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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Dead Souls: "Our hero was very much concerned with his posterity"

Chapter 5, a scene of Chichikov escaping from Nozdryov's home. He already turns chicken.
"... 'Say what you like', he said to himself, 'if the police captain hadn't shown up, I might not have been granted another look at God's world! I'd have vanished like a bubble on water, without a trace, leaving no posterity, providing my future children with neither fortune nor an honest name!' Our hero was very much concerned with his posterity."
The same idea is repeated in chapter 11:
"... 'Why me? Why should the calamity have befallen me? [...] Why, then, do others prosper, and why must I perish like a worm? What am I now? What good am I? How will I look any respectable father of a family in the eye now? How can I not feel remorse, knowing that I'm a useless burden on earth, and what will my children say later? There, they'll say, is a brute of a father, he didn't leave us any inheritance!'
It is already known that Chichikov was greatly concerned with his posterity. Such a sensitive subject! A man would, perhaps, not be so light of a finger, were it not for the question which, no one knows why, comes of itself 'And what will the children say?'..."
Let's talk about morality. Chichikov doesn't believe in God and Hell (though he does talk of "God's world"). And definitely not karma. He doesn't really fear the punishment of the law. For his whole life he focuses more on creating relations with those who have power than on cultivating abilities, acts hypocritically, flatters others, uses people until they no longer have anything to take advantage of, cheats, lives dishonestly, takes bribes, etc. but feels no remorse, has no bad conscience, and justifies his actions "Who just sits and gapes on the job?- everybody profits. I didn't make anyone unhappy. I didn't rob a widow. I didn't send anyone begging, I made use of abundance, I took where anyone else would have taken, if I hadn't made use of it, others would have. Why, then, do others prosper, and why must I perish like a worm?..."
In short, he doesn't feel bad about anything. If people don't have a religion (consequences, judgement day), or a fear of the law (fear of being found out and punished, of losing all privileges), then they must have a set of principles of right and wrong, good and bad... in order to refrain from wrongdoings, but Chichikov has none of that. He has no system, no set of beliefs and principles but 1 thing: for his whole life, Chichikov lives for the future. As a young student, when others have fun and live as young, excited people, he pays attention to what the teacher wants, and does exactly that, wearing a mask of a quiet, obedient student with excellent conduct, only to get favours and opportunities later on, and then throws the teacher over. Then at work he starts courting the stern department chief and spends time and effort on the daughter, "whose face also looked as if the threshing of peas took place on it nightly", until getting what he wants, and he throws them over. Later, when he works as a customs official, he does things with zeal and efficiency, becomes a strict persecutor of falsehoods and accepts nothing other than his salary. If the novel were about his whole life and written in an absolutely detached tone, at this point we may think that Chichikov's a different man now. But no, he endures all that only to get promoted and have all power and authority for himself, and waits for something big, once and for all. Money and status and power are all that matter. 
Chichikov has no fear of consequences, and if something befalls him, he can always find ways to get out of it, and start things again, only for the future.
In chapter 11, there's another quote:
"It is impossible, however, to say that our hero's nature was so hard and callous and his things were so dulled that he did not know either pity or compassion; he felt both the one and the other, he would even want to help, but only provided it was not a significant sum, provided the money he had resolved not to touch remained untouched; in short, the fatherly admonition 'Keep and save your kopeck' proved beneficial. But he was not attached to money for its own sake; he was not possessed by stinginess and miserliness. No, they were not what moved him: he pictured ahead of him a life of every comfort, of every sort of prosperity; carriages, an excellently furnished house, tasty dinners- this was what constantly hovered in his head. So as to be sure ultimately, in time, to taste all that- this was the reason for saving kopecks, stingily denied in the meantime both to himself and to others..."
This passage alone says everything you need to know about Chichikov.
Now, 1 question, raised by the narrator/ author: Don't we all find a bit of Chichikov in ourselves? 

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