Dead Souls Summary – Gogol

Dead Souls Summary - Gogol
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“Dead Souls” is the unfinished novel by Russian novelist and playwright Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol, who had Ukrainian origins. The first volume of the novel was completed in 1842, but the work as a whole was never finished.

Summary of Dead Souls Book

In Nikolai Gogol’s novel “Dead Souls,” a wanderer named Chichikov, a mid-level bureaucrat, is desperate to make a fortune. Rather than using traditional methods, he aims to become wealthy by purchasing deceased peasants since the last census and thereby mortgaging the “dead souls” living only on paper. In each chapter of the story, Gogol’s intrusive, digressive narrator provides comments on each character, the structure of the text, and the appropriateness of Chichikov as a hero. The narrator frequently adds metaliterary analysis, offering insights into the author’s choices, fate, and responsibilities.

In the first part of the novel “Dead Souls,” Chichikov meets many landowners, providing scenes that illuminate the conditions of Russia’s landowning aristocracy. Initially, most nobles in the town view Chichikov as a trustworthy and appealing person, and his plan progresses relatively smoothly. The dreamy Manilov is easily captivated by Chichikov’s courtesy, while the cunning Sobakevich sees Chichikov’s plan as a money-making scheme. Nozdryov’s servants nearly beat Chichikov, but due to Nozdryov’s arrest, Chichikov is spared.

Cruel and capricious Nozdryov refuses to collaborate as a complicated liar and addicted gambler. When Emma shows too much interest in the governor’s daughter at a ball, Nozdryov loudly declares to everyone that Chichikov wants to buy dead souls from everyone, causing concern for Chichikov. The nobles worry and are preoccupied with rumors about the newcomer’s identity and intentions—Chichikov might elope with the governor’s daughter or be a government spy. They understand neither Chichikov’s identity nor the nature of the project, which harshly comments on the Russian nobility’s failure to look beyond appearances or their own concerns.

The narrator outlines Chichikov’s long career of confidence games and smuggling activities, fueled by a lifetime dream of becoming rich and leading a comfortable life. Taking on the author’s voice, the narrator defends the choice of morally flawed hero as a suitable literary subject and associates Chichikov’s expedition with Russia.

In the second part, Chichikov continues his quest, possibly in present-day Ukraine. With utopian dreams and high ideals that are almost unattainable, he meets an idealistic nobleman, Tentetnikov. Despite mocking the young man, Chichikov eventually brings him together with the woman he loves, as the woman’s father, a prominent general, will help Chichikov acquire even more corpse of dead peasants.

Chichikov wonders if there could be more to life than his plans for quick wealth. Admiring the luxurious estate of Konstantin Konstanzhglo, a mansion he works on with the hope of becoming a landowner himself, Chichikov borrows money. A plan involving a fake will quickly goes awry, but Chichikov strikes a deal with a more corrupt lawyer.

When the Tsar’s general governor arrests Chichikov, Murazov, a moral and honest monopolist of alcoholic beverages, offers Chichikov a deal promising to truly change his life and abandon his pursuit of wealth. Chichikov accepts, but in the end, his lawyer secures his release from prison. The general governor agrees to let Chichikov leave the town, and the narrator suggests that Chichikov might still reform himself.

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