This paper was first written in Fall of 1998; no changes have been made since 2000, and none are planned in the near future. Some of the information within the paper, especially that referring to transgender research, is very old, and has likely been made obsolete by current research.
With those caveats firmly in mind, I hope you enjoy the paper!
Psychoanalysis of Literary Characters
In Gogol's "The Nose", the barber Ivan Yakovlevich discovers a disembodied nose within a loaf of bread. This nose is hypercathected, as illustrated by the fact that Ivan quickly recognizes the identity of the nose, even though it has been removed from its normal position. The nose in this story has been recognized as an icon of a phallus. In connection with that interpretation, "The Nose" has been widely discussed as an illustration of castration anxiety (Spycher, 367; Rancour-Laferriere 1982, 81; Kiell, 581). However, this paper proposes that this story can also be examined as an illustration, not of castration anxiety, but of a "castration desire" by Ivan Yakovlevich.
At the story's beginning, Ivan Yakovlevich finds an object within a fresh loaf of bread. He quickly determines that it is a (familiar) nose. His wife viciously berates him, ordering him to remove the nose from the apartment immediately. After his wife's violent admonition, Ivan wraps the phallic object in a rag and goes outside. "He wanted to shove it under something, either under the seat by the gates or drop it, as it were, by accident and then turn off into a side street" (Gogol 1957a, 205). This quote illustrates Ivan's desperate desire to be rid of the phallic object, and gives no indication that he feared the loss of his penis. This desire presents a contrast to other characters within the story who exhibit behavior that has been described as castration anxiety. In addition, the facts that Ivan's actions provide a frame for the entire story, and that the 'dream' of the original title is therefore apparently experienced by Ivan, lead to the interpretation in this paper that Ivan's character, rather than Kovalyov's, is the reflection of Gogol's own persona and desires.
As Ivan continues in his quest to rid himself of the unwanted phallic object, society or specific authority figures continually thwart him. At first "he kept coming across people he knew, who at once addressed him with the question: 'where are you off to?'" (Gogol 1957a, 205). As he leaves his neighborhood, law enforcement figures replace personal acquaintances as a deterrent to his disposal of the nose.
On one occasion he did succeed in dropping it, but a policeman shouted to him from the distance, pointing to it with his halberd: "Hey, you, pick it up! You've dropped something!" And Ivan Yakovlevich had to pick up the nose and put it in his pocket. He was overcome by despair.... (Gogol 1957a, 205)Ivan continues in his attempts to dispose of the offending body part, but when he is forced by authority figures to retain the phallic object against his will, he feels overwhelmed: "overcome with despair". Finally, Ivan reaches a bridge and takes the opportunity to dispose of the nose in the river. "...he stealthily threw the rag with the nose into the river. He felt as though a heavy weight had been lifted from his shoulders: Ivan Yakovlevich even grinned" (Gogol 1957a, 206). When Ivan is finally successful he feels an immense relief; once he is no longer forced to bear the unwelcome object he even grins. This is notably the first time in the entire story in which Ivan appears to be satisfied and happy. His happiness is short-lived, however, as an authority figure once more steps in to punish him now for achieving his desire. The policeman indeed presents an imposing sight: "he suddenly noticed at the end of the bridge a police inspector of noble exterior, with large whiskers, with a three-cornered hat, and with a sabre" (Gogol 1957a, 206). After being questioned by this inspector, Ivan is arrested and "locked up in a cell at the police station" (Gogol 1957a, 222). This confinement then serves as punishment for committing an act of which society does not approve.
Ivan's release from this confinement only comes about after the phallic object is placed on someone else's body. That is, after it assumes its 'rightful' place on its true owner, Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov (Gogol 1957a, 229). This placement of the nose on Kovalyov's face then justifies Ivan's contention that the phallic icon does not belong to him, and that he was right to want to remove it from his possession.
Kovalyov may in fact serve as an alter ego to Ivan. The phallic object, which Ivan so strongly desires to dispose of, truly belongs to Kovalyov, therefore giving proof that Ivan's possession of the phallus is completely accidental and erroneous.
This "castration desire" may mirror the desires of modern day transsexuals to undergo gender transformation, including surgical castration, thereby 'becoming' an anatomical female. This desire has been noted in very young transsexuals, as well as adults. For instance, the four and a half year old boy discussed earlier clearly expressed his "castration desire" to his mother:
and he asked me if he could be a girl when he married. He even asked me if he could cut off his penis. And I say "No, you couldn't do that. You would die." And he asked me if I was sure he would die and I said "Yes, I am sure you would," and he really seriously was considering it.... (Stoller 1968, 286)Another young boy stated that he wanted to die and be reborn as a girl: "I don't want to live this way; I want to be a girl" (Stoller 1968, 294). As analysis of transsexuals has shown, "[c]astration holds no threat for them [transsexuals]. On the contrary, they wish to give up their penis" (Stoller 1975, 98).
Together, the evidence submitted supports both the idea of a "castration desire" in Ivan Yakovlevich, and the psychoanalysis of Gogol through his literature in comparison to various transsexuals in the referenced case studies. This comparison between Gogol and known modern-day transsexuals can be continued through examination of the "phallic girl" aspects of "The Terrible Vengeance".
Nikolai Gogol - Introduction to Research Paper
Terms and Scientific Background
Literary Analysis of "The Nose"
Literary Analysis of "Terrible Vengeance"
Psychoanalysis of Female Characters
Conclusion, Sources Cited, and Footnotes
Russian 166 - Representations of Sexuality in Russian Literature
Instructor: Daniel Rancour-Laferriere
University of California, Davis
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