Study Guide

The Nose in The Nose

By Nikolai Gogol

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The Nose

Admit it: noses are hilarious. They're probably the weirdest of any of our facial features (expect maybe eyebrows), just hanging out in the middle of our faces being all big and runny. No wonder Kovalev's nose wanted out.

Rags to Riches

The funniest thing about the nose's story might just be the fact it's a hilarious send-up of a traditional rags to riches story. But, you know, about a nose.

Think about it: the nose begins the story tossed out of the house of the baker into the gutter. Orphaned, abandoned, and alone, it literally doesn't have a penny to its name. But then, somehow, it rises to the level of a State Councilor—a really high civil service rank. And think about all the challenges it has to overcome, what with being just a nose from the gutter. But of course, it's hard out there for a pimp(led nose). So it's forced into a life of crime? We guess?

It's kind of hard to tell what the deal is with that cop's story about how the nose was apprehended. But still, a good run while it lasted, no?

Friend or Foe?

Ok, time for some frank talk. Is the nose generally a bad guy or a good guy? Obviously, for Kovalev, the whole no-nose thing is a disaster. But are we meant to take his side on this? Let's consider.

On the "nose is way evil" side of things, we have some kind of identity theft. Or maybe personality theft, since the nose is obviously not actually going around pretending to be Kovalev but is instead using his ambition to become a rival in the civil service. Either way, clearly the nose is all about disguise, snobbery, and just straight up grasping for status. First it's a State Councilor, then a doctor, and check out the story the cop tells of the nose:

the nose was found beside a roadway. Already it had entered a stagecoach, and was about to leave for Riga with a passport made out in the name of a certain civil servant. And, curiously enough, I myself, at first, took it to be a gentleman. (2.106).

Ok, granted, impersonating various important people is not so great, especially in a society that is super-duper concerned with figuring out everyone's exact position in the social structure. But what if we think about the nose in a different way? Not really about what it's doing so much, but more about what the consequences of its actions are?

For example: is Kovalev is a better person with or without the nose? With the nose, he's a snobby twit who is mostly concerned with status. But without the nose? He develops compassion (mainly for that girl he's been leading on and her mom), he stops constantly comparing himself to everyone else, and he actually seems like a better version of himself. Then, as soon as he gets it back, Kovalev turns back into the same jerk-o he's always been.

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