Ivan Fyodorovich Sponka Essay, Research Paper
The short story, “Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and His Aunt”, explicates the life of a man named Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka. We see him briefly in his young years, followed by his life in the army, and his return to the farm where his strong characterized aunt resides. We can see immediately that this man lives in constant cleanliness and dutiful paranoia; these are some of his desires that he wishes to exhibit to others. We can also see his fears, which reside in the confiscation of his masculinity and independence. This short story has many elements that resemble others in the Nikolai Gogol collection.
Since Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka was young, his desires were clear and he made sure he reached them. Shponka was always a neat child: “His exercise book was always immaculate, with ruled margin and not a mark anywhere. He would always sit very quietly, his arms folded, his eyes riveted on his teacher. He never hung bits of paper on the back of the boy in front, never made carvings in the desks, and never played at shoving other boys off the benches just before the teacher came in.”(161-162). We can see in the previous quote that he was neat and preoccupied as he was seen by his teacher; he tried to keep the image of an angel. This angel image did not last due to the pancake incident. Shponka was pressured by his classmates to allow them to copy his work in exchange for a pancake. He was caught eating it by his teacher and became upset because of the fact that he lost his angel image. We can compare this to the incident in Gogol’s short story the “Nose”; the main character here loses his nose and instead of a nose he has a flat area: ”Flat just like a freshly cooked pancake”(56). This lose entailed a loss of his masculinity because he was paranoid about his outer appearance. In this case Shponka also loses an image he wanted to keep. Since he is so dutiful and loves to show this off his choice of profession was logical.
In the Army he held on to that image of being dutiful and his preoccupation with cleanliness. The idea of having o uniform was very pleasing to him because he knew people would know his stature without him having to exert it. Shponka stays extremely neat because it would show that his life is in a orderly fashion as well.; I think that He feels that neatness equals success. Shponka has a light case of obsessive compulsive disorder. Even while he is on his trip back home he feels the need to check: “his trunk, took out his linen, checked it over to see if it was properly laundered and folded, carefully picked the fluff off his new uniform, which was made without epaulettes, and then put everything back as neatly as he could.”(166). We can see here the manifestation of this light disease; He has to prepare his trunk as if it was going to be showcased upon his arrival. Shponka’s desire is for his stature to be seen by everyone but his fears come once his stature or rank is threatened.
Shponka’s has a complex about giving up his status or independence; these are his fears. His fears rise when Auntie speaks about setting him up for marriage: “Listen, Ivan Fyodorovivh, I want to have a serious talk with you. Good God, you’re thirty-eight now. You have a good position. It’s time to think about having children. You must get yourself a wife…”(185) the he answered “What, Auntie! Ivan Fyodororvich cried out in horror.”(185). He if afraid to lose his rank and gain the one of “Ivan and his wife” instead of “Ivan and his uniform”: He would never be alone in his room any more, because there would always be two of them, together, everywhere!”(186). His uniform represented his masculinity and his character; he feels that all he has gained in life will be crushed by the arrival of a wife. These fears manifest themselves in his dreams.
In one of his dreams every where he turned he saw his wife. “He looked the other way, and saw another wife, and she had the face of a goose. He looked again and there was a third wife; he looked around – still another.”(187); we can see in the previous quote that he is trying to get away from his wife but she is always there; he can’t be seen alone. The reason his wife’s face looks like a goose is because a goose is one of the only birds that can’t fly away; which mans that he is stuck with her and she will always be around. In another dream he views himself as a bell, his Auntie as a belfry and his wife pulling the rope. The image portrayed here is matrimony; The auntie represents the bell tower or the church, he is the bell that sounds the beginning of his marriage and the person pulling the rope to ring this bell is his own wife. The element that stretches this dream to a nightmare is the fact that someone from his independent and masculine past passes through: “No you’re a bell, said P-infantry regiment who happened to be passing at the time”(187).
His next dream is significant because its expresses his worst fear. In the dream his wife is no longer a person but a woolen material you wear; the Shopkeeper recommends this to him: “Have some wife, it’s the latest thing now! Lovely quality as well.”(187); the shopkeeper represents his Auntie telling him to marry because it is time and telling him that the person chosen to be his wife is lovely as well. In the dream, he then brings the woolen material to a Jewish tailor who says: “No that’s very poor material. No one uses that kind of stuff for coats now…“(187); the tailor is referring to Grigoryevich. The meaning of the woolen material is that he plans on wearing it and since the woolen material is his wife he will then wear a new status including his wife. The idea of wearing his wife and his wife always being next to him like a goose frightens him greatly. In his eyes the new status he will obtain with his wife is weaker and he does not want to portray it in front of others. The notion of status and wearing a coat can be compared to another of Gogol’s short stories.
We can compare the notion of wearing your wife to the short story the “Overcoat”. In the Overcoat the main character feels that a nicer overcoat will make him change social status and get treated differently from others. In his dream the same idea is exposed, the woolen material is his wife and also portrays him as being dependent and not as a prestigious loner anymore. The notion of cutting up is used in both of these short stories. The idea of loss of masculinity is present here as well as in the “Nose”. In the “Nose” the main character looses his masculinity by the loss of his nose and in “Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and his Aunt” loses his masculinity by not wearing his uniform but on the other hand wearing the woolen wife. As we can see, women have a big role on the loss of power or masculinity.
Many Gogolian women have traits in common. In this story Auntie is a strong woman and the origin of the problem because she is the one who is setting the two for marriage. The soon to be wife is also a power absorber we can also compare this to “Diary of a Madman” were the soon to be ruler of Spain is a women and the main character is not happy with a women having such power. Gogolian women are power figurines and Gogolian men’s masculinity and power are threatened through them.
The women in these stories take men’s power, take men’s masculinity, take men’s identity and in the end make them go mad. Most of the Gogol’s stories end with the Gogolian men falling; from the Akaky dying of cold, to the major going mad and to story with no ending. Can Men falling in their social rank due to women’s influence be a reoccurring trait of Gogol’s stories and could this have a connection with his own experiences?