deviates from the plotline, the significance of it, and what aesthetic purpose comes from the digression.

Although Gogol's marriage to elaboration is at times strenuous-in fact, it is the underlying reason why impatient readers dislike his work-it serves as a function of tone. The author's excruciating amount of detail is a quirk of the narrator. "They turn up when least expected, and by means of their complete departure from the them, they produce a skillful retardation in the flow of the narrative (Setchkarev, 190)." Considering other characters and situations from the Gogolian tradition, it is not unusual that the author/narrator's voice is somewhat like that of a madman. The syntax and attention to detail in the following passage from Dead Souls is exemplary of Gogol's eccentric style and tone:

"As soon as the lady agreeable in all respects learnt of the arrival of the agreeable lady, she at once came running into the hall. The ladies clutched each other by the hands, exchanged kisses and cried out as do girls from a boarding-school who happen to meet soon after their schooldays are over but before their mothers have had time to explain to them that the father of one is poorer and of lower rank than that of the other. The kisses had a smack to them and made the dogs bark again, and for this they were spanked with a handkerchief (192)."

Arguably, the inclusion of the sound of kisses and the barking of the dogs is superfluous detail. Without it, however, the audience would not get the effect of the narrator's quirky livelihood. In this example, Gogol also seems to make a satirical statement about social class. Clearly, the young women are very close friends, yet there are expected to break their friendship upon learning the inequity of their father's social and financial situation.

Setchkarev comments on Gogol's digression as an aesthetic technique rather than as fuel for the plotline.
"It is evident that Gogol's main concern is not to use style to emphasize the important elements, since at times the most significant things are tossed off in passing as ironic asides, while on the other hand, magnificently constructed, gradually intensified sentences sometimes lead in the end to the statement of something meaningless (187)."

Although there are many excellent examples of "meaningless" digressions throughout Dead Souls, an interesting one can be found in Chapter Seven. The narrator imagines an elaborate, hypothetical scene between the reader (as a runaway serf) and a captain.

"'And why did you steal that soldier's coat?' the captain demands, cursing you again. 'And the trunk with copper coins you took from the...

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