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Literature / Oblomov

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Oblomov is a Russian novel by Ivan Goncharov, published in 1859. Nobleman Oblomov resides in his St. Petersburg (capital of Czarist Russia) apartment with his servant Sachar, daydreaming half the day and doing nothing the other half. Sometimes, one of his old friends visits him and provides a bit of change.

He is the epitome of the "Superfluous man", a type of character you'll often meet in 19th century Russian literature.

Tropes found in the novel include:

  • Author Avatar: Oblomov is a downplayed, self-deprecating example: he is definitely not idealized, but he shares quite a few traits and habits with the author. Goncharov himself was quite a sybarite and loved the lazy, laid-back lifestyle that gave him space for creative work. He even said that he wrote his life in Oblomov.
  • Berserk Button: Downplayed. From the moment Oblomov falls in love with Olga, everything concerning her becomes a touchy topic to him. Tarantyev had it coming for a while but when he dares to insult her, Oblomov finally slaps his face and cuts ties with him.
  • Big Eater:
    • Oblomov loves fine, hearty meals.
    • Mukhoyarov likes to spend his money on delicacies instead of more visible luxuries (if only because people could get suspicious - as he says, they can't see what he has in his stomach).
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Olga has prominent thick eyebrows, one higher than another.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mukhoyarov is seemingly meek and polite. He is the one who comes up with schemes to swindle Oblomov.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Oblomov is smart and educated, but lazy and cripplingly impractical.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Oblomov's relationship with Olga ends in tears.
  • The Dog Bites Back: When Tarantyev's buddy is fired because they cheated Oblomov, Tarantyev still has the nerve to shout at Oblomov and demand that he give half of his property to Mukhoyarov. Then, finally, Oblomov slaps him, and the servants claim they had seen nothing.
  • Doorstopper: Over 500 pages.
  • Drama Queen: Oblomov has his moments. When Sachar offhandedly compares him to other masters, Oblomov takes umbrage and goes on a long disorganized rant about it. Poor Sachar doesn't understand a thing of what he's saying.
  • Dream Sequence: Oblomov dreams about his childhood in the village.
  • Empathic Environment:
    • The St. Petersburg' weather practically depends on the characters’ moods and relationships. Oblomov and Olga spend many nice, warm days together. Their breakup is punctuated by a heavy snowfall.
    • In Oblomov's dream and memories, there is always mild weather in Oblomovka, his sleepy Heaven on Earth.
  • Evil Duo: Tarantyev and Mukhoyarov. The former is a raving jerkass, the latter is a Manipulative Bastard in sheep's clothing.
  • Extreme Doormat:
    • Oblomov is pushed around by Tarantyev and easily manipulated by Mukhoyarov.
    • Agafya is quiet and obedient and does what her brother tells her. However, when it's Oblomov's happiness on the line, she stands her ground, even against her brother.
  • Fatal Flaw: Oblomov's laziness, impracticality, and lack of drive. Those traits ruin his relationship with Olga, give Tarantyev and Mukhoyarov a chance to swindle him, and lead to his early death.
  • Fat Slob: Oblomov is too lazy to dress properly or wash up every morning. Also, he is a Big Eater and it shows.
  • Film of the Book: A Few Days from the Life of I. I. Oblomov, 1980, USSR.
  • Foil:
  • False Friend: Tarantyev. In the beginning, he is just rude and insulting; later, he and Mukhoyarov essentially cheat and blackmail Oblomov.
  • The Generic Guy: Alekseyev is featureless.
  • Gentleman Snarker:
    • Stolz. He is the one who coined the term oblomovshtchina.
    • Olga is a female version. She can shark "so kindly as to rob the words of their sarcasm".
      Stolz (to Oblomov who barely restrains Tears of Joy after Olga sings to them): Confess now, Ilya: how long is it since you felt as you are feeling at this moment?
      Olga: Yet he might have felt like that this morning if 'a cracked barrel-organ' had happened to pass his window.
      Stolz: He never keeps his windows open. Consequently, he could not possibly hear what is going on outside.
  • Guile Hero: Stolz. He pulls Screw the Rules, I Have Connections! to get Oblomov out of Mukhoyarov's clutches.
  • Happily Married: Olga and Stolz in the end. Oblomov and Agafya also qualify, in a sense.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sachar badmouths his master and steals from him, if only small amounts, but it is noted that he would die for Oblomov without a second thought. After Oblomov's death, Sachar stays in the city because he doesn't want to leave his grave.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: Agafya is not too bright, but really kind.
  • The Klutz: Sachar regularly drops and breaks stuff.
  • Lampshade Hanging:
  • Love at First Note: Oblomov falls in love with Olga after he hears her singing.
  • Loving a Shadow:
    • When breaking up with Oblomov, Olga admits that she is guilty of this.
      Olga: Not long ago I realized that I was loving in you only what I wished you to contain — that it was only the future Oblomov of my dreams — it was so dear to me.
    • Oblomov has a bit of this too. While they are dating, he inserts Olga into his dreams about sleepy, motionless life in Oblomovka. It is obviously not the life she would want to live.
  • Manchild: Oblomov never really learned to care for himself. He can't dress or wash by himself which, however, was not unheard of in his social class; he also has little idea about how to manage his property and is easily fooled by Tarantyev and Mukhoyarov.
  • Meaningful Name: It wouldn't be a classic Russian novel without them.
    • Ilya Ilyich Oblomov is a particularly interesting case. "Oblomov" brings to mind something that has been broken off. He is separated from modern society, he is far away from his village he dreams of, and he never makes it back. On the other hand, "obly" means circular. Aside from Oblomov being pretty round, there is also the symbolism of the sun and completeness/finality, and he is a warm-hearted Nice Guy pathologically unable to change. His character arc and his whole life goes in a circle. His name with the patronymic makes a Repetitive Name, adding to cyclic symbolism as well.
    • "Stolz" is German for "pride" or "proud" (here, in a positive sense - he's someone who can be proud of what he did). His first name, Andrey, means "masculine". He is the Manly Man to Oblomov's Sensitive Guy. Also, he has a German last name and Russian first name, reflecting his Child of Two Worlds status.
    • "Agafya" is derived from the Greek word for unconditional love. She is indeed kind and, unlike Olga, loves Oblomov the way he is.
    • "Tarantyev" is derived from the Russian word for ram. It feats his rude demeanor nicely.
    • Mukhoyarov's name prominently features a Russian word for "fly" (mukha), making him very unsympathetic from the start (it doesn't help he lives up to his namesake, being as repulsive)
  • Moral Myopia: Tarantyev goes on long rants about sneaky German Stolz who's only out for Oblomov's money. Of course, Tarantyev is worried since he aids Mukhoyarov in swindling Oblomov out of his money and Stolz saves Oblomov from them repeatedly.
  • Nice Guy: Oblomov's main virtue is his kind heart.
    Stolz: His soul was as clear and as bright as glass, his disposition was kindly, and he was a gentleman to the core.
  • Nephewism: Olga only has an aunt.
  • Never My Fault: Oblomov frequently blames Sachar for misplacing his things. And when Oblomov criticizes Sachar's less-than-perfect housekeeping, the latter shows the same attitude.
    • On a bigger scale though, Oblomov averts this. In his relationship with Olga, he blames every problem, including their breakup, entirely on himself. He bitterly admits his flaws and takes responsibility for his lifestyle.
  • Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Olga drags Oblomov on one of those.
  • Opposites Attract: Oblomov and Stolz are nothing alike.
  • Phony Veteran: Sachar in the end. After Oblomov's death, he becomes a beggar.
  • Plot-Irrelevant Villain: Tarantyev and Mukhoyarov. Sure, they cause trouble, but Oblomov's greatest enemy is himself.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Most of the time, Sachar is there to provide some levity by dropping stuff.
  • The Pig-Pen: Sachar always has dirty hands.
  • Protagonist Title: Oblomov is the main character's last name.
  • Pygmalion Plot: Olga attempts one on Oblomov, with the best intentions: she wants to revitalize and save him. She fails.
  • Ridiculous Procrastinator: After the head of his village tells Oblomov that there are problems, he starts thinking about reforms, and spends the next years with that, without doing anything.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Agafya and Mukhoyarov.
  • The Slacker: Oblomov's favorite activity is lounging on a sofa, sleeping or daydreaming. He is too lazy to read or dress properly. On the other hand, he just doesn't care about a lot of things that most people around him do.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: A rare good example. Tarantyev and Mukhoyarov could rob Oblomov blind, but Stolz happens to be on First-Name Basis with the general, who gets Mukhoyarov fired.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Olga. She is upper-class, intelligent, independent, outspoken, snarky, and sings like an angel. She attempts a Pygmalion Plot on the main character and bends the rules (i.e., going on dates with Oblomov with no supervision and even visiting him in his home), but won't go too far (i.e., she will not become his mistress).
  • Tears of Joy: Oblomov sheds them when he hears Olga's singing and falls in love with her.
  • Tragic Dream: Oblomov longs for the sleepy, undisturbed life of his village he remembers from childhood but he can hardly leave his flat, let alone the city. On the other hand, he gets more or less what he wanted after he marries Agafya; after a few years of eating and lounging on a sofa he dies of a stroke.
  • Unequal Pairing: Oblomov and Agafya in the end. She is below his social standing and way below his intellectual level.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: Olga's method of improving Oblomov relies on Power of Love and copious amounts of snark.