Study Guide

The Diary of a Madman Madness

By Nikolai Gogol

Madness

If you're thinking, "Duh, what could be a more obvious theme than madness in 'The Diary of a Madman'," well, yeah, it's obvious. The devil is in the details, though. In fact, the depiction of madness in this story is so well done that it's considered to be one of the earliest and most accurate depictions of schizophrenia in literary history. Really! The other thing about madness in the story is that not everything is crazy all the time. Our madman Poprishchin goes from being fairly sane but foolish to being fairly insane but sometimes logical, which makes us ask: what does being mad really mean, anyway?

Questions About Madness

  1. Which aspects of Poprishchin's madness make it seem more believable, and which less?
  2. What would change in our experience of the story if the title didn't make reference to madness?
  3. What would change in our experience of Poprishchin's madness if it weren't written in the first person?
  4. Assuming dogs don't write letters or keep a bundle of them in their baskets, how could Poprishchin have actually found out all the things he supposedly finds out from the dogs' letters?

Chew on This

The madman plus diary formula only works if you mention madness in the title.

This story really gets us inside the head of a madman.

This just in from Shmoop's psychological consultant: Even people who are seriously mentally ill aren't irrational 100% of the time. You could think you're the King of Spain or Elvis but still remember your phone number or recognize your best friend.