The Overcoat

The Overcoat Study Guide

The Overcoat”, published in 1842, is a short story by Nikolai Gogol, a Ukrainian-born Russian writer of plays, short stories and novels. Though Gogol is sometimes described as a realist writer, “The Overcoat” contains surreal, exaggerated and supernatural elements. “The Overcoat” is perhaps Gogol’s best known work, and is regarded as the most famous short story in Russian literature. Indeed, a quote that is often misattributed to Fyodor Dostoevsky (but which Simon Karlinsky notes has been traced to a French critic named Melchior de Vogüé [135]) states, “We all emerged from under Gogol’s overcoat.”

In "The Overcoat," Gogol takes a banal and decidedly pathetic figure, the titular councillor and copying clerk Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, and presents him in all his absurdity and alienation as a kind of antihero. The story is notable for its tone, which is ironic and satiric, taking almost everything as its target: literary conventions, societal obsessions with rank and status, even Akaky himself. The story’s satirical notes often converge with its self-reflexivity—that is to say, its awareness of and drawing attention to itself as a work of art. The narrator often mentions writing and the customs of writers, and indeed the ways in which writers often portray characters such as Akaky.