The Nose by Nikolai Gogol: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:00 Background: Gogol & 'The Nose'
  • 0:34 Plot Summary: Part One
  • 1:16 Plot Summary: Part Two
  • 2:35 Plot Summary: Part Three
  • 2:51 Analysis of 'The Nose'
  • 6:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Catherine Riccio-Berry

Catherine is a college instructor. She has an M.A. in Comparative Literature and is currently completing her Ph.D.

Imagine waking up to discover that your nose has disappeared overnight! This is what happens to poor Kovalyov. Where did his nose go, and how does he get it back? Learn about Kovalyov's dilemma and a few common analyses of this short story.

Background: Gogol & 'The Nose'

'The Nose' was originally written in Russian by the author Nikolai Gogol. It was published in Aleksandr Pushkin's literary journal The Contemporary in September 1836.

Gogol was very sensitive about his own long, pointed nose, and he often made self-deprecating jokes about it when he wrote letters to his friends. In fact, Gogol (whose real name was Nikolai Ianovskii) even chose the writing pseudonym 'Gogol' because of his nose! (In Russian, a gogol is a golden-eyed duck.)

Gogol made references to noses in a number of his other stories as well.

Plot Summary: Part One

One morning, the barber Ivan Yakovlevich wakes up and learns that his wife has made fresh-baked bread. He cuts the loaf in half and - surprise! - finds a nose in the middle of it. What's even stranger is that Ivan recognizes that the nose belongs to Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov. Ivan's wife freaks out and insists that he get the nose out of the house immediately. He bumbles his way out of the house and tosses the nose off a bridge into a river. Unfortunately, a policeman sees Ivan doing this. Ivan tries to bribe the policeman, but the officer says that he already receives enough bribes from other people. Suddenly the whole scene is 'shrouded in mist, and of what happened subsequently, absolutely nothing is known.'

Plot Summary: Part Two

Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov wakes up and immediately grabs a mirror to check out his face. He is shocked to discover that his nose is missing and runs off to find the chief of police. On his way there, he sees his nose all dressed up in a high-ranking, gold-embroidered uniform! Kovalyov chases the nose's carriage to a cathedral. Once there, he accosts his nose and insists that it get back onto his face. It refuses. Kovalyov spots a pretty girl and thinks about flirting with her, but then he remembers that he has no nose and runs away in shame.

The chief of police isn't home, so Kovalyov goes to put an advertisement in the paper offering a reward for the return of his nose. The newspaper clerk refuses to print the ad, saying that it is too scandalous for the respectable paper to print. Next, Kovalyov goes to the police inspector, who also refuses to help. Kovalyov returns home in despair, where a policeman shows up with Kovalyov's nose. Kovalyov can't get his nose back onto his face, though, and the doctor refuses to help.

Kovalyov decides that Mrs. Podtochina must have made his nose fall off because he wouldn't marry her daughter. They write letters back and forth arguing until Kovalyov decides she's actually not to blame.

Rumors about Kovalyov's predicament begin to spread throughout the city before the story once again 'is shrouded in fog.'

Plot Summary: Part Three

Kovalyov wakes up and is overjoyed to find his nose back on his face. He goes to get shaved by Ivan, who is also surprised to see that Kovalyov has his nose again. Afterward, the carefree Kovalyov goes around the city shopping and flirting with women.

Analysis of 'The Nose'

Many critics have suggested that this story has no deeper meaning. The author, Gogol, was simply making fun of those of us who try too hard to analyze literature. Part three of the story begins with the declaration that 'utterly nonsensical things happen in this world. Sometimes there is absolutely no rhyme or reason in them…' and the ending shows the narrator's failed attempt to find meaning in the tale. He gets flustered and complains, 'No, this is something I can't understand, positively can't understand.' But let's try to analyze 'The Nose' anyways.

When Gogol first wrote this story, he had intended it to be explicitly told as a dream. He rewrote it later so that its characters stayed awake, instead. Nevertheless, the story retains a number of fantastic, dream-like elements. When talking about literature and art, the term 'fantastic' refers to things that cannot happen in real life, such as ghosts, visions, zombies, and - you guessed it - mysteriously disappearing noses.

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