Dead Souls, a classic of Russian literature and considered one of the best satires ever written, is the tale of Chichikov, a cunning con man who causes consternation in a small Russian town when he shows up out of nowhere proposing to buy title to serfs who, though dead on paper.
The more characters that are introduced the clearer it becomes that Gogol is poking fun at various Russian types and sections of society. Each of the people Chichikov encounters on his quest to buy up dead souls is a one-dimensional satirical portrait; for example, Plyushkin is a miser, Manilov a sentimental fool, Nozdryov a hedonist and bounder, the women are gossips, and so on. What gives Dead Souls its depth, and the satire more of a sting, is how it engages with questions and issues concerning masters and slaves, poverty and wealth, power and corruption. To get to the heart of all this one must return to Chichikov’s scam: he is buying up souls from wealthy landowners; they are dead, of course, but still the two parties are engaged in a kind of slave trade.
You might also want to consider what Chichikov’s negotiations say about capitalism, that everything has a price, that something is worth what a certain person is prepared to pay for it. More than once the hero finds himself haggling, even arguing, with landowners who do not want to part with their dead souls [even though they are costing them money] because they believe that if he wants them, then they must be worth something. For instance, when Chichikov says to Sobakevich that a dead soul is something that is not needed by anyone, he replies that, au contraire, you need them!
I know this book had an unfinished ending, unacceptably flawed, but I enjoyed it so I accepted it in it’s imperfect state. When the writer doesn’t give you a close, you can create your very own close to the read. This was my first time with a Russian work, and I would love to explore this literature further!