Akaky Akakievich is the epitome of the antihero. A boring, insignificant little man whose main pleasure in life is to copy documents, in fact his whole life consists of copying documents. His life however, is changed the day he realizes he has to buy a new coat. Lacking the money, he undertakes what could be called austerity measures and starves himself to be able to buy his new coat. Here we witness a first change in the character. Before, he was simply living in his own little world, the world of a diligent clerk who enjoyed the unexciting life he possessed. My assumption is that he received his rank early in his life, and had no possibilities of raising himself higher, thus explaining his stoic personality. Having to buy a new overcoat changed his life, for the first time he had a goal. His personality changes and he even finds this challenge to make him a driven person: In other words, he gets out of his routine and is exhilarated by the new one. Upon getting the new coat, Akaky is now filled with pride, although his former personality does try to steer him back to his old ways. To Akaky, this new overcoat symbolizes a new life, the only true achievement he ever and probably will ever make in his life. This new hope is however destroyed when his coat gets stolen, and nobody seems to really care to help him. Here Gogol uses this opportunity to demonstrate how ranks change a person, especially through the rather comical “Important man.” The story ends with Akaky dying of what appears to be pneumonia and possibly despair from realizing he will never get his dear overcoat back, and haunting the streets of Saint Petersburg trying to steal overcoat from the population.
My opinion, which I am aware could very well be wrong, of the overcoat is that Gogol was giving a critique of the rank system in place in Russia. He does so through Akaky and the very important man. Akaky is a man who is not supposed to achieve anything in his life because he has a low rank and will never really be able to pull himself any higher. The new overcoat does change him but also shows the manner in which he changes once he starts caring about something. In the case of the important man, the idea seems to be the same; he was a caring nice gentleman who received a promotion and now cannot help but crush people underneath him. I believe that the moral of the story is that the ranking system creates two types of people, whose personalities are dictated by their rank: stoic people who live without any passion to avoid any disappointment (Akaky) or people whose role in society is more important and who therefore cannot help but disregard the lesser ranks (the important man.)
I agree that Gogol is giving a critique of the ranking system in place in Russia. However I found his critique to express a flaw within the ranking system through the process of neglecting the lower ranking citizens due to their arguable lack in contribution to the society as a whole.