Nikolai Gogol has been defined as both a Romantic and a Realist. Romantics tended to focus upon the individual, imagination, the power of nature, and dreams. Realists, on the other hand, tended to depict life as it was (without sugarcoating life's trials and tribulations). Realists desired to show life from an objective point of view, as it was without interference.
Gogol's writings tended to be a mix of the two. Although illustrating life in a very realistic way, his works leaned toward a desire to change life as its characters knew it. Essentially, character's lives, portrayed in a realistic way (realism), needed to be refocused in order for them to find what they needed in life to succeed or be happy (romantic).
One main point to bring up is that Gogol's works have been defined as Realistic by other writers of his period and Romantic by critics who followed him. This contradiction can be illustrated by the fact that other writers of the period (like Alexander Pushkin and Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy) were defined as Russian "Golden Era" writers. These writers focused upon life as it was, not as it could be beautified. Although realistic, the language of authors, such as Gogol, tended to be image ridden and romantic.