(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator, Ivan Ivanovich, is a disgruntled, unsuccessful writer who has had one novel and numerous journalistic columns rejected. He earns his living by translating from French and by writing advertisements. He is proud, resents his lack of success, and broods about his rejection. His anguished mental condition brought about by his intense feelings of inferiority leads others to regard him as insane. He himself acknowledges that something strange is happening to him. He complains of headaches and sees and hears strange visions and sounds. He is haunted by an enigmatic sound—“bobok.” In order to distract himself, he attends the funeral of a distant relative, where he is treated haughtily, adding to his humiliation and resentment. After the funeral he remains in the cemetery, sits down on a tombstone, and becomes lost in reflection. He lies on a long stone shaped like a coffin and begins to hear muffled voices coming from the earth below. As he listens, he distinguishes various voices of the dead: the weighty, dignified voice of Major General Vasily Vasilevich Pervoedov; the saccharine, ingratiating voice of the court councillor Semyon Evseich Lebezyatnikov; the masculine, plebeian voice of a shopkeeper; the haughty voice of the irritable lady, Avdotya Ignatyevna; the frightened voice of a deceased youth; the lisping, peevishly imperious voice of the privy councillor, Tarasevich; the insolent, gentlemanly voice of Baron Pyotr Petrovich Klinevich; the cracked, giggling, girlish voice of the young Catiche Besetova; and the bass voice of an engineer. While listening to the conversations, Ivan realizes that the life of the dead resembles the life of the living:...

(The entire section is 681 words.)