The government inspector is a comedy about a group of local officials of a small town in tsarist, Russia who hear about a government inspector who is investigating the town, travelling incognito. Thrown into a panic, the governor and his dysfunctional cronies desperately struggle to stifle public dissatisfaction whilst blaming their many misdemeanors on each other. A penniless rake who arrives in town is mistaken as the government inspector. Taking advantage of his power, he fools all the dignitaries, as a result, leaves a good deal richer.
* Written during the repressive regime of Czar Nicholas I.
* Russia of the tsars in the 19th century was an absolute monarchy.
* No cabinet, no prime minister (since court feared this would threaten the power of tsar)
* Major inefficiency, since no overall coordination of policy.
What is satire?
* A type of literary device that ridicules human foolishness.
* It seeks to degrade certain aspects of society and gain a different perspective.
* By exaggerating the discrepancies that exist, the different perspectives are born.
* Uses laughter as a weapon by employing humor and wit in the form of irony, innuendo, or derision.
* Using these tools, satirists force us to examine things from a different perspective to achieve enlightenment.
* Ultimate goal: to improve society, to make us aware of our flaws.
Satire in “The Government Inspector”
* Paints a picture of absolute power and mechanisms of totalitarianism.
* Theme: government corruption.
* Use of satire employs wit in the form of irony to expose human folly in Tsarist Russia.
* Satirizes the corruptible nature of power, the cupidity and stupidity of bureaucratic officials.
* Uses satire to attack materialism and venality of bureaucracy.
* Reveals the moral bankruptcy of a political system that is so impoverished that corruption and bribery become ingrained and accepted as a way of life.
* Thus, the government inspector is a parody on the inefficient bureaucracy. Gogol wanted to ridicule all that was bad at that time.
What does the satire reveal about the characters?
– The whole administration is corrupt, from the mayor and judge to the hospital.
– Only when they learn that the government inspector is arriving do they put some order in the administration.
– ‘accepts bribes, but with dignity’. How is it possible to act dishonestly, yet retain your self-esteem and respect? The governor is eager to gain prestige.
– ‘he is far from being a fool’-ironic because he was fooled by the ‘government inspector’.
– Has imposed a tax on merchants out of greediness.
– He has pocketed the money destined for building a hospital chapel. His excuse is to ‘say we started building it, but it burnt itself down’.
– Has flogged the wife of an official.
– He even asks the postmaster ‘just to pen a little’ of the letters from St Petersburg.
– He says to Khlestakov: ‘In some towns the governor’s got nothing to be proud of…but in this town everyone pulls together and we’ve got one big ambition: to show the world that we’re up-to-date, efficient, honest folk.’ How hypocritical can one get? Need I say more?
– His attitude changes quickly in accordance to the status of the person whom he is referring to. In the end, the postmaster follows the advice of the governor and opens a letter addressed to somebody in St Petersburg written by the ‘government inspector. However, contrary to his initial attitude, the governor demonstrates his hypocrisy by saying ‘ how dare you interfere with the official correspondence of such and important person?’
He is in a position of integrity, but he is the exact opposite of a person of integrity, so he tries to cover everything up on the surface to make it appear that he’s a good, ‘honest folk’. The sycophantic governor feels he must appease the higher-ranking official to gain his prestige by letting him sample for free the best hospitality, including the finest food and drink.
He acts like he has everything under control by ordering everyone around, but he knows that his town is unmanageable and that the officials are foolish. IN his dream about the two giant black rats, he says that ‘they sniffed – everywhere, everything, everyone’. This symbolizes his dysfunctional running of the tow, that he is aware of the many flaws and cracks of the administration.
– The Postmaster is equally, if more, willing to snoop around people’s letter
– He has always indulged in the interesting habit of opening letters. ‘Why do you think of keep the samovar going all day? It’s more that I like to know about current affairs’.
– Ironic that he is in a position of trust, yet he violates other people’s personal lives.
– Has only read five or six books. The town is judged by a man who has the literary intelligence of a six year old.
– Passionate lover of sport
– Has hunting apparel hanging about in the Court, and his attendants have made a poultry-yard of the entrance hall.
– ‘There’s bribes and bribes…everyone knows I only accept borzoi puppies.’ – shows his venality.
Dobchinsky and Bobchinsky
– remind us of Tweedledum and Tweedledee
– lively, comical, almost identical characters.
– Role of the town Gazette. All they ever do is gossip
– Very frenetic
– Always interrupt each other when telling stories
– Attempt to be useful
But in fact, they are troublemakers. It was Dob and Bob who caused all the confusion about seeing a suspicious-looking young man in the inn. Evidently, the Governor concludes he must be the government inspector from St. Petersburg.
– German, so can’t communicate with patients. ‘Even for a German his Russian is worse than normal’.
– Governor tells him to ‘stop the patients smoking such strong tobacco’. ‘Two to a bed looks bad, even if it does keep them warm’. – How can you let patients smoke? How do you expect patients to heal if they share beds?
– ‘The Inspector’ll think we’ve go a useless doctor’ – he is useless to the point that he cannot communicate with the patients.
– The patients in the hospital walk about in linen so dirty that you might take them for chimney sweeps. ‘They look like blacksmiths and stink like fishmongers’ – a hospital is meant to be a germ-free sanitary place.
Theme of appearance vs. reality. The officials forge their integrity, yet still accept their own high level of corruption. Everyone tries to be the opposite of what they are.
– Audience knows he’s not the government inspector, but when he meets the governor for the first time, there is misunderstanding – dramatic irony. The governor assumes he’s the government inspector who’s trying to conceal his identity, he is apologetic for the rude behavior so offers him ‘more appropriate accommodation’ in his own home. Khlestakov thinks the governor is taking him to jail for not paying the rent.
– After he learns that the governor thinks he’s a high=-ranking official, his acute brain immediately plays along to his advantage.
– He walks off in the end with borrowed money and the adoration of both the governor’s wife and his daughter.
– His character shows how certain people in society will do anything to uphold their dignity. Appearance vs. reality is an ongoing theme.
– Desires things out of reach. Very fussy.
– Although he has a pittance, he still wants a three-course meal.
– He would rather ‘starve and arrive home wearing a suite cut in Petersburg’.
– He says he hates hypocrites, but he is the biggest hypocrite of all.
When the postmaster reads the letter written by Khlestakov, the foolish officials realize the whole thing was a fraud. The letter ultimately satirizes their foolishness, stupidity, folly, venality, corruption, cupidity, and desire for face.