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Published: 01-11-2019

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The Overcoat: Symbolism in “The Overcoat”

In his brief tale “The Overcoat,” Nikolai Gogol has unfolded tragedies as effectively as satirical jokes by imagining a wide range of roles an overcoat can fulfill inside an oppressive, bureaucratic, and heavily materialistic society. Without having loss of humor, he has shown his reader various perceptions of an overcoat as a simple necessity for decent life, an object beyond admiration, a tenuous tie among a man and his “brother” (Gogol, 29), and possibly worst of all, a lead to for the rage of ghosts. Along these playful exaggerations, nevertheless, Gogol also turns the overcoat into a motif that expresses his significant issues for the properly getting of humanity, and sooner or later such issues also distinguish themselves from all comedies within his tale.

To set the tragic tone of the story, Gogol appears to his reader as an omniscient and anonymous third person narrator who observes the parallels in between Akaky Akakievich, an impoverished clerk, and his worn-out overcoat, which often represents the image of himself inside society. The narrator notices Akaky’s overcoat is mocked by other people as it is becoming “threadbare” (Gogol, 5), and to avert it from falling apart, Akaky has to use its collar to patch all other damages on it. In “The Overcoat”, such a strange, completely “zero-sum” way of tailoring, apart from explaining the variegated appear and the reduced collar on Akaky’s overcoat, also seems to reflect a pattern that is common within Akaky’s destitute life. Certainly, as the hemorrhoidal complexion of Akaky’s face reminds the narrator of Akaky’s birth in a humble loved ones, his low rank, and his old age, the narrator exclaims “No support for it!” (Gogol, 1) not basically out of his sympathy for Akaky’s physical appearance, but rather it is due to the fact he realizes that in a society which depends virtue upon rank, family members influence, and possibly also upon very good physical appearance, there is merely no way for Akaky to advance himself in his life.

Within such society, Akaky’s only merit is his neat hand writing, and as the story develops, the narrator suggests that Akaky’s life has grow to be as hopeless as his broken overcoat is, particularly when Akaky finds it impossible to compensate for all his inherent disadvantages by operating diligently as copying clerk: as this type of function is practically negligible inside his society, his achievement is typically not recognized. Thus from the narrator’s view, Akaky’s tough work only appears to further degrade his life, and consequently it is no far better than patching an overcoat with its collar. In addition, by revealing Akaky’s reluctance to modify a document from third particular person into a letter in very first particular person, the narrator has also attested to the belittling effect that Akaky’s work has created upon him. The narrator characterizes Akaky’s obsession with his copying work as his desperate resort for avoiding any other misfortunes in his life. From this point, the narrator reaches the taciturn conclusion that Akaky is so oppressed by society that he even lacks the courage to inform his own story or to write down something that would resemble it, and as most individuals surrounding Akaky are ignorant of his diminishing existence, the narrator also queries regardless of whether folks who share Akaky’s suffering will ever be known by their fellow human beings if he did not bother to contain any of them in his story.

The irony of Gogol’s narration arises not only from its mockeries of the old overcoat, but also from its matter-of reality sounding description and its facetious dramatizations of Akaky’s new overcoat. Gogol has devoted a lot of his story to emphasize a new overcoat’s pragmatic appeal for Akaky. Via the narrator’s cold, merciless voice, Gogol affirms the indisputable reality that Akaky requirements a new overcoat in order to survive the harsh winter and to shield himself from the scornful remarks of his co-workers. Gogol describes how Akaky’s frequent check out to the tailor Petrovich and his persistent endurance of months of hardship, with a clear vision of an ultimate purpose in his mind, have finally afforded him the luxury of a new overcoat. To give the story a a lot more realistic really feel, Gogol even depicts every bit of particulars of the new overcoat, such as its material, its glossy, desirable texture, and its sturdy good quality, as if all aspects of the new overcoat have been very carefully examined from Akaky’s point of view within the narration.

What Gogol is concerned about, nevertheless, is definitely a lot more than reality: following venturing into Akaky’s earthly life, he right away creates a sharp contrast among Akaky’s physical and spiritual globe by turning the materialistic image of an ordinary overcoat into one thing much a lot more edifying inside the story. For instance, in a quite oxymoronic sense, Gogol portrays Akaky’s endeavor for acquiring a new overcoat as some work through which he “was nourished spiritually” (Gogol, 10), which only seems to indicate how purposeless his life would otherwise turn out to be with out the ordeal of a new overcoat. To further exaggerate such unusual significance of an overcoat, Gogol also mentions Akaky’s cheering co-workers, who have all of a sudden grow to be amiable towards Akaky, start to congratulate Akaky for his new overcoat and are even willing to throw a party for it, as if they are enchanted by some magical power and have all mistaken the overcoat as Akaky’s wedding ring. Apparently, by stretching the part of an overcoat much beyond what is usual in Akaky’s life, or rather, by endowing it with the capacity to carry out all kinds of miracles, Gogol has told a slightly absurd story, but with all these absurdities as intentional contradictions to reality, Gogol also exemplifies the limitations of materialism with no being didactic to his reader.

Towards the end of the story, as Akaky’s new overcoat vanishes along with his “brotherly” relation amongst his co-workers, Akaky is again plunged into his deep abyss of misery. Gogol shows that Akaky’s abundance in material wealth has in truth neither actually dissolved his isolation from other humans, nor has it enriched him spiritually or procured him any happiness other than satisfying his most standard human requirements. Hence as an overcoat inside Gogol’s story, perhaps somewhat mystical, turns out to be nothing a lot more than an overcoat, the reader can also clearly sense that even if Akaky’s new overcoat were by no means robbed away, he would nonetheless finish up with a tragic, unfulfilling life — if an overcoat was all Akaky had asked for, or regrettably, if it have been the most valuable present the world could offer you him.

In addition to recounting Akaky’s particular grievance, Gogol also adds to his story a rather phantastical ending by reporting thefts of several other overcoats, all of which additional resonating with his discontent against a corrupt, oppressive society, even although all these incidents are trivial compared to Akaky’s immense misfortunes throughout his life. Close to the conclusion of the story, Akaky is single-mindedly focused upon searching for his new overcoat, and he does not notice his other losses at all till he meets the “important person” (Gogol, 16), an individual who would prefer to entertain his buddy out of boredom rather than hearing Akaky’s complaints. Despite the fact that this can be noticed as a criticism for ineffective bureaucracy, within the context of the story, it also reminds the reader that although Akaky requirements a decent overcoat to meet the “important person,” he does not even have a buddy who can lend him one particular. Had Akaky not met the “important particular person,” he probably would never understand how considerably his obsession with materialistic life has alienated him away from society. By means of such a situation, Gogol illustrates how excessive materialism not only causes isolations and indignity amongst humans, but also final results in blindness towards its damages to humanity. Additionally, as Gogol depicts how “the important person” at the end has merely lost his overcoat, and as a result, has saved his personal integrity and his loved ones by returning home, he also appears to insinuate that no matter how numerous overcoats a ghost Akaky can rob, those overcoats will never ever be sufficient to repay for what Akaky has lost in his life. Lastly, as Gogol arrives at the possibility that all humans and ghosts in his story, regardless of the antagonisms among themselves, are really victims of the Czarist regime, he also asks his reader to judge whether or not Akaky and other ghosts, no matter “dead or alive” (Gogol, 20), ought to be punished “in the harshest manner, as an instance to others” (Gogol, 20).

By skillfully making use of overcoat as a motif in his story, Gogol has asked many critical queries about humanity. As Gogol describes how lonely and hopeless Akaky has grow to be far more and a lot more preoccupied with his overcoat and eventually collapses, he frowns upon Akaky’s futile life, but at the very same time he also concerns how 1 could escape the viscous cycle of spiritual poverty and excessive materialism, each appearing to be simultaneously the result in and the impact of the other. With ghost Akaky’s rage towards other people, specifically towards the “important individual,” Gogol is probably suggesting that humans should be responsible for assisting each other to stay away from such repulsive pattern of life, that is, figuratively speaking, they need to avoid suffering by making use of their extended handled spoons to feed every other as an alternative of only attempting to satisfy their personal requirements. Gogol’s story, nevertheless, also implies that fulfilling this obligation is not effortless when many folks like Akaky are totally isolated from society. In addition, by mentioning the ruthless manner that the Czarist regime seeks to punish even the ghosts, who are most most likely non-existent, Gogol also blames the regime for its extreme oppression against humanity and queries no matter whether humans must also be responsible for resisting such oppression, if they had been to be held accountable for their own nicely-being. It is hard to think about how Gogol could ask these excruciating queries and criticize the bureaucratic and overly materialistic influences of society with out using his good humor to soften the threatening tones of his story. Gogol’s humor has undoubtedly saved his perform from doctrinarism, trivial objections, and maybe even censorships, or in Gogol’s most basic term, 1 could also say that it is the energy of humor that has enabled Gogol “to keep away from any unpleasantness” (Gogol, 1) in “The Overcoat”.
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