In Nicolay Gogol’s short story, “The Overcoat”, there are many key points which explain the hardships and struggles of living as a poor citizen in 19th century Russia. The economy was awful and most of the authority figures did not care about what happens to these poor people living in the city. The workers in Russia were treated as filthy slaves and had to go through hard working labor for their landowner. If they wanted to leave or get married, it was either not allowed or it required permission first.
This story is about a common man named Akakiy who is moving through the oppression with his simple, content life and his job as a document copier. He doesn’t make a lot of money or care about his appearance that much, but he is happy with what he does with his life. However, Akakiy does face some conflict and suffers abuse for the way he lives his life. Akakiy Bashmatchkin works at a government department in St. Petersburg where he spends all of his time copying letters and documents in the office for all of his superiors.
Sometimes when he finishes his work for the day he copies one more paper before he walks home because he enjoys doing it. This is all that he does in the office because he is unable to complete a task such as altering the heading of a letter. Akakiy’s peers make fun and ridicule him and the way he looks. For example, one of the co-workers said that his torn-up cloak looks like a cape. Some of them tear paper up and crumble it over his head, simulating snow fall. Terrible rumors would spread around about how Akakiy’s landlady beats him at his home.
Akakiy had to endure all of these horrible remarks and this shows how tough it was standing out in the 19th century. As a poor man in St. Petersburg during this time period, Akakiy has to take caution of wearing out his clothing such as his shoes and his coat because the cost of paying for new clothes is exceeds what he can afford. His cloak eventually was beginning to tear apart. Akakiy realized, based on the harsh comments from his co-workers and the chilling winds of the winter mornings, that it was time to take his cloak to a tailor. This is where he met Petrovitch, who was in charge of his own shop on his apartment floor.
Petrovitch tells him that he is unable to fix his cloak and that he would have to purchase a new one. The materials for the laboring are too much for Akakiy to pay off, so he persistently keeps going to Petrovitch’s apartment daily to see if he would lower the price of the materials. Akakiy got a raise at his job, so he eventually paid off the ruble amount for the materials. The new cloak that was presented gave him some esteem and made him feel more ordinary. Akakiy’s co-workers were very appreciative that he was able to pick up a new cloak. Some of them were even impressed with his action.
Even though they showed a little more respect towards him, they did force him to throw a celebration party for himself. After the party, as he begins to walk through the dim, plain, and dreary part of the city back to his apartment, two bearded men approach him. One of the men grabs him by the collar saying “The coat is mine! ” as the other man punches Akakiy in the face. Akakiy was feeling distressed and worried because when he gets a new coat, he sees it as getting a new wife. He roams around the street and goes to the location of the watchmen and files a complaint.
Carelessly, the watchmen tell Akakiy to come to the police station the next day. When he finally tells the police what happened, they completely go against Akakiy story asking why he was out so late in the first place. No authority figures cared about what unfortunate thing happened to a low class, strange looking man. Akakiy catches a burning fever from the weather and only has thirty six hours to live. Four days later, the officials find out that he is dead. A dead man then begins to terrorize citizens by grabbing them by their collars, trying on and stealing their cloaks.
There is speculation by the officials that this is Akakiy, back from the dead terrorizing the citizens to seek retribution on all of those who have mistreated him. It is not confirmed but it seems as though this was what Gogol wanted the reader to figure out, if he wanted to seek revenge or if it’s something else. It could’ve been one of the bearded men trying to steal more cloaks. All of these questions are left unanswered. Nicolay Gogol was trying to describe the way it was living in the 19th century in Russia with this story.
The character, Akakiy, represented a man who lived a common life and who had no problems with anyone, but everyone had problems with him because they thrived on tormenting him. Akakiy was just a poor man, who really had nothing to really live by except his job as a document copier. The prominent personage, the police, and the watchmen all turned Akakiy down for needing their help getting the stolen coat back because Akakiy is just one low class man with no prestige to his name. To all of them, he was a “nobody”. But no matter how badly Akakiy was treated in his life, he ended up having the last laugh as he left the city in terror.