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Ilya Ilych Oblomov is the central character of the novel, portrayed as the ultimate incarnation of the superfluous man, a symbolic character in 19th-century Russian literature. Oblomov is a young, generous nobleman who seems incapable of making important decisions or undertaking any significant actions. Throughout the novel he rarely leaves his room or bed. In the first 50 pages, he manages only to move from his bed to a chair. The book was considered[by whom?] a satire of Russian nobility whose social and economic function was increasingly questioned in mid-nineteenth century Russia. It has been said[by whom?] that no other novel has been used to describe the ever-so-elusive "Russian mentality" or "Russian soul" as frequently as Oblomov.
The novel was popular when it came out, and some of its characters and devices have imprinted on Russian culture and language.
The novel focuses on the life of the main character, Ilya Ilyich Oblomov. Oblomov is a member of the upper middle class and the son of a member of Russia's nineteenth century landed gentry. Oblomov's distinguishing characteristic is his slothful attitude towards life. Oblomov raises this trait to an art form, conducting his little daily business from his bed.
The first part of the book finds Oblomov in bed one morning. He receives a letter from the manager of his country estate, Oblomovka, explaining that the financial situation is deteriorating and that he must visit to make some major decisions. But Oblomov can barely leave his bedroom, much less journey a thousand miles into the country.
As he sleeps, a dream reveals Oblomov's upbringing in Oblomovka. He is never required to work or perform household duties, and his parents constantly pull him from school for vacations and trips or for trivial reasons. In contrast, his friend Andrey Stoltz, born to a German father and a Russian mother, is raised in a strict, disciplined environment, and he is dedicated and hard-working.
Stoltz visits at the end of Part 1, finally rousing Oblomov from sleep. As the story develops, Stoltz introduces Oblomov to a young woman, Olga, and the two fall in love. However, his apathy and fear of moving forward are too great, and she calls off their engagement when it is clear that he will keep delaying their wedding and avoiding putting his affairs in order.