The Overcoat


Nikolai Gogol

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Overcoat, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Bureaucracy and Selfhood

Nikolai Gogol’s Russia was a country run by an extremely unwieldy bureaucracy. Under the control of Tsar Nicholas I, the government was large, slow, and corrupt. Much of this was due to the fact that many of the civil servants in the Russian system were uneducated and very poor. In “The Overcoat,” Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin is one such civil servant. Though he can read and write and is not at the lowest rung of the…

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The Insignificance of the Everyman

One of the tragedies Gogol highlights in “The Overcoat” is the insignificance of Akaky Akakievich’s life. The clerk’s unimportance is felt early on in the story. Gogol’s phrase “In a certain department…there worked a certain civil servant” implies that his story could happen to any civil servant in any department, and therefore that Akaky Akakievich’s life is more or less interchangeable. His interchangeability is reinforced by his occupation as a copyist, a job that…

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Materialism, Material Goods, and Art

Though his fellow bureaucrats treat Akaky Akakievich as an uninteresting character through most of the story, his prized overcoat briefly raises his status in the workplace. Indeed, it’s comical how differently his colleagues interact with him: the day he arrives with his new coat, he is immediately surrounded, congratulated, and complimented, and is invited to a party that night. Akaky Akakievich, too, sees himself in a new light. He is more cheerful than usual, and…

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Social Status and Fate

Early on in “The Overcoat,” Gogol gives his readers the strong sense that Akaky Akakievich’s life is destined for mediocrity. His family name, Bashmachkin, derived from the Russian word bashmak, meaning “shoe,” already indicates his low social standing. In addition, the narrator notes that his “far-fetched” given name, Akaky Akakievich, was actually fated, as he was named after his father. When they christen baby Akaky, Gogol writes, the baby “wept and made a…

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