The Systematization of Seventeenth-Century Russia

The excerpts from the Ulozhenie of 1649 indicated the continued centralization and bureaucratization of Russian government. Chapters five and six assert the state’s control over certain aspects of citizens’ daily lives such as currency and the ability to travel outside of Russia. We saw the start of the establishment of bureaucratic processes in the Sudebnik of 1497. The law code included many clauses pertaining to things such as payment of judicial officials, the proper process for slave manumission, and the documentation necessary in order to pursue a criminal case against another person. The Ulozhenie appears to follow the same trend in concerning itself with issues outside of the typical crimes of murder and theft which were almost exclusively featured in the earlier Pravda Russkaia. The centralization of government inevitably breeds a larger bureaucracy as it is necessary to the functioning of a more complex state and it is clearly shown in the excerpts from the Ulozhenie. The roots of the law code lie in the chaotic “time of troubles” which occurred thirty years prior. The Sudebnik of 1497 was a reaction to the disruptive occupancy of the Mongols as it attempted to re-establish Russians control over Russia; the Ulozhenie is similar in that it appears to be an attempt by the government to re-establish order following an extremely turbulent and lawless time.

Ivan’s reign of terror established the slaughter of people based on things as insignificant as being related to a disloyal person. People could be executed if someone in their family betrayed the crown three generations earlier. The Ulozhenie actively tries to combat these kinds of tactics by stating that if one has no knowledge of their family member’s betrayal then they should not be punished as a traitor. The excerpts do not show any signs of outright abuses of power by the state, but the punishments for crimes are severe. Execution is the chosen punishment for something as intangible as “think[ing] maliciously about the sovereign’s health.” The document also shows a partiality towards public displays of punishments in order to instill fear in the rest of the population. This was a central theme in the Sudebnik as well and it is a sign that the government is taking control back by force; something that may be necessary after such a disorganized and non-regulated period in Russian history.


What is the significance of giving a specific form of execution for the crime of altering the content of coinage?

Why would the state be so concerned with people traveling out of the country?

The Overcoat

The story of The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol is a witty commentary on the efficiency of the bureaucracy in Russia. The main character Akakiy Akakievitch is a short, bald toped red head who has an abundance of personal issues; he is shy, unconfident and a terrible communicator. Despite these traits, Akakiy loves his job in a “certain department” as a copier and is very good at his job, in fact he lives to copy things. The plot of the story is formed as Akakiy clearly needs a new cloak, for the harsh Russian winter is coming and he is constantly being made fun of at the office for his “cape” rather than cloak. This is important because dress is a determining factor of rank so if Akakiy is wearing the wrong dress, he is diminishing his position in society. The means to a new coat consumes Akakiy’s life, as his already simple life is forced to be cut due to the price of a new cloak. After nearly a year of limited resources, Akakiy finally purchases his new cloak from Petrovitch, the one eyed, drunk tailor and is amazed by the quality. He loves his new cloak and it is extremely well perceived at the office. After walking home from a party one night, something that Akakiy being shy and timid rarely did, he was robbed and his coat was stolen. Akakiy goes through a great deal of measures to get his cloak back but is shut down at nearly every department he does to. He eventually makes his way to a prominent personage, who is supposed to be able to actually give Akakiy some aid according to another source, however he is once again disappointed and forced to walk home in a snow storm. He catches a fever and later dies. No one at the office even notices until days later. Gossip concerning an apparition who snags the coats of the backs of many lingers through-out St. Petersburg and one day this apparition seizes the cloak of the very prominent personage who earlier had hindered Akakiy’s claims for his coat. The apparition fits perfectly into his new cloak and is rumored to no more take the coats of men, as he had finally found the one that fits him best.


There are many social critiques made by Gogol through-out the story. He makes is clear the bureaucracy of Russia is like Akakiy Akakievitch, which translates to something along the lines of Poop who does nothing. Suggesting that he thinks that Russia needs to make reforms to departments across the country. The fact that he has such a hard time filling a claim shows that the bureaucracy  is tough to work with and is genuinely bad at what they are supposed to do. The watchmen who didn’t come help Akakiy when he was being robbed also shows a general lack of productiveness.

Does the character of Petrovitch, a one-eyed drunk who does great, cheap work, reveal any values that Gogol might hold?

What aspects of the story could be seen as reasons to westernize or not?