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Characterization in Dead Souls by Gogol

People are characterized by their personality and actions. However, these personality traits may shed light on people’s real nature. It is especially true when speaking about Chichikov, the main character of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls. Chichikov is an average man in terms of social status. He comes to a Russian town to buy up all of the “souls” of deceased serfs that landowners have to pay taxes on to pull off a scheme to get rich. It should be noted that the way in which Gogol portrays Chichikov helps the reader better understand the character’s nature and what he wants to get in life. The author portrays Chichikov as an extremely insecure person who is incredibly misguided and constantly lies to himself.

A number of essential aspects of Chichikov’s character help the reader to shed light on his deeds and thoughts revealing the way he treats other people and the way he understands his own nature and his actions in the town. Chichikov’s clearly defined and seemingly odd mission in the town to buy up all of the available “dead souls” becomes known, and the character reacts to the rumors about his behavior in a rather revealing way. Despite his confidence, knowledge, and experience, the character becomes extremely insecure.

The rumors related to Chichikov’s behavior are numerous including different creative and interesting stories about his personality and deeds. As a result, Chichikov loses his temper and begins to psychologically unravel before trying to regain his composure. According to Gogol, “however stupid a fool’s words, they are sometimes enough to confound an intelligent man”. The author carefully crafts this sentence and the whole passage to show how easily Chichikov is brought down by seemingly innocuous words that are nothing more than mere town gossip. For a person who is confident, is able to resolve issues, and to carry out the plan to buy up all of the “dead souls” from the landowners, Chichikov is easily embarrassed by town gossips that are spread by relatively foolish people. It is a key insight into his character that shows how insecure Chichikov is in case of a conflict.

In many cases, people with as specific a goal and a plan as Chichikov are absolutely sure of the direction they are taking in life. However, examination of his characterization clearly shows that Chichikov is incredibly misguided and is not even sure of his position in the town. People who are extremely confident are often compensating for some inner weakness or flaw in their characters. Chichikov is no different as his outward confidence and seemingly determined goals help to reveal his real personality. As a result, the reader gets a good understanding of Chichikov’s sense of where he is going in life, both literally and metaphorically.

The story further shows Chichikov continues to change rapidly. The changes are not the best ones and show him as a desperate person who is misguided in life and loses his direction. This was not the old Chichikov. It was some wreckage of the old Chichikov. Gogol makes clear that Chichikov can change his life by being attentive to the problems he faces in finding his direction in life. The character is filled with wrecked versions of his old selves that are trying to guide his life. Unfortunately, it results in a confusion of goals, ideas, and directions that are pulling Chichikov apart.

In order to deal with this internal conflict that is preventing the character from having a successful life, Chichikov continuously lies to himself to hinder his real feelings and thoughts. It is evident that people tend to lie to themselves, but only to some extent. However, Chichikov appears to be lying to himself all the time. It is proven by the consistent insight into his thoughts. The story continuously portrays Chichikov as a person who often encounters moments of discomfort or conflict and repeatedly changes the decision. The decisions are conscious or subconscious and ignore the reality of his situation and live in an artificial world of his own creation. After Chichikov had confronted with some of the rumors spreading in the town, he felt foul, utterly foul. He tried not to think about it, he tried to distract himself, to enjoy himself. Chichikov’s immediate reaction to the unpleasantness of his situation is to ignore it and focus on some other aspects of life. It may be really emotionally difficult to deal with such situation as Chichikov’s, but doing nothing about his problems and choosing to focus on something else will never solve the problem. The characterization of Chichikov illustrates the destructive cycle that a person may experience in his/her life. He chooses the position not to deal with his current problems. Therefore, the character experiences even more problems.

There are many types of literary devices that the author uses to provide a reader with a better understanding of the character’s personality, his goals, and desires. However, characterization is often one of the most useful devices as it directly shows the character’s aspects and his position in life. In addition, it offers a deeper insight into the character’s mind. In the case of Chichikov, characterization helps to clearly illustrate what makes a character tick. The above-mentioned examples of characterization help the reader better understand they way Chichikov might react in any given situation as well as explain his actions. It helps to highlight not only Chichikov’s place is in the story but also his position in the real world.

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