Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 909

The story is purportedly a chapter of a biography of the great nineteenth century Russian writer, Nikolai Vassilevitch Gogol. The supposed biographer, Foma Paskalovitch, begins suspensefully by pointing out that he is about to relate something about Gogol’s wife that is so scandalous as to cause him to hesitate revealing it. After this suspenseful beginning, the narrator reveals that Gogol’s “wife” was actually a life-size balloon in the form of a woman. The plot’s exposition consists of a description of the inflatable doll and two incidents in which the biographer, who was apparently close to Gogol, observed the “wife.”

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

What distinguishes the inflatable doll is that with each inflation it takes on a different form, depending on the amount of air pressure that is filling out its anatomy. It can never be made to look the same way again once it is deflated. To give even greater variety to the appearances of the doll, Gogol has a number of different wigs and shades of makeup with which he ornaments it. Thus, the doll can be made to conform, more or less, to the desires and tastes of Gogol with each inflation. From time to time, when the doll has taken on a form especially pleasing to Gogol, he falls in love with that form “exclusively,” and maintains it in that form until he falls out of love. After a few years of living with the doll, Gogol bestows a name on it, Caracas.

It is to demonstrate the relationship between Gogol and his balloon woman, and the decline of that relationship, that the biographer recounts two incidents in which he observed Gogol and Caracas together in Gogol’s home. In the first incident, Paskalovitch hears Caracas speak. He is sitting with Gogol in the room where Caracas is always kept—a room where no one is normally allowed to enter—and the two writers are discussing a Russian novel. Caracas is sitting on a pile of cushions against a wall and is made up as a beautiful blond. Suddenly, and surprisingly, she utters in a husky voice, “I want to go poo poo.” Gogol, horrified, jumps at the doll and, ramming two fingers down its throat where an air valve is located, he deflates it. He makes apologies to Paskalovitch and attempts to resume their talk, but it is impossible. Gogol explains that he loved that form of Caracas, and now he feels despondent having lost her. It is impossible to reconstruct that exact form.

Before relating the next incident, Paskalovitch comments on a specific tension that developed between Gogol and Caracas. He notes that over time the doll seemed to acquire a distinct personality that unified all its various manifestations. Through all its changes—from blond to redhead to brunette, from plump to slim—some unnameable quality seemed to pervade that gave Caracas a sort of identity, something that gave it distinction as an individual independent of Gogol’s control. Moreover, to Gogol this identity appears hostile. What expresses this hostility most dramatically for Gogol is his contraction of syphilis. Gogol claims to have had no contact with any woman other than his balloon-wife, yet he contracts the disease and undergoes the painful treatment of it. He says to Paskalovitch, “You see what lay at the heart of Caracas; it was the spirit of syphilis.”

The second incident makes up the plot’s climax, recounting the tragic end of Gogol’s “marriage” to Caracas. Gogol, tortured by feelings of “aversion and attachment” to Caracas, has begun to speak more fantastically about her, complaining that she is aging, that she pursues pleasures he forbids, even that she has betrayed him. On the night of the silver anniversary of their “wedding,” Paskalovitch is with Gogol and Caracas in their home. Gogol’s behavior is inconsistent, vacillating between affection for Caracas and repugnance. At one point, he exclaims, “That’s enough! We can’t have any more of this. This is an unheard of thing. How can such a thing be happening to me? How can a man be expected to put up with this?” Gogol then grabs his air pump, inserts it in the tube at the doll’s anus, and inflates her persistently, weeping and shouting all the while, “Oh, how I love her . . . my poor, poor darling! . . . most pitiable of God’s creatures. But die she must!” The doll swells to distorted proportions, her face running through various expressions, of amazement, supplication, disdain. Finally it bursts violently, scattering small fragments of rubber around the room. Gogol gathers these pieces and puts them in the fire, crossing himself with his left hand. With Gogol’s wife thus “murdered,” Gogol surprises Paskalovitch with yet another dramatic act. Charging Paskalovitch to hide his face against a wall and not to look, Gogol rushes to another room. He reenters bearing a small bundle that he also hurls into the fire. Paskalovitch has peeked, and he perceives that the bundle is a baby—a rubber doll that might, by its appearance, be regarded as Caracas’s son.

The denouement of the story consists of Paskalovitch looking ahead to the next chapters of the biography of Nikolai Vassilevitch Gogol, and his reflections on the purpose of this chapter treating Gogol’s wife. He has at least, as he puts it, “given the lie to the insensate accusation that he ill-treated or even beat his wife, as well as other like absurdities.”

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Next

Themes