Study Guide

The Nose

by Nikolai Gogol

The Nose Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“A most extraordinary thing happened in St. Petersburg on the twenty-fifth of March.” Ivan Yakovlevich, a Russian barber in St. Petersburg, wakes up in his house and prepares to eat the breakfast prepared by his wife. As he cuts into a fresh loaf of bread, he finds a human nose inside. Although confused and distraught by the discovery, the barber recognizes the nose as that of Collegiate Assessor Platon Kuzmich Kovalyov, a government clerk whom he shaves every Wednesday and Sunday. Fearing his wife’s wrath and further complications, Ivan Yakovlevich gets dressed and goes out with the idea of disposing of the nose. The streets are crowded, however, and there is little opportunity to get rid of his grotesque burden, which he has wrapped in a rag. He finally manages to throw the nose into the Neva River, but as luck would have it, he has been observed by a police inspector, who summons him to explain why he was on the bridge. Here, the story continues, “the incident becomes completely shrouded in a fog and it is really impossible to say what happened next.”

On the same morning in March, Kovalyov, a bachelor, wakes up in his St. Petersburg apartment and immediately goes to the mirror to check a pimple that had appeared on his nose the previous evening. Instead of a nose with a blemish, he sees only “a completely empty, flat spot” on his face where his nose had been.

Kovalyov dresses and goes out with intention of reporting his loss to the police. As he is making his way to the police station, he notices a gentleman in a gold-braided uniform jump out of a carriage and enter a private house. This gentleman is none other than Kovalyov’s nose, dressed as a State Councillor, a rank three degrees higher than Collegiate Assessor. A few minutes later, the Nose/State Councillor comes out from the house and drives to a nearby cathedral, with Kovalyov in pursuit. Inside the cathedral, Kovalyov sees the Nose saying his prayers and decides to confront him (or it), in spite of the protocol involved in addressing a civil servant of a higher rank. When Kovalyov finally musters enough courage and presence of mind to speak to the pious Nose, he can only blurt out the obvious: “You are my nose, sir!” The Nose, in turn, rebuffs any such suggestion by insisting, “My dear fellow, you are mistaken. I am myself.”

Kovalyov does not know what to think or say, but at this moment he is distracted by a slim young girl in a white dress and straw-colored hat who is standing near him in the congregation. Kovalyov smiles at this “spring flower” with “semi-transparent fingers” and “dazzling white chin,” but suddenly realizes that he is exposing his noseless face to the young beauty and retreats.

While Kovalyov is engrossed with the unknown girl, the Nose leaves the church. Kovalyov gives chase but loses the Nose in the crowd on Nevsky Prospect. Afraid that his quarry will slip out of town, Kovalyov goes for help to the Police Commissioner’s house, but finding the official out for the evening, he decides to go the newspaper office to place a “missing nose” advertisement. At first the newspaper clerk...

(The entire section is 1288 words.)

The Nose Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Much has been made of the “nose” theme in Gogol’s work “The Nose.” American writer Vladimir Nabokov, in his interpretation, rejects the Freudian view that, in Gogol’s topsy-turvy world, the nose represents a misplaced phallus, and that his literary fixation on noses, sneezes, snuff, stinks, scents, and the like evidences his own uncertain sense of sexual identity. Instead, Nabokov attributes Gogol’s “olfactivism” to a general nasal consciousness in the Russian culture that was made more acute in Gogol’s work because of the peaked prominence of his own nose. Whatever the origin, Gogol’s tale is “verily a hymn to that organ.”

St. Petersburg barber Ivan Yakovlevich awakes to find a nose baked into his breakfast bread. He recognizes the nose as that of his recent customer, Major Platon Kovalyov, a collegiate assessor in the municipal government. Harangued by his wife, he seeks to dispose of the nose by wrapping it in a cloth and throwing it into the water below the Isaac Bridge. He is observed in this act, however, by a policeman. Kovalyov awakens, looks in the mirror, and notices that his nose is missing. He is most upset about this, so he covers his face with a handkerchief and walks out onto Nevsky Prospect to seek aid. His sense of embarrassment prevents him from approaching anyone, however, and his discomfiture is greatly increased when, in front of a confectionary shop, he encounters his nose exiting a carriage. Since his nose is wearing the uniform of an official of higher rank than his, Kovalyov importunes the nose...

(The entire section is 638 words.)