Critics note that the story's title in Russian (Нос, "Nos") is the reverse of the Russian word for "dream" (Сон, "Son"). As the unreliable narrator himself notes, the story "contains much that is highly implausible", while an earlier version of the story ended with Kovalyov waking and realizing that the story was indeed a dream. Without the awakening, however, the story becomes a precursor of magical realism, as an unreal element is woven into a realistic narration. Peace also notes that some critics have interpreted the story as referring to a castration complex: the removal of Kovalyov's nose (and its developing a mind of its own) threaten both his chances of acquiring a position of power and of being a success with women. In Russia, a version has appeared which substituted "..." for the word "nos" (нос) so that the reader would be inclined to interpret it as "khui" (хуй), the Russian taboo word for penis. It can be said that Kovalyov equates the loss of his nose with castration, emasculation, and impotence to a certain degree.
At the end the story drifts away and it appears Gogol is talking directly to the reader. It is never explained why the Nose fell off in the first place, why it could talk, nor why it found itself reattached. By doing this, Gogol was playing on the assumptions of readers, who may happily seek absurd stories, but at the same time still having the desire for a normal explanation.