‘The Nose’ by Nikolai Gogol

Gogol, Nikolai 1836

The Nose by Nikolai Gogol, 1836

The magic trick:

Balancing conceptual symbolism and comedy

Typically, when an artist elects to use bold symbolism and conceptual commentary, they are trading in the chance at comedy (at least unintentional comedy). High pretension simply doesn’t blend well with a down-to-earth sense of humor. Somehow though, Gogol is able to achieve both simultaneously.

Consider that in “The Nose,” Gogol does all this: totally distorts the reader’s sense of realistic expectation, makes very serious critiques of a society based on superficial status symbols, and distances himself from the whole thing by throwing in funny asides in which the narrator basically says, “Wow, this whole story is really silly.”

It’s a wonderful tone – like Twain, Chekhov and Kafka rolled into one. And that’s quite a trick on Gogol’s part.

The selection:

Poor Kovalev felt almost demented. The astounding event left him utterly at a loss. For how could the nose which had been on his face but yesterday, and able then neither to drive nor to walk independently, now be going about in uniform?

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