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.

The Decemberist Uprising

On December 14th, 1825, a group of about 3,000 soldiers amassed on Senate Square in protest over the crowning of Nicholas I.  Nicholas, hesitant at first, commanded his artillery to open fire.  All the revolt’s leaders were arrested and all the participating soldiers were ordered to stay in their barracks. The Decemberist Uprising was first true test of Nicholas I mere days after taking the throne.  What had caused such discontent in the ranks of the military to warrant such a large protest over their new commander?

The basis for the revolt came about after the death of Alexander I.  Having no successor, Alexander’s younger brother, Constantine, was to take the throne; however, Constantine quietly relinquished his claim, telling only the church and his close relatives.  This unique situation caused some nobles and elites to pause and speculate why Constantine would do something so significant, and tell no one.  Thus, the elites were skeptical of Nicholas’ claim.

Since Nicholas was the third in line to the throne, he had little training on how to govern and rule, and was only schooled in military tactics.  Thus, he had very little charisma and was a harsh general.  Soldiers grew to loathe Nicholas’ “petty and harsh disciplinary actions” (5).

The e fact that a new monarch was to take the throne also caused soldiers and officers to be fed up.  As a result of Russia’s campaign West in pursuit of Napoleon, soldiers and officers witnessed an Enlightened Europe.  These enlightened ideals took root within the soldiers and they became increasingly dissatisfied with their treatment and lack of acknowledgement.  These ideals took root within the military, and with the question of succession, some individuals considered establishing a provincial administration.


Nicholas’ actions during the Decemberist Revolt symbolized how his reign was going to be.  As a result of his general ignorance on how to rule a nation, Nicholas primarily ruled in a reactionary sense, that his implemented policies were created as a result of a negative event.  A prime example of this is the Restriction on Educational Opportunities for Nonpriveledged members of Russian Society.  As a result of the Decemberist Revolt, Nicholas sought to curb any new learning of the enlightened ideals that led the soldiers to protest, thus limiting education opportunities.  Additionally, Nicholas was not nearly as enlightened as the Tsars before him, especially Peter the Great or Catherine the Great.  Thus, his conservative tendencies were seen as repressive in the more modern Russia.  One such proclamation was his Manifesto on Peasant Unrest, which gave governors the authority to conduct surveillance over all the serfs in their region, as well as removing the peasantry’s right to petition, and instead, prosecute them.