In "The Nose," Gogol is making fun of a society that is so obsessed with status that anyone—or anything—with the outward insignia of an important official passes muster. Even something as nightmarish or ludicrous as a nose detached from a human face and dressed as a State Councilor causes envy, admiration, and feelings of inferiority in onlookers—every emotion, basically, except those that you'd expect a normal person to feel. Like fear. Or, come on, at least surprise. Even the owner of the nose himself is scared to speak to it because it looks like it outranks him. Gee, the whole "social class" thing is starting to look pretty silly, isn't it?
Questions About Society and Class
- Would Kovalev been more successful at confronting the nose if it had become a small-time tradesman like the barber? Or would that have been such a low position that Kovalev would have ignored the nose entirely as being beneath his dignity? What emotions does Kovalev seem to feel about the nose?
- Why does the nose take Kovalev's ambition? Why not his insecurity or some other quality? Is a nose particularly well matched with a particular aspect of human character? (Think about the phrase "nose in the air.")
- Find all the moments when Kovalev is comparing himself to other men (the dude with the young woman at the shopping center, for example, or the dude with a small nose at the end of the story). How are they similar? Different?
- Why does Kovalev keep Ivan as his barber even though he has smelly hands and was even implicated in the nose thing by the cop?
Chew on This
The story should really be read as the tragic tale of an ambitious nose whose rise in the world is thwarted by a jealous rival.
The object of the satire in the story isn't Kovalev and the middling civil servants like him who obsesses over status, but actually status and ranking themselves.