The Overcoat

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An anonymous, high-ranking official in the Russian government. Akaky Akakievich appeals to him when his overcoat is stolen. While the Important Person used to be kind at heart (when he was an “insignificant person” not so long ago), his important status in the bureaucracy has inflated his ego. He enjoys enforcing a rigid hierarchical process, in which information has to be passed from the lowest to highest officials in his department before reaching him. The Important Person treats Akaky poorly in order to show off his importance to a friend, but then feels guilty about it later.

The Important Person Quotes in The Overcoat

The The Overcoat quotes below are all either spoken by The Important Person or refer to The Important Person. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Bureaucracy and Selfhood Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Overcoat published in 2006.
The Overcoat Quotes

What exactly this Important Person did and what position he held remains a mystery to this day. All we need say is that this Important Person had become important only a short while before, and that until then he had been an unimportant person. However, even now his position was not considered very important if compared with others which were still more important. But you will always come across a certain class of people who consider something unimportant which for other people is in fact important. However, he tried all manners and means of buttressing his importance.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Important Person
Related Symbols: The Overcoat
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

One of Akaky's more sympathetic colleagues has advised him that, instead of going to the police to report his stolen coat, Akaky should seek the help of a mysterious Important Person. Like all other identifying details in the story, the exact position of the Important Person and the reason why he is important are not revealed. However, unlike other factors such as the department in which Akaky works, the narrator is not deliberately withholding the information, but admits that he does not know himself. This suggests that there may be something dubious about the Important Person's status, implying that he is perhaps only important because others have arbitrarily decided that this is the case, rather than because of anything he has done to earn himself such a qualification.

The narrator also explains that the Important Person is not that important in comparison to other, more important people, and that it is only recently that he has come to be thought of as important. This further emphasizes the arbitrariness of the Important Person's status, and comically critiques the complex hierarchical structure of Russian society. As the narrator notes, the Important person is fixated on his own importance ("he tried all manners and means of buttressing his importance"), yet his position within the hierarchy seems to be, objectively speaking, rather groundless. And, by extension, the entire way that the bureaucratic system determines importance seems arbitrary, meaningless, and a mystery even to those who become important, and yet everyone in the system treats the important people as if they have some kind of inherent value (even the important people themselves).

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However, he was quite a good man at heart, pleasant to his colleagues and helpful. But his promotion to general's rank had completely turned his head; he became all mixed up, somehow went off the rails, and just could not cope any more. If he happened to be with someone of equal rank, then he was quite a normal person, very decent in fact and even far from stupid in many respects.
But put him with people only one rank lower, and he was really at sea.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Important Person
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has described the Important Person in vague terms, emphasizing that he is not objectively even that important, but obsessed with increasing his own status and authority. In this passage, the narrator adds that the Important Person is "quite a good man at heart," but that his promotion has left him unable to communicate properly with people of lower ranks. This description introduces further nuance into the story's critique of bureaucratic hierarchy. The narrator suggests that not every arrogant bureaucrat is cruel and power-hungry at heart; rather, good people are corrupted by the systemic obsession with rank. 

Indeed, the Important Person is described as being "mixed up" and unable to cope with the consequences of his promotion, a description that emphasizes his vulnerability. This perhaps implies that the Important Person is not particularly qualified for his job, as he is so easily flummoxed by being elevated to a higher rank. The Important Person's reaction to his promotion thus further confirms the dysfunctional nature of government bureaucracy. Rank is all important, and so everyone pursues greater rank and defends their current rank rather than actually doing their jobs efficiently or interacting with other people authentically. 

“What do you mean by this, my dear sir?” he snapped again. “Are you unaware of the correct procedure? Where do you think you are? Don't you know how things are conducted here? It's high time you knew that first of all your application must be handed in at the main office, then taken to the chief clerk, then to the departmental director, then to my secretary, who then submits it to me for consideration...”
“But Your Excellency,” said Akaky Akakievich, trying to summon up the small handful of courage he possessed… “I took the liberty of disturbing Your Excellency because, well, secretaries, you know, are a rather unreliable lot...”
“What, what, what?” cried the Important Person. “Where did you learn such impudence? Where did you get those ideas from? What rebellious attitude towards their heads of department and superiors has infected young men these days?”

Related Characters: Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin (speaker), The Important Person (speaker), The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 165-166
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has explained that, although fundamentally the Important Person is "normal" and "very decent," his obsession with his status leads him to treat people ranked below him in an unreasonable fashion. For example, he has deliberately made Akaky wait longer than necessary simply as a way of showing off his power and importance. When Akaky tries to explain his situation and mentions that secretaries can be "a rather unreliable lot," the Important Person explodes with anger, calling Akaky impudent and "rebellious." The fact that the Important Person makes these accusations is comical, as in reality Akaky is about as far from rebellious as it is possible for a person to be. However, the Important Person's fixation with bureaucratic conventions––"the correct procedure"––has clearly clouded his judgment to the point of absurdity.

But the Important Person's terror passed all bounds when the ghost's mouth became twisted, smelling horribly of the grave as it breathed on him and pronounced the following words: “Ah, at last I've found you! Now I've, er, hm, collared you! It's your overcoat I'm after! You didn't care about mine, and you couldn't resist giving me a good ticking-off into the bargain! Now hand over your overcoat!” The poor Important Person nearly died. However much strength of character he displayed in the office (usually in the presence of his subordinates)… he was so frightened that he even began to fear (and not without reason) that he was in for a heart attack.

Related Characters: Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin (speaker), The Narrator (speaker), The Important Person
Related Symbols: The Overcoat
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

After Akaky's death, people have begun reporting seeing his ghost on the Kalinkin bridge, stealing people's overcoats as they pass by. Meanwhile, the Important Person has been feeling guilty about how he treated Akaky, and has attempted to reach out to him, only to find that he has died. One day, as the Important Person is leaving a party on the way to see his mistress, Akaky's ghost approaches him and nearly frightens him to death.

This interaction has a cathartic function in the narrative; in the face of Akaky's ghostly presence, the Important Person's ego is immediately deflated and he is terrified. The "strength of character" he displayed "in the presence of his subordinates" does not hold up against the threatening sight of a ghost. 

The encounter had made a deep impression on him. From that time onwards he would seldom say: “How dare you! Do you realize who is standing before you?” to his subordinates. And if he did have occasion to say this, it was never without first hearing what the accused had to say.

Related Characters: The Important Person (speaker), The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

Having encountered Akaky's ghost, the Important Person is left shaken, so much so that his daughter comments on how pale he is. From that point forward, the Important Person comes to treat his subordinates in a much more fair and reasonable way. This twist in the narrative is somewhat unexpected; after all the bizarre tragedy and absurdity the story has contained thus far, it is surprising that the ending should contain someone learning a positive moral lesson.

On the other hand, it is also true that many things remain unresolved––the fate of Akaky's ghost is unclear, and at the very end of the story a second ghost is introduced, whose role within the overall narrative is somewhat perplexing. Nonetheless, the Important Person's change of heart emphasizes that even the most meaningless life might hold some meaning (even if that meaning comes only in other people's interpretation of it). 

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The Important Person Character Timeline in The Overcoat

The timeline below shows where the character The Important Person appears in The Overcoat. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Overcoat
Bureaucracy and Selfhood Theme Icon
The Insignificance of the Everyman Theme Icon
Materialism, Material Goods, and Art  Theme Icon
Social Status and Fate Theme Icon
...legal proof that he was the coat’s owner. Instead, Akaky should appeal to “a certain Important Person ” who could truly influence the situation. (full context)
Bureaucracy and Selfhood Theme Icon
Social Status and Fate Theme Icon
Akaky decides to seek the help of the Important Person . The Narrator states that the official title of this Important Person is not known.... (full context)
Bureaucracy and Selfhood Theme Icon
Social Status and Fate Theme Icon
When Akaky visits the Important Person , the official is chatting with an old friend, and uses Akaky’s arrival to demonstrate... (full context)
The Insignificance of the Everyman Theme Icon
Materialism, Material Goods, and Art  Theme Icon
...of Petrovich, the thieves, and his old overcoat. In his delirium, he apologizes to the Important Person , but then begins to curse. His voice descends into nonsensical phrases revolving around his... (full context)
Bureaucracy and Selfhood Theme Icon
Materialism, Material Goods, and Art  Theme Icon
Social Status and Fate Theme Icon
The Narrator turns our attention back to the Important Person . He notes that after kicking Akaky out of his office, the Important Person felt... (full context)
Bureaucracy and Selfhood Theme Icon
The Insignificance of the Everyman Theme Icon
Materialism, Material Goods, and Art  Theme Icon
Suddenly, the Important Person feels a hand on his collar. He turns around and sees a short man in... (full context)