by Nikolai Gogol
The Nose Theme of Fear
Let's be honest: fear is a great motivator. The fear that you'll fail your Calculus midterm, the fear that your friends won't like your haircut, the fear that your FB status update won't be funny enough to get "Likes"… yeah, fear drives a lot of what you do. Same in "The Nose." Fear of being inadequate, fear that your drive and ambition are still not enough to outperform a fiercer rival, fear of literally losing your manhood or figuratively being castrated, fear of making a fool of yourself in public. Whew. We're feeling a little anxious ourselves. What's more, although each of these fears is represented through Kovalev's interactions with his nose, they each have a more realistic form as well. For example, the ambition of the nose only matches the ambition of Kovalev's higher-ranking friends; while his sexual fears are pretty clearly based on the fact that there's a rival for Mademoiselle Podtochina's hand in marriage.
Questions About Fear
- What does Kovalev fear the most? The least? Does that change from the beginning of the story to the end? Why or why not?
- Is the nose scared of anything? Is it even scared of being caught? What poses a threat to it, if anything?
- Many of the story's confrontations are funny because they are all about social embarrassment and awkwardness—think about the way Kovalev talks to the nose, or the way he talks to the police inspector. How would the story be different if Kovalev were a little smoother and cooler with other people?
Chew on This
The nose is a better, less fearful version of Kovalev. It's really just trying to show him the man he could be if he lost some of his hang-ups.
The point of the story is that fear is the glue that holds society together. Take it away, and you've got rogue operators like the nose heading for total domination.