Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Gogol’s Wife” contains many qualities typical of Tommaso Landolfi’s writing, including criticism of intolerance, especially intolerance of any disinclination to accept the extraordinary. Here, Landolfi dramatizes this in a story that is Kafkaesque in its representation of a monstrosity that does not yield itself easily to reason. In its sensational combination of the prosaic (as a biography of a famous writer) and the absurd (Gogol’s regarding his inflatable doll as his wife) the story is surrealistic: Otherwise mundane, everyday elements become monstrously distorted.

Within this surreal framework, themes are developed regarding identity and the struggle between reality and fantasy. The question of identity arises in Landolfi’s treatment of Gogol’s balloon-wife. The first qualities of Caracas that are described are her mutability: Gogol can change her at will into vastly different forms of woman; in fact, he has no choice because the doll can never be made the same way twice. Diversity, change, mutability, are all elementary characteristics of Caracas. However, as the story unfolds, Gogol and Paskalovitch become increasingly more aware of unifying traits in the doll, which are apparently not so much the result of physical similarities from one manifestation to another as they are the result of a developing personality. Gogol refers to the doll’s acting out independently, first in relatively trivial ways, as when it embarrasses him with its...

(The entire section is 602 words.)