How does Gogol use language to articulate his ideas about Russian society in his short story?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of Gogol's primary concerns in the story is the ability the Russian social obsession with status.  The narrator is going insane for several reasons.  One of them is that he is on the lower end of the social spectrum, seeking to be on a higher plane.  The narrator uses this as part of his rationalization:  “High officers, they get all the best things in this world. You discover a crumb of happiness, you reach out for it and then along comes a high official and snatches it away.”  The "high officers" and "crumb of happiness" are examples of language that Gogol employs to articulate the condition that infects so much of  Russian society.  There is an obsession with "high officers" and exalted status, a drive for one to become something more than they are.  This is what helps to drive the narrator insane.  The idea of being the King of Spain, being victim to an international plot, and using others' envy as seeking to explain the reasons for his unhappiness are all reflective of a condition where individuals find more value in occupying an elevated position in social hierarchy.  The language that Gogol has the narrator use helps to reflect this challenge in modern Russian society, where insanity results out of a compulsion to be seen as more than how one is seen.

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