Extra-narrative Voices and Character Agency in Dead Souls College
However much of its text might be preoccupied with ‘realist’ visuals, Nikolai Gogol’s ‘poem of Russia,’ Dead Souls is still rife with extra-narrative commentary and digressions, in keeping with Gogol’s established style and his stated intentions for the novel as a morally-edifying work. Within the main plot, this manifests mostly in short satirical asides and runaway similes (up to a few paragraphs in length) conveyed by the author/narrator of Chichikov’s journey. In later sections of the novel, however, the non-diegetic language expands to include entire passages in alternate voices or stylistic registers. Rhapsodic though they may appear, these non-plot points share a set of narrative strategies that build up to the last chapters’ direct addresses from the author. When Gogol shifts from speaking for Chichikov to letting characters speak for themselves, or letting himself speak for the reader, he primes his audience for his ultimate conclusions on the relationships between each speaker.
The turning point for extra-narrative concerns supplanting plot matters is the shift in narrative focus from Chichikov’s schemes to the townsfolk and their gossip. The first scene of this sort is the “certain conversation which took place...
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