The Overcoat

The Overcoat Literary Elements


Short story

Setting and Context

St. Petersburg in the late 19th century

Narrator and Point of View

Omniscient third person with use of free-indirect discourse

Tone and Mood

Conspiratorial, familiar, conversational

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Akaky Akakievich; antagonists: thieves, the “important person,” the weather

Major Conflict

Akaky’s quest to have the theft of his coat redressed


Akaky’s revenge on the “important person,” whose coat he steals


“Some unnatural power pushed him away from his comrades” (p. 396)

This quote refers to the young clerk who is haunted by Akaky’s response to being bullied by his coworkers. The suggestion of unnatural power, however, foreshadows the supernatural turn that the story will take when Akaky returns as a ghost.

“He entered the square not without some inadvertent fear, as if his heart had a foreboding of something bad.” (p. 412)

Akaky’s anxiety entering the dark square foreshadows his imminent robbery.


“At supper he drank two glasses of champagne—an agent known to have a good effect with regard to gaiety” (p. 421)

Here Gogol employs a kind of comic understatement: when he states that champagne is “an agent known to have a good effect with regard to gaiety” the narrator is making a joke about the general’s becoming drunk.


“He dined cheerfully and wrote nothing after dinner, no documents, but just played a bit of the Sybarite in his bed until it turned dark.” (p. 410)

This allusion to the ancient Greek city of Sybaris, notorious for its luxury, is used to communicate ironically the way in which Akaky feels changed by his overcoat - he does not do copying work after dinner for once but instead takes the “sensuous indulgence” of lying in his bed.


“Climbing the stairway leading to Petrovich which, to do it justice, was all dressed with water and swill, and redolent throughout of that spiritous smell that makes the eyes smart and is inevitably present in all back stairways of Petersburg houses…” (p. 401)

The narrator paints an apparently typical picture of the sights and smells of a house in St. Petersburg.

“The clerk’s face was pale as snow and looked exactly like a dead man’s.” (p. 423)

This image describes the general’s feeling of recognition when he is attacked by the ghost of Akaky.


It is a paradox that the promotion of the important person causes him to behave cruelly towards others even though he is kind at heart. It is also a paradox that in desiring to impress his friend by terrorizing Akaky, the general indeed impresses his friend, but seems also to make him frightened and uncertain.


“only then would he notice that he was not in the middle of a line, but rather in the middle of the street” (p. 398)

“even when everything strives for diversion—Akaky Akakievich did not give himself up to any diversion” (p. 399)

Metonymy and Synecdoche

“thereby thawing out all your job-performing gifts and abilities, which had become frozen” (p. 399) (metonymy)

Here an attribute of the fingers to perform a job - copying - is used instead of “fingers” itself.

“not a soul anywhere” (p. 412) (metonymy)

Here, the concept of the soul associated with living people is used metonymically to communicate that no one is around.


“From then on it was as if…. some other person were there with him, as if he were not alone but some pleasant life’s companion had agreed to walk down the path of life with him—and this companion was none other than that same overcoat with its cotton-wool quilting” (p. 406-7)