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The Overcoat by Nikolay Gogol: A Whisper of Change

Oct 08, 1999 1063 Words
Gogol's The Overcoat: A Whisper of Change

At first glance of Nikolay Gogol's novel The Overcoat, one would only see a short story about a poor man wishing to survive in a cruel world. However, in looking further into the story, deep symbolism can be found. Gogol lived in Russia during the rise of the communist party, and was a great dissident of communism. He believed the inevitable end of a communist government was total failure. He also criticized the other government of the world for failing to aid Russia in its quest for a better system. Gogol used his creative mind and his writing abilities to speak out against the evils of the Russian government. He used symbolism to prove his points, and often risked exile by his own government for expressing such radical views. Many different objects in The Overcoat can be mirrored with the objects of true life. Everything from Akaky Akakyevitch's coat, to his administrator is used by Gogol to symbolize the situation of Russia during Gogol's time. In truth, the Russian government was against the free-thinking man, and so was against Gogol.

Akaky himself is used as a symbol of the Russian people. The communists were against any sort of free-thinking, and respected any man who performed his duties without question. Akaky is described in the story as being a quiet, hard-working man. He keeps mostly to himself, having very little to do with the outside world. His entire life centers around his profession. Akaky's life changes only after he buys his new overcoat. The overcoats in the story symbolize different governments. Akaky's original "dressing jacket," is the Russian government in power before communism took over. The government, like the overcoat, once served its purpose, but is now worn thin and needs a replacement. The original color of the coat cannot even be seen anymore. Each time a tear appears in the coat, it is patched and forgotten, but the coat eventually cannot be patched any longer. Akaky is extremely hesitant in buying a new coat, claiming it would be too expensive. This compares to the hesitation of the Russian population to switch to a new government. However, the coat no longer serves its intended purpose, and Akaky is forced to either purchase a new coat or freeze in the cold. Akaky's new coat symbolizes the establishment of communism over the Russian people. At first, the coat serves its purpose, keeping Akaky warm. Though it looks nice and expensive, the overcoat is actually made of fairly cheap materials. The overcoat gives Akaky a quick glance of happiness, but is quickly stolen by robbers on the street. Gogol uses the new overcoat to make a statement about the communistic government. In the beginning years of communism, the people of Russia believed the system to be efficient and superior to all others, yet the government eventually proved to be a failure, falling far short of the people's expectations.

Akaky's fellow workers, the other clerks in the office, are symbolic of other countries. The clerks neglected Akaky and teased him about his old coat, but after he purchased his new overcoat, the other clerks gained much respect for him, admiring his new coat and inviting him to dinner. Akaky was pleased with being treated as an equal. This is representative of the other countries' view of Russia. During Russia's previous government, the other countries of the world both pitied and laughed at the once great nation. However, after communist took control, Russia was viewed with more respect among the countries. Other nations now recognized Russia as an equal.

The Person of Consequence is symbolic of a great democratic nation, possibly the United States. The Person of Consequence is portrayed as an egotistical person, afraid of showing weakness to the "lower grades, " but always willing to smile and enjoy himself in front of his equals. Here Gogol shows his opinions of the democratic nations. The democratic nations treat each other with respect and admiration, but each looks upon the communists with distrust and conceitedness. The nations believe that no cowardice must ever be shown to the communists. Gogol believed that, once the chains of communism had been broken by the Russian people, the democratic governments would be hesitant in helping the struggling country. In the story, Akaky seeks the help of the Person of Consequence in retrieving his stolen overcoat. However, the Person of Consequence shows no respect for Akaky, yelling at him and ignoring his pleas. Thus the predictions of Gogol are portrayed through the actions of the Person of Consequence.

After Akaky's death, his ghost haunts citizens on the streets of Petersburg, robbing them of their overcoats. The hauntings continue until Akaky steals the overcoat of his enemy, the Person of Consequence. The ghost then disappears, with only rumors of further sightings of the ghost. Gogol uses Akaky's ghost to predict the future of Russia. Once communism falls, the people will begin a search for a new government. The search will end with Russia evoloving into a democracy, though the democratic nations are the enemies of communist Russia during Gogol's life. The rumors of coninued sightings of the ghost perhaps suggest Gogol's believe that some will not be satisfied under a democratic rule.

Nikolay Gogol was able to escape exile from his country only by hiding his opinions through the use of symbolism. No one will ever know the true meanings put forth in The Overcoat, yet Gogol's general opinions can be recognized. In a country so against the right of mankind to voice his opinions freely, Gogol was able to successfully speak his mind by using his creativity and his talents. Gogol's works paved the way for many other Russian authors who, by using Gogol's actions as inspiration, now had the courage necessary for fighting against the power of the majority. It is men like Gogol who shape the nations of the world. His influence in Russian society could be compared to many great authors who have influenced the people of the United States, such as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. Without writers such as these, the opinions of the oppressed could never be made audible, and the desires for a greater future could never become a reality.

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