Akaky Akakievich is the protagonist and antihero of “The Overcoat.” He is an unremarkable middle-aged man who serves as a titular councillor and copying clerk in an unnamed department of the Russian civil service. The narrator paints him as pathetic in almost every respect, beginning with his ridiculous name. Even in his physical characteristics Akaky is equivocal: he possesses no trait definitively but instead is somewhat red-haired, somewhat balding, and somewhat pockmarked. He is poor, and has a lowly job title, but not because he has been prevented from advancing in his career. Rather, Akaky is unambitious and does not wish to be promoted. The way he speaks is essentially meaningless. He has no clearly defined family history, though his surname, Bashmachkin, implies some relation to shoes. He is much abused by those he works with, both superiors and inferiors, though Akaky betrays no offense or notice until the harassment begins to interfere with his work. No one can remember who hired Akaky or when he started working there. Akaky lives entirely in his interior world, enjoying his copying work above all worldly concerns. However much he is bullied by his coworkers, Akaky seems to contain a kind of supernatural power, as is first shown when he unintentionally haunts a young clerk for the rest of his life, and eventually when he becomes a literal ghost and steals coats on the streets of St. Petersburg. His life changes, first for the positive and then for the negative, when he is forced to replace his extremely worn overcoat. He makes many sacrifices over the course of 6 months to save for a new overcoat, and the day he receives it is the happiest day of his life. However, an absurd and unfortunate turn of events leads to the theft of the overcoat and Akaky’s death.
The “important person”
The unnamed “certain important person” is a pivotal figure in Akaky’s story. The important person has recently been promoted to the rank of general. Akaky goes to see him after the theft of his overcoat because a sympathetic colleague counsels him to go entreat the important person for specific aid in his case. The narrator makes clear that the important person is someone who has only recently been promoted in importance, and that he remains unimportant relative to other more important people. Gogol portrays the important person as an example of the corrupting power of status and rank. The important person, recently promoted, feels compelled to cement and augment his status by instituting all sorts of frivolous and unnecessary practices, such as refusing to have anyone address him directly, instead going through a long chain of command. In particular, he can be cruel and purposefully intimidating towards insubordinates. He treats Akaky this way, in particular to impress a visiting childhood friend who is present when Akaky comes to visit. Akaky is frightened almost literally to death by his intimidation: Akaky leaves his office in a daze and, wandering the streets of St. Petersburg agape, catches a tonsil ailment that kills him. The important person’s behavior is particularly tragic because the narrator makes clear that he is actually a good person who has been confused in his behavior by his recent promotion. He often wishes to act naturally and in a friendly way towards insubordinates, but does not know how, because he feels his superior rank cannot permit it. At the end of the story, the ghost of Akaky returns and steals his overcoat.
Petrovich is Akaky’s tailor. He is half-blind and often drunk. He was once a squire’s serf, and at that time went by the name of Grigory. He has a wife who the narrator suggests is not very beautiful. Akaky turns to him often for repairs on his endlessly mended, flimsy housecoat. Usually Akaky is able to negotiate with Petrovich to pay a small sum for the repairs, because when Petrovich is drunk he is very suggestible. However, when Akaky goes to Petrovich at the time the story takes place, Petrovich is sober, and this time he tells Akaky that it will be impossible to mend the coat. He says that it is too worn, and that Akaky will have to have a new overcoat made. Not having very much money, Akaky panics. However, eventually Akaky becomes obsessed by the quest to save for a new overcoat. Petrovich helps Akaky shop for the materials after 6 months of rigorous saving, and he spends 2 weeks making Akaky’s new overcoat. Petrovich is very proud of the end result, feeling that he has distinguished himself from those tailors who simply mend things by becoming a tailor who makes new clothes.
The Overcoat Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Overcoat is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.