What are the major themes of "Diary of a Madman"?  

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some of the most prominent themes in Gogol's "Diary of a Madman" are insanity, writing and government bureaucracy. The theme of insanity is fairly evident in that the story is the record of Poprishchin's descent into madness brought about by the criticism he encounters at his job as well as by his insatiable yearning for the beautiful daughter of a senior official.

The importance of writing to an individual's life and happiness is also addressed in this story. First, Poprishchin makes his living by writing. Second, it is in writing that he records his heartbreak and yearning and through which he chronicles his mental decline. Richard Gregg notes in 'Gogol's "Diary of a Madman": The Fallible Scribe and the Sinister Bulge' (Vassar College), writing was a defining feature of Poprishchin's social class and an inability to do it well hampered one's chances of livelihood as well as one's social esteem.

There were decidedly times at which the bureaucracy to which Poprishchin answered was not at all pleased with his writing abilities, and Gregg also notes that the "brutal dressing down" he receives "clearly affected him." This story is Gogol's satire upon what was known as the "petty officialdom" of St. Petersburg during the period of the 1830s. This satire links into Poprishchin's effort to establish his identity when his yearnings are thwarted and his best efforts are brutalized with disrespect and disdain.