Monday, December 3, 2012

Russian Literature Essay

Essay on Russian Literature

Stylistic and Thematic evaluation and/or comparison of Nikolai Gogol’s „The Overcoat” and Fedor Dostoevsky’s „The Dream of the Ridiculous Man”
The following essay paper is going to concentrate on the two great masterpieces „The Overcoat” and „The Dream of the Ridiculous Man” written by Nikolai Gogol and Fedor Dostoevsky. The aim of the paper would be to analyze each of the works separately and then compare and contrast them. It is important to point out that the works of Gogol and Dostoevsky can be compared and contrasted because the writings of these authors usually have many themes in common. Both of these writers are well known mystics, who with the help of their stories describe and deride human characteristics in a way that makes the reader shiver at times. In fact, it is even said that Nikolai Gogol stands at the inventor of the Russian short story, and Fedor Dostoyevsky noted that all Russian short story writers had based their works on Gogol’s „Overcoat”.

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I would like to start with the analysis of the short story by Nikolai Gogol, called „Shinel“ („The Overcoat“) that is often named to be one of the greatest works of the Russian literature. In the „Overcoat” Gogol manages to combine realism and fantasy, comedy and tragedy, grotesque and sentimentality. The story dwells about Akaky Akakyevich a clerk living in a small city who discovers that his overcoat has become worn out and decides to take it to the tailor in order to fix it. However, the tailor proclaims that the overcoat is so worn-out that it is impossible to get it fixed. After wrangling with himself Akaky decides that there is not other way out of the situation except for buying a new coat. From the first pages of the novel it is seen that Gogol does not feel sympathy to his main character, on the contrary it seems that the author takes pleasure in describing how pathetic poor clerk is. In order to make the character unforgettable, Gogol apply metaphors, and hyperbolas, spicing the novel up with witty sarcasm.

The new overcoat Akaky purchases, becomes the central part of the story after the introductory part. This is so, because for poor Akaky a new overcoat is not simply a garment, for him it is a key to the future happiness. The author places the garment in the centre of the story for several purposes, partly to emphasize how important material things to people are, and partly to one more time humiliate Akaky and show that he is pathetic to the extent that he is in awe in front of the overcoat. In order to emphasize the latter, Gogol describes in detail the day new overcoat is purchased. That day Akaky feels on top of the world, he believes that the new overcoat will change the way he is perceived by other people, will make them respect and honor him, will make him a desirable bachelor and a  frequent guest. Wearing a new coat Akaky begins to walk the streets of the town like a new man, in fact, maybe like a man for the first time.

When the overcoat is stolen Akaky is head over heels in sorrow, he seeks help to recover the overcoat. The style, in which Nikolai Gogol describes the happening with the overcoat, is interesting. That is probably the only time in the novel when an attentive reader may feel that the author is to some extent pitiful towards the poor clerk. However, when Akaky starts looking for help and decides to go to the police where he is immediately turned down, the style and voice of the author gets more sarcastic. When after police Akaky turns to an „important personage”, that latter also refuses to help him, reminding him only about the laws of etiquette, and how inappropriate it was to come there without a prior documental complaint – Gogol’s tone is changed for good. The reader cannot feel any sympathy with the character anymore. That is why, when towards the end of the book, unable to bear the vicissitudes of fate Akaky comes down with flu and dies, we do not sympathize the Akaky at all.

After his death a ghost resembling Akaky wonders around the city stealing overcoats. This is the first time Gogol’s famous mysticism appears in the essay. It was very common for Gogol to apply the literary tools used for putting non-living things to life. Akaky ghost is wondering around the city stealing people’s overcoats. The ghost does things that his counterpart did not every do during his life. After Akaky’s death Gogol seems to be very enthusiastic and brightly describes the actions of the ghost and the horror it causes to people. This stylistic change, in my opinion, is used to again show how „little” Akaky was. 

This poignant story shows us the social injustice in the 19th century Russia. It shows the urban alienation and human isolation. Though his story, Gogol is trying to attract the attention to the fact that in today’s world bureaucracy has become more important than human life. Gogol also points out that in the corrupt society a person is no one, and will not be assisted by anyone unless he has money or connections. However, what is unclear whether Gogol would like to reader to sympathize with the fate of the poor clerk or whether one should regard this story as something funny. In my opinion, such ambiguity lets every reader form his/her opinion on this question.

„The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” by Fedor Dostoevsky is a short story that is in fact the last story Dostoevsky has ever written. This story is about a dreamer whose life changes after a series of encounters in his dream. The story begins, with the protagonist who is never named, planning his suicide. From the first minute the reader sees that the novel is very philosophical and deep. The language used by Dostoevsky is very advanced and the metaphors he employs are at times hard to grasp. The reader immediately sees that the protagonist is man of thinking, he tends to constantly be analyzing his life and deeds as well as the life and actions of others. He is willing to see the motives behind what the people do. On the verge of committing suicide he meets a crying child that turns to him, however, the protagonist pushes her away. Though, thinking about what he has done he realizes that he himself is selfish and cruel, these thoughts destruct him from suicide and give him a chance to sleep peacefully the first time in months.

While he sleeps, he experiences a wild dream. He dreams as though he has been taken to a different planet where there are absolutely different people. All those people are kind and loving, gentle and pure, in their world there is not place for cruelty and disgrace. This is the time in the novel when Dostoevsky first time introduces his religious beliefs. Actually, religion, though indirectly, is one of the major topics in the novel. When the perfect people learn of shame and poverty they become totally different.  The story shows us that people who have been living in the perfect world of love and care go through different stages that bring them to the place where we are right now. Soon, it becomes obvious to the reader that these „new people” that appear in the dream race, are actually, we – the people of today.

Before long the dreamer (the protagonist) understands that he no longer loves the people on the new planet. He sees that those people are slowly becoming the people he wanted to run away from when living on planet Earth. Though, the dreamer understands that now that these people know what sorrow is he loves them even more than he used to when they lived in the Garden of Eden. The above part of the novel again introduces Dostoevsky’s outlook on God and Godliness. For his God is almightily, though generous, thus the way protagonist did not stop loving people when they change, same way God will always love humans.

One may say that the above stories „The Overcoat” and „The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” have nothing it common. I realize that such opinion may exist, though only on the surface. Though in a different way, but Gogol and Dostoevsky touch upon the same topics that are, in reality, still relevant today.  One topic that both works have in common is the idea that society is a deception that is composed of hypocritical people and unjust institutions. The authors show that people have become slaves of bureaucrats and money-seeking officials. Moreover, when being put on the scales, the human life weights nothing in comparison with monetary or statutory advances.

However, it is very important to mention that the two prominent works present the main character and his life completely differently. In the „Overcoat” it is shown that Akaky becomes able to see the world around him only when he pulls his funds together and purchases an overcoat – that for him is a ticket to the new life. Though, after the overcoat is stolen Akaky, who has put all of himself into this garment, is destroyed. On the contrary, in the „Dream of a Ridiculous Man”, the protagonist is not victim, neither he is humiliated. The knowledge he has acquired from him dream has changed him, has made him a completely different person. His dream gave him a chance to live a different life, though when the dream was over and the „other life” was gone he did not go down and out. Quite the opposite, the first thing he did upon awakening was he helped the child he neglected before, and later became a preacher. So, both of protagonists are fighting with society, though while Akaky is destroyed, the dreamer leaves the battle undefeated.

In conclusion I would like to say that both of the works analyzed above are indeed the masterpieces of world literature. These two works are filled with deep symbolism and feelings. Both the novels deal with the topics that can be related to each other, such as the loneliness of a human being in the world, the abuse of power by bureaucrats, the cruelty and ambiguity of the modern world. The style the novels are written in differs greatly, primarily because their authors had explicitly dissimilar writing styles. While Gogol is usually very light, satirical, and bright, Dostoevsky is very philosophical and gloomy. Additionally, while Dostoevsky’s novel is rather Godly, Gogol chooses to employ the devil forces, such as a haunted overcoat. Another great discrepancy between the two novels lays in the way authors see their main characters. While for Nikolai Gogol the sad story of Akakiy is amusing, for Fedor Dostoevsky his ridiculous man is not at all comical. Conclusively, while dealing with related subjects, two novels take a different perspective on the human life and the world around us.

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