The Diary of a Madman


Nikolai Gogol

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Themes and Colors
Social Class and Status Theme Icon
Writing, Escapism, and Fantasy Theme Icon
Insanity Theme Icon
Isolation Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Diary of a Madman, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Social Class and Status

In Nikolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman,” the middling civil servant Aksenty Ivanovich Poprishchin gradually loses his sanity, resulting in his imprisonment at an asylum. Poprishchin’s insanity is exacerbated by his fixation on social class and statushe spends much of the story resenting his peers for their positions in society. In fact, Poprishchin constantly comments on others’ social status, even when he is merely traveling through town or doing errands. In Gogol’s story…

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Writing, Escapism, and Fantasy

Civil servant Aksenty Ivanovich Poprishchin spends his personal time writing in his diary, where he is able to express his true feelings. By contrast, his daily interactions, oftentimes brief and dull, do not accurately reflect his thoughts and aspirations. Despite providing a more accurate view of his internal state, however, Poprishchin’s writing also presents a decidedly fantasized version of himself at odds with reality. In fact, writing allows Poprishchin to explore multiple fantasies: he imagines…

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In “Diary of a Madman,” Gogol chronicles how Aksenty Ivanovich Poprishchin slowly descends into madness and is imprisoned in an insane asylum. Poprishchin begins the story seeming relatively ordinary, but his insanity soon manifests in multiple forms. For example, he believes that dogs can speak in human language and that they are capable of writing letters. Eventually, he suffers delusions of grandeur, and begins to believe he is a lost king of Spain. Gogol juxtaposes…

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Aksenty Ivanovich Poprishchin, an embittered and judgmental clerk, dislikes many of his coworkers and fixates on his low social status. Despite his verbose and critical inner monologue, which he records in his diary, Poprishchin’s outward persona is quiet and reserved. Poprishchin’s inability to talk to his peers and his judgmental stance prevent him from truly connecting with anyone. This total isolation leads to the rapid deterioration of his sanity, and he starts to imagine…

read analysis of Isolation