The Overcoat tells us the story of a destiny of an insignificant person in society, Akakiy Akakievitch Bashmachkin, who is a miserable, has no money, no power, and no glory. He is co-called “a little person”, but he is not less a human than everybody else. He is able to feel, to suffer, and his feelings, troubles and joy are not less important than any of a hero’s or some intelligent aristocrat’s.
Bashmachkin is a civil servant of the lowest rank, lives in St. Petersburg, in poverty. His scanty earnings allow him nothing in the life, no family, no merry-making. But he is content with such a simple, modest, limited from every quarter existence, as he knows nothing else to compare. He is rather slow-witted, bashful, and is not used to reason. He is not gifted and only rewriting is a suitable job for him. The new overcoat becomes a ray of light in his life, a step to a new and better living; it symbolizes joy of life and human dignity.
When the need of a new overcoat occurs Bashmachkin saves up money by depriving himself of evening-tea, lighting candles, he even walks on his toes to make his soles serve longer, and does not give his clothes to wash so often. With the new piece of garment on his shoulders the self-respect wakes up in our hero. But when he is robbed it raises in Bashmachkin such a shock that bottom seems to be knocked out of his world. For the first time in his life he allows himself to rebel, but nobody is interested in his grief. He becomes a victim of bureaucrat system and indifference.
The main issue exposed in the story contains in the values of humanity, particularly of “a little person”, who in the way he knows, tries to stand up for his pride, and a right for a better life. But fate is so unjust, and society, in the representatives of wealthy and authoritative, cuts off his wings, just grown, refusing him in help.
The Overcoat reveals everlasting problems of injustice and cruelty of society towards weak, but honest and conscientious people. Gogol’s main task is to deliver that everyone deserves respect, regardless the social status. In his story the justice is restored in a supernatural way: a dead tchinovnik terrifies the entire Petersburg walking at nights and taking off the passes-by’s overcoats.
Gogol himself was a very religious person, and some researchers trace in Bashmachkin’s life the life of Saint Akakiy Sinai. This parallel can be drawn through the development of a story’s plot: obedience, stoic patience, ability to endure humiliation, then death because of injustice, and – the life after death.
The story itself seems to be a simple narrative of a miserable man, but the richness of meanings makes it a colorful parable with a very deep philosophical implication. The eternal problems of being revealed in the story won’t come to an end neither in real life nor in literature, till the humanity exists.
All the deepness of society’s abomination the author shows through the life of Akakiy Akakievitch, whose image has two sides. The first one – his spiritual and physical wretchedness, which is underlined by Gogol with the help of vivid descriptions; and the second side – callous attitude towards the main character. Correlation of these two sides creates the humaneness message: even such a person as Akakiy Akakievitch Bashmachkin has a right for existence and fair attitude from others.