The Overcoat

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The Overcoat Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Nikolai Gogol's The Overcoat. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Nikolai Gogol
Nikolai Gogol was born in a Ukrainian village in the Russian Empire to parents of the petty gentry. He began writing when he attended university, and afterwards went to St. Petersburg, hoping to achieve success in the literary world. His self-published poetry was universally mocked, but his first book of short stories, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka (1831), was successful. He wrote prolifically and travelled extensively, spending time in Germany and Switzerland, and living for twelve years in Rome. During this time he completed some of his most famous works, including Dead Souls (1842) and “The Overcoat” (1842). In his last few years, Gogol experienced ill health and depression. After burning some of his manuscripts, including the second part of Dead Souls (which was meant to be a trilogy), Gogol spent nine days in bed, refusing all food, until he died. Nikolai Gogol is now known as one of the foremost writers in the Russian language, one of the key figures in Russian literary realism, and a predecessor of the styles of Surrealism and the grotesque.
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Historical Context of The Overcoat
The Russian Empire in the 19th century was administered by a large, slow, and corrupt government, which was headed by the emperor, or Tsar. Many of the civil servants in the Russian bureaucracy were poorly paid and uneducated. These conditions created a system in which officials exploited their government status by taking bribes, and in which many bureaucrats were unqualified for their jobs. In this stagnant environment, Nikolai Gogol identified Akaky Akakievich, the main character of “The Overcoat,” as the kind of insignificant individual who both suffered under the Empire’s oppression and was the epitome of bureaucratic small-mindedness.
Other Books Related to The Overcoat
Gogol wrote other satires of the Russian Empire, including Dead Souls and “The Government Inspector,” and the absurd aspect of his work was especially apparent in his story “The Nose.” Gogol’s own writing was influenced by the works of Alexander Pushkin, the famous Russian poet and author of Eugene Onegin. “The Overcoat” then powerfully affected the Russian literature that followed it, so much so that Fyodor Dostoevsky (author of The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment) said, “We all come out of Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’.” The elements of the grotesque, the surreal, and the absurd in Gogol’s work were especially ahead of their time, and are still influential even to contemporary writers. Those particularly influenced by Gogol include Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, and Vladimir Nabokov.
Key Facts about The Overcoat
  • Full Title: The Overcoat
  • When Published: 1842
  • Literary Period: Realism, 19th Century Russian Literature
  • Genre: Short Story, Satire
  • Setting: St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Climax: Akaky Akakievich’s new overcoat is stolen.
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient
Extra Credit for The Overcoat

Gogol the incompetent. The University of St. Petersburg hired Gogol as a professor of medieval history in 1834. Having no real knowledge of medieval history, Gogol delivered incomprehensible lectures and pretended that he had a toothache during the final examination, sitting in silence as another professor questioned his students. Gogol resigned from the professorship in 1835.

Gogol after death. Gogol was originally buried at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow, but in 1931, authorities had Gogol’s remains transferred from the monastery to the Novodevichy Cemetery. His body was found face down, which sparked rumors that Gogol was buried alive.