The novel has a circular structure, following Chichikov as he visits the estates of landowners living around the capital of a guberniya. Although Gogol aspired to emulate the Odyssey, many critics derive the structure of Dead Souls from the picaresque novels of the 16th and 17th centuries in that it is divided into a series of somewhat disjointed episodes, and the plot concerns a gentrified version of the rascal protagonist of the original picaresques.
Konstantin Aksakov was the first to bring out a detailed juxtaposition of Gogol's and Homer's works: "Gogol's epic revives the ancient Homeric epic; you recognize its character of importance, its artistic merits and the widest scope. When comparing one thing to another, Gogol completely loses himself in the subject, leaving for a time the occasion that gave rise to his comparison; he will talk about it, until the subject is exhausted. Every reader of The Iliad was struck by this device, too." Nabokov also pointed out the Homeric roots of the complicated absurdist technique of Gogol's comparisons and digressions.