The Overcoat (or really the Dressing-Gown)

Gogol’s The Overcoat has the same sticky, slimy, unpleasant-to-view feeling of George Orwell’s 1984. Akaky Akakievich has a monotonous job that only he loves, one that he takes very seriously and even does in his free time. Winston Smith, Orwell’s protagonist, has a fairly boring occupation as well, doing almost the same thing: where Akaky simply copies the words, Winston changes them to reflect Big Brother’s infallibility. Akaky and Winston both live alone, eat the bland foods that their meager government salaries can afford them, and either willingly ignores or is encouraged to ignore every attempt at meaningful human interaction. Where Akaky smells alcohol and slops on the stairs going to Petrovich’s apartment, Winston is followed by the odor of the Victory gin that everyone in his caste drink. Both stories have the theme of being born into blindly following the leadership presented to the character.

Gogol’s short story is much less harsh than Orwell’s and for a good reason. Gogol did not intend for The Overcoat to comment on the oppressiveness of the contemporaneous government. He merely wanted to mention or draw attention to the way of life of some of the government workers. Our protagonist was a titular councillor, rank nine, which means that he was a noble. He was a noble earning 400 rubles per year doing and loving service to the state almost every day. In the current ranking system Akaky could scarcely clothe himself with the salary he earned while people working in the same room as he threw lavish parties for everyone, eating and drinking at probably a month’s worth of food for Akaky. There was a large gap between the rich and the poor even if they held similar or the same occupation.

Charlotte Frankenstein

Charlotte Polk                                                                                                                                     Friday Oct.30




The last block of text that was assigned for homework in Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, was from page 107 until the end of the book.  This section starts out with a heavy moral decision for Victor.  To mask his plan, he sets out on a traveling tour.  Wanting to create a new monster leads him with the difficult choice, he knows the implications that will follow if he fails.  During this time, he begins to weigh out the options taking into account the devastation if his new creation leads to the same destruction.  While traveling, Victor decides to go visit a few philosophers that contain the newest scientific information.  Through his despair, while in Scotland Victor has decided to finish his creation using gathered raw materials.  He wonders about the whereabouts of his monster that he left behind, and hopes his family is safe.  At this point, Victor states that he is miserable, and is in utter confusion about what to do with his creation. During this time for him was especially lonesome.  I think that Shelley really enforces the trouble he has had to endure since creating this being.   Relentlessly, Victor decides to start the creation of another monster, this time a female.  He begins the work and when it is nearly half way complete, he battles yet again with the decision to keep creating or destroy his efforts thus far.  After disposing the remaining body parts, the original monster comes to the lab, and with furry starts to argue with Victor to see why the second monster was destroyed.

Victor is emotionally wrecked; he feels as though his work has turned into a tragedy.  Upon returning home he tries to tell his father of the deaths, claiming sole responsibility.  Victor validates the creations actions by saying that since he created the monster with his hands, by default he basically committed the murders.  Throughout the deration of this novel, Victor Frankenstein struggles with the internal.  Stuck in his own mind, he is emotionally torn, with what seems to be a loving relationship with the monster.  How can he destroy something he worked so hard for, yet how can something that he made cause so much lethal damage to himself, and others?  However, that emotion doesn’t last long when Victor curses the monster for all the hardships he had to endure since the creation.



“….But through the whole period during which I was the slave of my creature I allowed myself to be governed by the impulses of the moment; and my exempt my family from the danger of his machinations” Pg.111


I chose this quote because I really think it exemplifies his self emotional dispute.  Originally, before making a personal relationship with the creation, his motives were clear; to do something that matters in the scientific field, make a difference, and make a name for himself. Once he finally thinks he has accomplished this dream, the devastation that follows out weigh his work.  He was no longer in control of this being which he put hours into creating, the monster had turned and has been controlling his life.  Victor lived a very privileged, happy childhood.  He first came in contact with sorrow soon after the the creation of the monster.  Everyone that was important to Victor was killed by creation, stripping him of continuing to feel superior to his own creation.

Catherine’s conceptions of state and subject

Her reforms were progressive in the sense that they moved Russia towards modernization and brought the state in line with Western concepts of the relationship between a government and its subjects. One theme present throughout Catherine the Great’s reforms is an attempt to balance state powers and individual liberties. The Statute on Provincial Administration states that “the personal security of each loyal subject is quite precious to the Monarch’s philanthropic heart,”  and the establishment of an ordered, hierarchical bureaucracy within the provinces is one way to enforce order and protect personal security among and of the subjects. However, the bureaucratization serves a second purpose, which is to quantify and order a population in case the state wishes to mobilize them when they need labor or combat. Article 20 of the Charter to the Nobility mandates that no subject may “spare neither labor nor even life itself in State service,” reminding the nobility that they are subject to the same calls to war and work as the rest of the population.

However, Catherine’s reforms also implement checks on state power. According to the Charter to the Towns, no urban corporation may make regulations contrary to the laws of the state. Catherine’s reforms standardized the rule of law throughout Russia and ensured that no provincial power could infringe upon the rights of their subjects by creating their own regulations. Overall, Catherine’s reforms show the delicate balance, characteristic of many nascent modern states, between using a population as a resource and respecting the rights of that population to encourage their obedience to their government.


Did Catherine’s reforms favor either the subject or the state?

Catherine the Great

Catherine’s vision was to create a better Russia through helping the people.  She recognized how vast her empire was and decided it would be better managed if divided into separate provinces.  The Statute on Provincial Administration created “a much more significant administrative presence in the provinces than been there before” ((Kaiser and Marker 242)) .  The Statue on Provincial Administration creates a more structured, organized role of power for those in charge of the provinces by clearly stating  how the provinces are to be run; for example, “Each province shall establish a criminal court”  (Kaiser and Marker 242)) .   The Statute also establishes the difference in ranks, “The vice-governor, chief of police, chairman of the criminal court, chairman of the civil court,… shall be considered to have a rank of five…” ((Kaiser and Marker 243)) .  Catherine’s organization of the provinces allows her to govern more easily while providing more organization to the provinces throughout all of Russia.

The Charter to the Town truly encapsulates how Catherine was enlightened and what she wished to do for Russia.  Catherine wanted to reform all of Russia, and The Charter to the Town does just that by “clarify[ing] the status of several social groups, to define their privileges and responsibilities to the state, and to give a formal identity to their corporate existence” (Kaiser and Marker 321)) .  Laws in the charter clearly state how “inhabitants of each town” are encouraged and expected to participate in town actives, particularly economic, creating a sense of nationality ((Kaiser and Marker 322)) .  Catherine also provides numerous rights to the working class through this charter, securing the social structure even more and bettering the lives of the townspeople.  Catherine the Great was an enlightened monarch because she reformed Russia by creating a more organized ruling system and by helping to better people’s situations in Russia.




Female Rule – Western Europe vs. Russia

Catherine the Great ‘s fame derives from her leadership and rule of Russia during eighteenth-century Russia. Like all autocrats during the time, she received criticism from countless different sources. However, Brenda Meehan-Waters argues that criticisms of Catherine differ along the lines of the sources’ areas of origin. In particular, Meehan-Waters suggests that Western European and Russian writers differ in that “Russian writers viewed her more positively and displayed much less agitation over the female issue. Catherine is desexualized to the extent that she is treaded as an individual rather than as a women.” ((Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. 383-384.))

Meehan-Waters examines the writings from the period of Catherine the Great’s reign. These writings, all published by men, carry various perspectives ranging from foreign ambassadors to Russian leaders to Western philosophers (who were also her patrons) such as Voltaire. One fact becomes clear through these writings – whether they criticized or praised Catherine – Westerners often placed her sex at the center of their ideas while Russian authors rarely commented on it. Western authors would associate her positive characteristics with her masculine side while they portrayed her shortcomings as feminine qualities. ((Kaiser, Reinterpreting, 382.)) While Russian writers such as G.S. Vinsky criticized Catherine, Meehan-Waters notes that such critics not base their qualms on her womanhood. ((Kaiser, Reinterpreting, 382.)) Despite identifying the differentiating narratives coming out of Western Europe and Russia, Meehan-Waters offers little in a reason for why such a difference exists.


Meehan-Waters notes that Russian had many female autocrats throughout the eighteenth century while few existed in Western Europe. Does Russia’s familiarity with empresses explain the lack of emphasis on Catherine’s sex?

Potemkin 2

This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less – from

Potemkin, one of Catherine’s advisors and former lovers, was the center of much scrutiny and debate among her foreign critics. They saw Potemkin as an example of how women were overcome with sexuality and allowed themselves to be dominated by their lovers.

Frankenstein 60-108

Chapter Nine begins with Victor in a deep depression, even considering suicide, after the death of William and execution of Justine. Realizing Victor’s poor state, Alphonse takes the family on a trip to Belrive. The place’s beautiful scenery gives Victor momentary bliss. However, the depression resurfaces, so he later decides to travel on his own to Montavert hoping the scenery will cheer him up again. He takes in the beauty of the mountains and glaciers and is somewhat comforted by the “sublime” view.
Seconds later, Victor sees an obscure figure running across the glacier who he then determines to be his monster. The monster eventually convinces Victor to come into his cave and listen to his story. The narration then switches to Frankenstein’s monster. He tells of his difficult life ever since his creation and coming to the realization that he had to distance himself from humans because they feared him so much. He eventually finds shelter in a hut next to a cabin where he watches a young man and woman and an old man through a hole in the wall.
The monster notices that the young man, Felix, seems unhappy. One day, however, when a girl named Safie moves into the cabin, Felix immediately cheers up. As Felix teaches Safie English, the monster watches and learns along, as well. The monster learns about humanity from watching those in the cottage as well as from the books he finds, most notably, Paradise Lost by John Milton, with which he sees many connections with his own life. The monster also finds in his coat old pages from Victor’s journal, which reveals to the monster how ugly and frightening his own creator thought he was, upsetting the monster even more.
Due to his continuing feelings of isolation and loneliness, Felix attempts to meet the cottagers. However, when he tries to talk to the old blind man while the others are out, Felix unexpectedly comes back and forces the monster out of the house. After this incident, the monster vows to take revenge on all humans, his creator in particular.
The monster then describes to Victor how he murdered William when he found out he was related to Victor, and purposefully placed the picture of Caroline in Justine’s pocket in order to frame her for the murder. After disclosing his life story to Victor, the monster tells Victor that he will not end his murderous rage until Victor creates a female companion for him. He promises to move to South America and live in the jungles with her so that he will no longer have the urge to murder. Victor eventually reluctantly agrees.

“It is a scene terribly desolate. In a thousand spots the traces of winter avalanche may be perceived, where tree lie broken and strewed on the ground; some entirely destroyed, others bent, leaning upon the jutting rocks of the mountain or transversely upon other trees. The path, as you ascend higher, is intersected by ravines of snow, down which stones continually roll from above; one of them is particularly dangerous, as the slightest sound, such as even speaking in a loud voice, produces a concussion of air sufficient to draw destruction upon the head of the speaker. The pines are not tall or luxuriant, but they are sombre and add an air of severity to the scene” (66-7).
This passage describes just how much Victor is in awe of nature and its beauty. It is interesting that he finds comfort in nature after “messing” with science and creating an ugly, murderous, monster as a result. Nature clearly brings Victor more comfort than does science at this point in the novel. The passage also contains a bit of irony. He describes the scene as “desolate” and “sombre”, many of the emotions he has been feeling in his depression. However, these feelings, when seen in nature, become beautiful. It is as if Victor comes to terms with and is comforted by the fact that nature is all-encompassing and more powerful than he.

Peter The Great

Peter the Great was a formidable leader, creating an era of heavy changes in Russia as it began to Westernize through his multiple reforms. However, the majority of his reforms tend to focus on social hierarchy and importance of having or obtaining a title for oneself. For example, the Table of Ranks “expressed new definitions of nobility and opened up new avenues of achieving it” ((Kaiser and Marker 228)) in order to suppress the boyars and other nobility from the previous years. Peter the Great desire to create different ways to either obtain nobility or move up the social ladder can be understood as a way to get rid of the old system set in place or as a way to implement western culture in Russian life through the notion of the class system.


Through the enforcement of the Table of Ranks, the chin system was set in place, a “system of rank ordering and niche assignment” ((Kaiser and Marker 232)) . This rank-ordering system created a competition within the people of Russia to try and be the closest to the tsar; the Table of Ranks made it clear how all offices were to interact with each other. Even more importantly, the Table of Ranks “indicated [the officer’s] proximity to the Emperor” (Kaiser and Marker 233). Peter the Great also created ways to give certain people positions higher up in the office, through “birth, time spent in office, or because of skills or actions valued by the Emperor” (Kaiser and Marker 234). Peter the Great’s reforms focused heavily on establishing a social hierarchy in order to continue Westernizing Russia.

Dead or Alive, You’re Coming with Me

As Peter the Great tries to westernize Russia, he enacts many reforms that follow a similar pattern.  One pattern that I was able to discern from the readings was that each reform had a part in limiting the power of the church or Boyars.  The church is seen to be limited with the role of priests.  To become a priest you must be taught by a bishop and formally trained.  A person cannot just decide to be a priest because he wants to reap the benefits of the position.  Priests are not able to make any commercial gains from baptisms or any sort of service.  They are to must represent a good lifestyle and not set a bad example for those around them (RS, 334-36).   Education begins to become a requirement for admission into the elite class as well and you would not be considered for the position of a noble without being educated.  This forced elites to receive an education outside of traditional religious instruction, perhaps undermining the church (RS, 246-49). Peter seems to be at least trying to enact requirements for positions, instead of letting the less qualified gain these positions.

It seems that Peter’s intent for the Table of Ranks was to undermine the power of the Boyars.  The Table of Ranks introduces how rank is attained and clearly displays which classes have more power compared to the others.  One sentence from the eighth statute is striking as it states, “… We shall proffer no rank to those who have rendered no service to Us and the fatherland….”.  This really drives the point that your rank is decided by how useful you are to the state, not entirely by lineage.  If a noble does not follow this rank and acts higher than their rank, they would be fined.  This could’ve been put in place to deter any Boyars trying to act out of place (RS, 228-29).  The factor of lineage is not completely taken out of determining class, but what you are able to do for the state seems to become a more vital part of the process.  

Kneller, Godfrey. 1698. N.p.