How Rank Influenced Gogol’s The Overcoat


Gogol’s short story The Overcoat follows an awkward individual named Akaky Akakievich who occupies a low ranking position in the government where he simple copies documents all day. He saves up his money in order to get a new overcoat which is then stolen on his way back from a party. Akaky Akakievich asks for help from several higher level officials who all turn him down. After his death several days later, his ghost comes back and doesn’t leave until he finds and steals a perfectly-sized overcoat from one particularly Important Person who was one of the officials that cruelly rejected him.

This story makes several references to rank and relationships between different ranks. Akaky is from a very low level that tries to stay with those of similar rank. He is completely devoted to his job and is very good at it, but can’t seem to do anything else but that specific job and he receives no respect, possibly because of his rank. Akaky is constantly rejected or turned away when he asks for help for higher ranked officials, especially by the Important Person who tries to make himself even more prominent by yelling at everyone. This dynamic between the ranks mirrors actual societal ranks – the sosloviye – of the Russian system and criticizes the superiority given to higher ranking individuals.

The story also contains the classic message of the lower class rising up against the upper class. Akaky does die, but his ghost comes back and ultimately completes its revenge by giving a good scare to the Important Person and stealing back an overcoat. The Important Person also starts to act less mean towards his clients and coworkers, which signifies that Akaky, of a low rank, had an effect on this high ranking person. Readers can interpret this as an inspiring story that even the most dull, unimportant individual can make a difference on the upper class people.

Given Gogol’s criticism of rank and message of poor against rich, Gogol incorporated social aspects into his work, making him a member of the Russian intelligentsia devoted to social change through art.

Question: How does Akaky treat rank versus Akaky’s ghost and what does this signify? Why did Gogol include this?

3 thoughts on “How Rank Influenced Gogol’s The Overcoat

  1. I think the ghost of Akaky represents the followers of a rebellion or revolution. The leaders of change can be killed, but their followers will still continue the cause they had organized. Gogol perhaps includes this to show how the decembrist revolt set the ideas of future rebellions to follow.

  2. The ghost of Akaky had nothing to lose, and it took the death of Akaky for him to realize that all of the systems set up were near ridiculous. When Akaky was alive, he had a constant defference to those who held higher position than he did, despite the fact he was technically a noble. His meager salary and inability to afford the basic necessities did not change the fact that he did not speak up for himself. Gogul is symbolizing the fact that often times death of brings attention to ideas that were previously left untouched.

  3. To answer your question, Tatiana, I think that Akaky’s ghost has little respect for rank and defies it with impunity in a way that living Akaky could not (my evidence for this is his theft of peoples’ overcoats). I think that the Akaky’s mischevious ghost represents the lasting, often accruing effects of caste systems in a society, showing how they can lead to loss and disorder – the very things that castes are imposed in order to protect.

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