Study Guide

The Diary of a Madman Prejudice

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In short, I wouldn't have gone to the office if it weren't for the hope of seeing the treasurer and maybe cajoling at least some pay out of that Jew in advance. What a creature! For him to hand out any money a month ahead—Lord God, the Last Judgment would come sooner! Even if you beg on your life, even if you're destitute—he won't hand out anything, the hoary devil! (1.1)

The anti-Semitism of this remark isn't just in the negative comments and insults Poprishchin is making here. It's also in the caricaturization of the Jewish character as a pitiless treasurer controlling the purse strings. If you look at all the minor characters in this story (and even at all the ones whom Poprishchin is prejudiced against), the Jewish treasurer is the most caricaturized among them. Some lit critics think Gogol portrayed a lot of Jewish characters in his stories in stereotyped ways (source).

In the provincial government, in the civil courts and treasuries, it's quite a different matter: there, lo and behold, a man squeezes himself into a corner and scribbles away. His tailcoat is vile, his mug begs to be spat in, but just look what kind of country house he rents! […] He looks like such a goody-goody, he talks with such delicacy—"Lend me your little knife to trim my little pen"—and then he skins a petitioner so that the man's left in nothing but his shirt. (1.1)

Poprishchin's comments about the provincial civil servants scream two things: status anxiety and jealousy. He might be a hotshot city guy, but he is really insecure and wants to make sure he feels more superior to the guys from the 'burbs. But then he also sits in his small city apartment and covets their big houses and fancy horse carriages.

And why does she have to go out in such rainy weather! Go on, now, tell me women don't have a great passion for all these rags. (1.2)

First off, a contradiction: Poprishchin derides Sophie for going shopping even in a rainstorm, but then he himself later wishes he had proper clothes in 3.1. Putting down women for paying too much attention to their looks is a classic misogynist move.

What fools these Frenchmen are! So, what is it they want? By God, I'd take the lot of them and give them a good birching! (2.1)

That's a good way to solve problems in foreign policy, we hear. But seriously, even a silly comment like is all about prejudice--xenophobia, in this case.

When I got to the sixth floor and rang the bell, a girl came out, not so bad looking, with little freckles. I recognized her. It was the same one who was walking with the old lady. She blushed slightly, and I understood at once: You, my sweet, are looking for a fiancé. "What can I do for you?" she said. "I must have a word with your dog." The girl was stupid! I knew at once that she was stupid! (7.1)

How did Poprishchin reach that conclusion? Where's the evidence? Well, there is none, and that's the point. As our resident misogynist, he believes women are inferior, and feels he doesn't really need to back up his beliefs.

On coming home, I wanted to get to work and sort these letters out at once, because I see poorly by candlelight. But Mavra had decided to wash the floor. These stupid Finnish women are always cleaning at the wrong moment.

This is xenophobia, misogyny and classism, 3-in-1, folks. Here we find Poprishchin insulting his housecleaner Mavra because she is not Russian, not male and not upper class. And all the poor woman did was wash his floors.

I'll confide in you that I have many wooers. I often sit in the window and look at them. Ah, if you only knew how ugly some of them are. The coarsest of mutts, terribly stupid, stupidity written all over his face, goes down the street most imposingly, imagining he's the noblest person, thinking everyone is looking only at him. Not a bit of it. (8.18)

This is from Medji's letter, so we're not going to fault Poprishchin this time (although it's probably coming straight from his mind in the form of a hallucination). But it's a good example of classism. Here, Medji is calling a lower class mutt ugly, coarse, and stupid. Medji the dog is supposed to represent upper class women, so we'd say the classism part is quite accurate. Style over…well, you get it.

Oh, she's a perfidious being—woman! Only now have I grasped what woman is. Till now no one has found out who she's in love with: I'm the first to discover it. Woman is in love with the devil. Yes, no joking. It's stupid what physicists write, that she's this or that—she only loves the devil. (13.1)

"Till now no one has found out"? Oh, please. Actually, the woman being in cahoots with the devil has been a classic theme of (male dominated) literature since the beginning of time. Can you name a few classic stories sharing this theme?

… it's all the doing of some barber who lives in Gorokhovaya Street. I don't know what his name is; but it's known for certain that he, together with some midwife, wants to spread Mohammedanism throughout the world, and as a result, they say, in France the majority of people already accepts the faith of Mohammed. (13.1)

As we can see, Islamophobia isn't anything new. Actually, it was very common in the Russian Empire. That comes with the territory. As in, literally: the Empire colonized a huge area of land in Siberia and Central Asia, which meant that the biggest minority, with 10% of the population, were Muslims. They were severely oppressed. So when Poprishchin becomes paranoid, it's not surprising that one of his delusions is that Muslims are conspiring to take over the world.

Only I still cannot understand how a king can be made subject to the Inquisition. True, this might come from the French side, especially from Polignac. Oh, he's a sly customer, Polignac! He's sworn to injure me as long as I live. And so he persecutes me, persecutes me; but I know, friend, that you're being led by the Englishman. The Englishman is a great politician. He fusses about everywhere. The whole world knows that when England takes snuff, France sneezes. (18.1)

Xenophobia in action again. Muslims taking over the world isn't Poprishchin's only paranoid fantasy. He also thinks it must be the French persecuting him. The French might be evil, what with that evil accent and all, but they are also weak and dominated by the English. Would you like any Freedom Fries with that, P?

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