The Nose Questions and Answers
by Nikolai Gogol

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How do I compare and contrast "The Nose" and "The Overcoat" by Nikolai Gogol?

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Lukas Sherman, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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We all come out from Gogol's "Overcoat."—Dostoevsky

"The Overcoat," published in 1842, and "The Nose," published in 1836, are the two most famous and influential stories by the great Russian writer Nikolai Gogol (usually referred to by only his last name).

Both stories are set in St. Petersburg and feature as their protagonists low-level and rather hapless bureaucrats. In both stories, something unexpected happens to the protagonist that sets the plot in motion. In "The Nose," the main character wakes up without his nose and, even more absurd, the nose begins "living" a better life than he, while in "The Overcoat," the hero has a new coat made for him, only to have it stolen.

What the two also have in common is Gogol's tone and style, which has been described, alternately, as surreal, absurdist, and satiric. It is sometimes seen as a precursor to the magical realism of many Latin American writers. In the stories, he treats fantastic events with a matter-of-fact approach (the man from "The Overcoat" returns as a ghost), and he seems to be using these events to satirize certain aspects of Russian society, particularly the hierarchy and social mores of the local government.

A key difference is "The Nose" is a more absurdist, surreal story, while "The Overcoat" is primarily realistic until its final scenes, in which the protagonist becomes a ghost.

For more on Gogol, I'd suggest picking up fellow Russian Vladimir Nabokov's book on him.

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