Petrushka as an Underlying Character of Gogol''s Nozdrev: the Moving Force of the Plot in Dead Souls

Galina Patterson, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Nozdrev's character represents the author's improvisation on Petrushka's theme with the incorporation of several marked features of the Russian puppet. Petrushka's essence in Nozdrev accounts for his subversiveness and for a special place that he occupies among other characters of Dead Souls. Many of the connections between Petrushka and Nozdrev are implicit but a close reading of both characters allows one to detect these oblique links which shed a new light on Nozdrev's role in Dead Souls. Nozdrev of Gogol''s Dead Souls spends most of his time at the fairs with the balagany, and he himself becomes shaped by this balagan spirit. In his turn, he serves as a conductor of this spirit in Dead Souls. His name stands, first of all, for monstrous lies, coarse jokes, scandals, intrigues, chaos, beatings, swearing, and debasement.

On the level of the plot, one can find almost all the components of the Petrushka shows in Nozdrev's actions. Gogol', however, does not use those ingredients in the same proportions or, rather, he substitutes them for similar components. In my paper I will show that Nozdrev incorporates almost all the main themes of Petrushka theater into his actions.

The balagan spirit absorbed by Nozdrev at the fairground is transformed into an elemental force that pushes many events in Dead Souls to their culminating point. Nozdrev's buffoonery becomes a device which creates tension and propels the plot. Thus Nozdrev embodies not only a destructive force, but a creative one as well. His impetuous nature strives to overturn the status quo in order to create his own "story," which leads to chaos and disorder.

Nozdrev, who initiated and then significantly provoked Chichikov's downfall, finalizes it by compelling Chichikov to flee the town of N. He wants to ruin Chichikov's plans only for his love of absurdity and theatrical effects. It is difficult to find any logic in Nozdrev's behavior, since he does not reap any personal gain from his foolish tricks. Nozdrev does have a definite goal -- to create constant confusion. To do so, Nozdrev has to act against all rules, or illogically, and on many occasions he shows himself to be a master of nonsense. He is a creator of farcical texts and a skillful improviser. But it is precisely Nozdrev's aggressive nonsensical behavior that starts and finishes the process of Chichikov's victimization.