Themes and Meanings

Especially in his earlier stories, Nikolai Gogol adapted the folktales told to him as a youth by his mother. These folktales spring from the oral tradition of the Ukraine, where Gogol was born. They involve peasant legends of the supernatural and the everyday customs of the ethnic groups that inhabit the Ukraine, most notably the Cossacks. Thus “Viy” is rich in Ukrainian folklore and the boisterous character of the Cossacks. The religious undercurrent represented by the seminary and the prayer vigil is a reflection of the influence of Gogol’s father, a strictly religious man who died when Gogol was still young. The clear sexual symbolism of “Viy”—being ridden by a witch until a “voluptuous” state of exhaustion is achieved—has been interpreted as evidence of Gogol’s own ambivalent sexuality, feeling sexual urges but being convinced, perhaps for religious reasons or out of a misidentification with his mother, that indulgence of them leads to damnation.