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

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.