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Written by Anastasia Melnyk
The theme of “little people” discloses an image of a poor, not noble person, being insulted by people of higher rank, and is driven to despair by his own mode of life. It is a socially-psychological type of a person, who is aware of his own powerlessness before the hardships of life. Sometimes he is able of a protest. The riot of “a little person” is provoked by some tragedy in life, but the outcome is sad – insanity and death. The theme of “little people” is a primary theme of almost all stories included in Gogol’s volume Petersburg’s narratives.
Akakiy Akakievitch endures all the cruelty of society he lives in, and dies in an unequal struggle against reality. He is a victim of poverty, and leads an unremarkable style of life, even rather wretched one. Bashmachkin is timid, crushed by his fate, downtrodden by others. All his life he endures everything, all the mockeries and sneers, spiteful and malicious remarks. And there comes the moment when this “little person” wants to provide himself with a new overcoat. Such an everyday need becomes for him something highly raised and exalted. And the day when he puts on his new overcoat becomes a day of his own triumph, which lasts only one day, as in the very evening he is rubbed, after he dies, and nobody even notices his absence.
Gogol skillfully reveals all the rottenness of social inequality, and the treatment towards people of different status in The Overcoat. Only one nice thing happens in Bashmachkin’s life, but he loses it. His attempts to find help have no result, as he is insignificant person. And this division on significant and insignificant people leads to tragedy, as such thing as one’s life, which is assumed to be the most important and most respectful thing, depends on this division. That what is revealed in the Gogol’s narrative.
The protagonist of the narrative lives in a total isolation from the outside world. He has no friends, no interests or hobbies. All his life he rewrites the documents, and does not make himself known by even a single intention of having something besides his work. He does not possess even his own name and it can also be regarded as rewritten, as he is named by his father. The lack of communication is reflected in his speech. He discloses his thoughts only with the help of prepositions, and in a way that his utterance does not make much sense.
But Bashmachkin’s solitude does not disturb him and he is rather accustomed to such a mode of life. His shyness and taciturnity are not the character traits that would allow him to make friends. But his inability of communication with others is a result of his isolated life. This problem is a double-sided, as in order to make friends one should be a sociable and communicative, but in order to develop these skills one should communicate.
When he comes to the department in his new overcoat everyone praises it, and Bashmachkin is rather pleased and content with the attention paid to him and his new piece of garment. The evening spent in the company, the first and by the irony of fate the last one, has favorable effect on him, and even on his way home Bashmachkin starts after some lady, “who flew past like a flash of lightning”; later he wonders himself why he quickens his pace.
It seems like the wall between his isolated life and outer world starts to fracture.But this fracture is not destined to continue, and he dies as he lived – in total solitude. There is no one to mourn over him.
After Bashmachkin dies a rumor about a ghost hunting people’s coats on the Kalinkin Bridge is spread over St. Petersburg. The dead man drags every one’s overcoat regardless to rank or calling of the person. One of the department officials recognizes Akakiy Akakievitch in the dead man. Thus, Bashmachkin’s unrested soul tries to take his revenge taking off the overcoats not only from civil servants’ shoulders, but from court councilors’ too.
The author displays the appearance of the dead in a way that is not questioned whether it is really possible. This ghost exists, is recognized, and is even one time almost caught. The verge between real and supernatural is thus very unclear. The theme of supernatural in the narrative reflects the inevitability of death, and death comes to everyone regardless his rank or social state.
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