Gogol’s “The Overcoat”

In “The Overcoat”, Gogol ridicules Russia’s ranking system and the emphasis placed on being a “significant person” in society. The flaws in this, system which is based in superficiality and vanity, are most readily evident in Akaky Akakiyevich’s attempts to report the theft of his greatcoat. He begins his efforts with a policeman, who failed to witness the crime even though it happened right in front of him. Akaky then implores the assistance of the next highest level of authority, the district superintendent. The superintendant is asleep the first two times Akaky goes to see him, and then similarly offers no assistance to Akaky. Finally, Akaky goes to see a “certain significant person”, who exhibits no remarkable qualities other than being regarded as significant and important. It is unclear what his job consists of, or if he occupies a role other than boasting of his high rank.

In the character of the “certain significant person”, Gogol’s critique of Russian people’s obsession with rank and high society is most obvious. The ridiculousness of the ranking system is highlighted in the description of how said “significant person” achieved his rank: “It should be noted that this certain significant person had only recently become a significant person, having previously been an insignificant person. Even after this advancement, however, his position was not considered significant in comparison with others of yet greater significance. Still, one can always find a circle of people for whom what is insignificant in the eyes of others is significant.” The repetition of the word “significant” alone implies that Gogol is mocking the depth people give to the word. What makes a person significant? What distinguishes a “significant” person from an “insignificant” person? Akaky is treated by his peers and fellow councilors as insignificant, but what about Akaky constitutes this title? Akaky contributes just as much, if not more, to society through his simple copying of manuscripts, while the “important” people of high society do nothing more than relish in their importance.