Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The theme emerges not from the content, a little from the structure, but mainly from the style. Two styles, the one intense and lofty, the other colloquial and low, intertwine to express the shifting mind of the teller. The sound of the story communicates the ambiguity of the meaning. Shifts in the oral quality of the narrator’s voice, what the Russians call skaz, put the writer’s duality up front.

Emphasizing lyrical description, with hyperbolic catalogs of real details from Ukrainian domestic life, the story first establishes a nostalgic tone, with exclamations and interruptions in the sentimental style. The gentle humor of the old man’s teasing and his wife’s chattiness about recipe secrets catch the simple diction of these simpleminded characters. Breaking into these stylistic patterns with digressions comes the brooding narrative voice of the storyteller, with his rhythmic, rhetorical questioning, longing, and reflection. The tonal shift from the patronizing nostalgia of the first part to the pathos of the end defines the structure of the piece and constitutes the formula “laughter through tears” that characterizes much of Gogol’s work. Gogol, in the seemingly innocent story, both castigates banality and celebrates an unattainable beauty in styles to match oppositions in all of his writing.