November 21, 2007

The Son of a Thief

This story begins by describing Ivan Akimovich as a good, successful and helping man. He is loved and respected by everyone. Ivan is a merchant by profession and also the foreman of a jury in the city court.
As the story is flowing smoothly, Tolstoy introduces suspense. One day, during a jury trial, Ivan refuses to be a member of the query and starts crying. Intrigued, the judge lets Ivan leave.
Later on, Ivan tells the judge about his own childhood. Parts of his childhood was troubled. However, this particular story story is filled with the innocence of young Ivan. Tolstoy beautifully describes the situation of young Ivan trapped in a situation because of another person. This is the turning point in Ivan's life. One person's decision will decided what will become of Ivan. The act of forgiveness and acceptance by a stranger leads to what Ivan is today.
The story is about forgiveness and love. Tolstoy asks rehtorically: is it possible to judge anyone?

November 7, 2007

The Portrait

In this short story, Nicolai Gogol (1809-1852), writes about an evil that seems to possess a portrait. The most distinguishing part of the portrait are the eyes that seem to bore into a person's soul. The story starts off with the portrait being found by Chartkov, an amateur but promising artist. Although the Chartkov becomes rich on account of the portrait, he seems to lose his natural gift.

As the story progresses, the portrait seems to cause agony to everyone who owns it. It appears to suck out all happiness from its owners. The owners of the portrait start feeling hatred, jealousy, despair, pessimism and other such emotions. Incidentally, as soon as they get rid of the portrait, the become their former selves. Everyone who has come across the intriguing portrait agree that there is something sinister about it. This way Gogol adds the supernatural element that can be seen in his other stories such as 'The Terrible Vengeance' and 'The Overcoat'.

Gogol then takes a detour to another story. Towards the end he joins the two stories with a style that is distinctly Gogol. We can see this style in 'The Terrible Vengeance'. Both these stories justify the present events based on a dark past.

The Snow Storm

Alexander Pushkin (1799 – 1837) writes about love lost in this short story. Pushkin's topic is simple and explanation lucid. It describes young love between a couple belonging to different social statuses. Pushkin describes as a matter-of-fact, the love between a young couple. He takes an external view of how the girl and the boy feel in a way that makes us sympathize for them.

Pushkin gracefully glides through the storyline with different viewpoints. He superimposes the events that happen to different people at the same time. Although, all the three people are tied to the same event, it has a profound effect on each one of them. Their lives change completely after the snow storm.

Towards the end, Pushkin builds a palpable suspense that threatens to destroy a happy ending. Pushkin plays beautifully with irony. The very snow storm that seems to cause love loss, has something else planned. The snow storm seems to be a part of the destiny of everyone involved.

Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and his Aunt

This story by Nicolai Gogol is about a simple man, Ivan. Ivan embodies the innocence of Gogol's characters such as Akaky from 'The Overcoat' and Piskarev from 'Nevsky Avenue'. This time Gogol does not use any supernatural or dark elements. Its a light-hearted story about a straightforward man and his doting but shrewd aunt. The aunt wants only good for Ivan and Gogol leads us through her schemes.

Gogol builds Ivan's character right from his childhood days. He is shown as a very timid boy who is very organized. Ivan refuses to get into fights even when taunted. This makes everyone like him. He grows up to be a soldier and is meticulous and organized as always. Ivan gets promoted in the military services but remains down-to-earth as always.

Ivan had inherited much land that is managed by his aunt. Gogol elaborately describes the efficiency with which Iva's aunt takes care of his estates. She comes across as a strong woman who can manage many people and work tirelessly. In fact, Gogol even goes to show that she was physically and mentally stronger than the younger Ivan. Her towering personality, strength of character and gift of gab makes her endearing.

Knowing his timidity, Ivan's aunt plans for his future. Ivan is shown to be at a loss to understand his aunt's plans for him. Simple as he is, he feels uncomfortable with her shrewd schemes, even though they are for his own good.

In this story, Gogol beautifully depicts the Ukrainian life in a typical farm. Gogol's style is not only to build a character, but also to build up the settings and surroundings as well. He dedicates a major chunk of 'Nevsky Avenue' to describe the surroundings in minutest details. He not only mentions the surroundings, but also describes how it changes during different times of the day. In 'The Overcoat' he gives us a feel of Ukrainian civil society. In 'The Terrible Vengeance' he describes life in the army. 'The Portrait' shows the life of a unrecognized painters as well as artists in high society.

The Terrible Vengeance

This is a short story by Nicolai Gogol (1809-1852). This is from the first volume of his 'Evenings on a farm near Dikana' that was first published in September 1981.

Gogol continues with his fondness for the supernatural by describing the story of an evil Wizard. The wizard is portrayed having an evil soul and ugly looks. He embodies the dark human evils, namely, murder and incest. The wizard has power to enter dreams and even transform himself in appearance.

The wizard conspires against his daughter Katherine and son-in-low Danilo. Katherine is a loyal wife of pure character. Her faithfulness to her husband is revered by Gogol in his description. Gogol tenderly describes her innocence and beauty. Danilo is depicted as a fearless soldier and an inspiring commander. Even in the face of imminent death, he valiantly fights the enemy. He cheers his soldiers during battle and encourages them to attain glory. His eagerness and enthusiasm is shown by his concern that there won't be any enemy left if they do not hurry. Katherine and Danilo embody all that is good in contrast to the evil wizard.

The ultimate triumph of good over evil does not end the story. Gogol goes further back in time and describes another legend. This legend involves the heinous treachery by a friend. Continuing with the supernatural element, he depicts God involved with man in deciding the punishment. The punishment designed by man makes you shudder and lacks God's mercy. This legend is tied to the story of the wizard with finesse.

The Overcoat

This is a short story by Nicolai Gogol (1809-1852). This story depicts a simple civil servant, Akaky. Gogol describes character's habits and lifestyles in detail. Akaky leads an ordinary life with a low income and simple needs. Although Akaky is the central character of the story, Gogol explains in detail the society that he lives in. This gives us a glimpse into the lives of the civil servants.

Gogol builds Akaky's character by describing his unchanging daily routines and the way people at his work tease him. The story revolves around a new overcoat that Akaky needs to buy for the winter. His anticipation, planning, hopes and childlike eagerness brings our the purity of his character.

By this time the reader starts to empathize with Akaky so much that the loss of the overcoat feels tragic. Akaky's grief is explained in so much detail that you can almost feel it. Here Gogol shows the apathy of society to his seemingly small loss. But this overcoat meant everything for Akaky. The story ends with a splendid supernatural twist.