"The Inspector" Bureaucracy, Corruption and Deception-- How Gogol using satire, ridicules the bureaucracy of the Russian government through scenes of corruption, deception and self-deception.
The Mayor’s famous line, as he turns to address the audience directly, “What are you laughing at? You are laughing at yourselves,” (p. 120) illustrates this theme, which is summed up in the play’s epigraph, “It is no use to blame the looking-glass if your face is awry.” Nicholas I, exiting the theater after a performance of The Government Inspector remarked: “Everyone has got his due, I most of all.” (Nabokov p. 41)
The Government Inspector is a satirical Russian comedy based on a case of mistaken identity. The setting is a typical small town in provincial Russia, in the 1830s. The town’s Mayor has called together the town’s leading officials—including the Judge, the Schools Inspector, the Charities Commissioner, the town Doctor, and the Police Superintendent—to inform them that a government inspector is due to arrive “incognito” from Saint Petersburg. This inspector has “secret orders” to inspect the local government and administration of the town. The Mayor, in a panic, instructs his officials to quickly cover up the many “little failings” of the local town authorities. The brothers Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky, the town gossips, rush in to inform the Mayor and his officials that they have seen the government inspector staying at a local inn. Who they have seen is Hlestakov, a lowly, young, impoverished civil servant from Saint Petersburg, who they mistake for the high-ranking government inspector. Hlestakov, soon realizes that the town officials have mistaken him to be a person of importance. He makes the most of this misconception, weaving elaborate tales of his life as a high-ranking government official and accepts generous bribes from the town officials, calling them loans. After insincerely proposing to the governor's daughter, Hlestakov flees before his true identity is discovered. The townspeople do not discover their mistake until after he is long gone and moments before the announcement of the arrival of the real Government Inspector.
“With The Inspector General,” Gogol later wrote in his Confession of an Author, “I resolved to put together everything I knew about Russia at that time that was evil— all the injustices perpetrated in the places and circumstances in which a man is expected to display the highest degree of justice—and to have a good laugh at it all, once and for all.” (Troyat p. 144)
Two underlying factors that gave rise to the world that Gogol satirizes, in The Government Inspector, are the imperial bureaucracy and the graft, born of inadequate wages. Government bureaucracy was organized along military lines with 14 levels, replete with ranks and uniforms. Within these levels, one was expected to fawn before their superior, while it was common for the superior to bully the underling and even interfere in their personal lives. At this time the Russian Empire was comparatively poor.
The Russian government’s inability to pay its officials adequate wages encouraged widespread corruption that was informally tolerated by the government, especially on the local level. As long as its officials supplied the imperial treasury with the assigned amount, it cared little how much they extorted from the populace on their own. While Russians were more accustomed to this burdensome bureaucratism, it was still a new and strange phenomenon for Ukrainians in the early 19th century. Perhaps this explains why it was a Ukrainian, Nikolai Gogol, who satirized the imperial bureaucracy so brilliantly in his famous play The Inspector General (1836). (Subtelny p. 205)
The Government Inspector is a satire of the all-pervading bureaucracy of nineteenth-century Russian government. Through the...