Recently I have read Dead Souls (Мёртвые ду́ши), a novel by Nikolai Gogol. It was published in 1842, in the years before the Emancipation of the Russian serfs. As the main themes are greed and corruption, it is a highly relevant story for our times. The author approaches to perfection with the portrayal of some characters, as well as in satirical focus and funny dialogues.
- The main character is a common man, eager to gain a higher social status; the story begins at an inn, where he stops to get his strength back. After some lively descriptions of places and characters, we discover that the goal of the hero’s journey is not at all an idealistic one, and readers will be amazed as Chichikov proposes an unusual transaction.
- The reactions of landlords are really mixed and they influence the structure of the book. The madcap pursuit of money is symbolized troughout the book by the carriage roaming the roads of troubled Russia.
- The main plot thread consists of Chichikov’s visits to some small villages; he also displays his ability to gain influence in the cities he passes by. He speculates with the census, the collection of taxes and the mortgages; he looks at himself in the mirror, but lets wishful thinking cloud his judgment. At the midpoint of the story, Chichikov gets tangled up in his own plot and embarrassing situations will arise in the hilarious ball scene.
- Gogol's novel reflects a world in crisis; nevertheless, the autor does not draw a cruel satire, nor a bitter one; on the contrary, the psychology of characters leads to a self-analysis. The omnipresence of everyday life contributes to bring the novel up to date; in this sense, the narrator’s cheerful loquacity often appears in the story, moving the reader towards compassion for some characters and looking indulgently on them.
The autor points out the possibility of redemption: hardworking together in communion with Nature, the characters will achieve happiness and virtue. The final speech uttered by the Prince summarizes the moral of the story: altruistic cooperation as a solution for generalized corruption.