The Overcoat

What was life like for lower-class Russians in the first half of the 19th century?

Questions from the short story The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

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Many workers in czarist Russia were serfs, laborers bound to the farmland which they worked. Without permission of the landowner, they could not leave the land or get married. They were virtual slaves. In "The Cloak," Petrovitch somehow earned his way out of servitude to become a tailor. Still, he must work hard to make his way in the world. His heavy drinking and that of his family members before him suggests that alcohol has become an escape from the rigors of everyday life in an unfair government and social system. In 1861, Czar Alexander II issued an edict abolishing serfdom.