The Overcoat

The Overcoat Imagery

Akaky’s clothing

“… there was always something stuck to his uniform: a wisp of straw or a bit of thread, moreover, he had a special knack, as he walked in the street, of getting under a window at the precise moment when some sort of trash was being thrown out of it, and, as a result, he was eternally carrying around melon or watermelon rinds and other such rubbish on his hat” (p. 398).

This imagery of Akaky’s clothing, which always has bits of rubbish stuck to it, is intended to convey the pathetic helplessness of his character. Without trying, simply because he is so unfortunate, Akaky comically and implausibly happens to step under windows just as people are throwing things out of them. However, Akaky is also oblivious, because he does not care.

Akaky at dinner

“Coming home, he would sit down straight away at the table, hastily slurp up his cabbage soup and eat a piece of beef with onions, without ever noticing their taste, and he would eat it all with flies and whatever else God sent him at the time” (p. 398).

This image of Akaky at dinner, where he eats everything before him with no attention to what it tastes like or even if there might be dead flies, is meant to convey how little Akaky cares about material experiences and the environment around him. All that matters to him is the copying work that he does.

The walk to the clerk’s house

“Akaky Akakievich had first to pass through some deserted, sparsely lit streets, but as he approached the clerk’s home, the streets became livelier, more populous, and better lit. Pedestrians flashed by more frequently, ladies began to appear, beautifully dressed, some of the men wore beaver collars, there were fewer cabbies with their wooden-grill sleds studded with gilded nails—on the contrary, coachmen kept passing in raspberry-colored velvet hats, with lacquered sled and bearskin rugs…” (p. 410).

This quotation presents the changing scenery as Akaky walks to the party at the clerk’s house, suggesting the contrast between the poor, empty and dimly-lit area where Akaky lives and the more populous, fashionable area where the prosperous clerk lives. However, it also suggests that for once Akaky might be paying more attention to his surroundings: this is one of the passages in the story richest in sensory detail. The new overcoat has changed Akaky, although he is doomed to meet disaster.

The dark square

“He approached a place where the street was intersected by an endless square that looked like a terrible desert, with houses barely visible on the other side” (p. 412).

This imagery of endless darkness conveys a foreboding feeling that is borne out when Akaky is later violently mugged in this square. Obviously it could not have been endless or a desert, since in fact there is snow on the ground. However, the images function to convey Akaky’s own fear of the place.