The Overcoat by Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol
The hero of “The Overcoat”, Akaky Akakievich, engenders both hatred and pity from the reader. His meekness and his pathetic life deserve sympathy, while his utter detachment from his peers and his singular obsession with a coat are often despised. He is drastically different from any of his peers, but there is a certain purity in his way of life which the overcoat defiles. Akaky’s world is completely devoid of any excitement; his sole source of pleasure lies in his work. However, his career itself is excruciatingly mundane and only a man as simple as he could extract happiness from it. Akaky is a ghost in his world, and only his death leaves any impression. Temptation, in the form of a luxurious coat, is forced upon him and upsets his peaceful life. Akaky should not be hated for his disconnection from reality or for his symbolic marriage to an overcoat; rather he should be pitied for his terrible fate.
Akaky is doomed from birth. When his mother pages through the Russian Orthodox calendar for names for her son, each name carries the connotation of martyrdom. She realizes that he will be unable to avoid a similarly miserable fate, and so resignedly gives him the monotonous name of “Akaky, son of Akaky”. Nothing about him, in fact, is either notable or appealing. Described as short, pockmarked, balding and ruddy-faced, Akaky is the antithesis of attractive. A fly commands more attention than he does. His diminutive salary prevents him from affording anything but the poorest of clothing, but finer garments could scarcely improve his looks. Even the timing of his walks to work is cursed; he constantly finds himself the target of garbage thrown out of apartment windows and so is always covered in filth. His speech is so fragmented by pauses, prepositions and particles that is barely coherent. Fortune completely overlooks Akaky, and such tragic circumstances move the reader to pity.
Akaky is employed at the most menial of tasks (copying documents), and yet his work is the sole source of joy in his life. Despite the apparent tediousness of replicating letters for countless hours, Akaky works with absolute focus, never making a single error. Whatever he does not finish at the office he takes home to complete, smiling as he writes. He lacks any meaningful social relationships and so these letters replace friends. This love of transcription saves him from the vices which engulf those seeking pleasure. Rather than receive praise for his dedication, he is mocked by his coworkers. The world completely rejects him, so he creates his own world of compositions. Akaky cannot be blamed for refusing personal associations, as his appearance and weak nature prevent him from forming any. Instead, his contentment with such a pathetic and solitary existence should be admired.
Christianity emphasizes meekness and humility, and Akaky is the perfect embodiment of these qualities. Despite constant castigation from...