Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Many of Gogol’s stories have such a contemporary ring to them that it is easy to forget that they were written a century and a half ago about a culture that had neither the industrial nor the urban attributes that are supposed to account for some of the characteristic themes and styles of modern fiction. Like many of his stories, Gogol’s “The Diary of a Madman” studies how individual selves become alienated from the societies that are supposed to support them. This modern-day motif is developed with an equally modernistic approach to narrative style. In this story, Gogol explores alienation by studying its effects on an individual consciousness. Readers are eased into the conflict by being allowed to experience directly the narrator’s twisted thoughts. Like many moderns, Gogol avoids the comforts of a realistic plot and a detached, objective narration. Instead, he plunges his readers into a worldview in which the fantasies, projections, and hallucinations of the narrator are treated as if they were as “real” as the setting, the commentary of other characters, or the incidents of the plot.

Gogol, however, is a bit gentler on his readers than many moderns. He eases them into the fantastic and implausible patterns of perception characteristic of his narrator by starting them off with a relatively “sane” speaker who is keeping an apparently “sane” diary. Because Gogol’s interest is in showing how sanity can dissolve under societal...

(The entire section is 540 words.)