Study Guide

The Diary of a Madman Society and Class

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Society and Class

"The Diary of a Madman" takes place in the capital of the Russian Empire of the 19th century, also known as the capital of rank-obsession, where your social standing relative to the nobility more or less determined your fate. Poprishchin himself is technically nobility, but his is not of the hereditary kind, so it doesn't count for much. If he had money, he could worm his way into nobility as he accuses others of doing, but he doesn't have a kopeck to his name. When someone of a better standing snatches the woman he wants, ending any hope for a higher social status, he starts to really lose his already shaky grip on reality.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. Does Poprishchin (pre-madness) represent "everyman"? Why or why not?
  2. How do the things Poprishchin comes to understand about social ranks and titles make it possible for him to discover he is the king of Spain?
  3. What qualities are attributed to the higher classes? Lower?

Chew on This

If Poprishchin were of a better rank or wealthier, it would have been possible (or at least easier) for him to stay sane.

This story argues that class is based on appearances, and has no basis in substance.

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