December 15, 2022

#08-264: The Overcoat

A stamp depicting "The Overcoat" issued on the 200th
birth anniversary of Gogol (2009) (Wikipedia)

Note: In Gogol's short story, a simple tale of a piece of clothing takes us into the world of an impoverished Russian clerk and the influence a possession can come to have over us.

Get Ready: Do you agree that, if we're not careful, our possessions can come to possess us?

"The Overcoat," an 1842 short story by Russian author Nikolai Gogol, has been called by other great Russian writers "The greatest Russian short story ever written."

The story begins with an impoverished government clerk named Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin who works as a copyist in St. Petersburg, then the capital of Russia.

Akaky is a hard worker, but receives little recognition for his efforts. The younger clerks like to tease him for his serious ways, and especially for the threadbare overcoat he wears every day.

At last realizing that something must be done about his appearance, Akaky decides that the overcoat must be mended. He takes it to a tailor, Petrovich, who tells him it is beyond repair, and recommends that he buy a new one.

He is not able to buy such a grand coat right away on his meager salary, so he decides to budget his income carefully and save up for the purchase. He becomes obsessed with the coat, visiting Petrovich often to discuss the design, and losing his zeal for his work.

A bonus he receives at holiday time at last makes the purchase possible. He and Petrovich select the finest materials Akaky can afford, and his appearance at the office in the new overcoat causes a stir.

His boss even decides to have an office party in honor of the coat! Akaky, as usual, feels out of place at the party, and goes home far later than usual. On the way home, he is attacked by two muggers, who take the coat, beat him up, and leave him in the snow.

He goes to the police, but they're no help, so he approaches a local VIP, a general, and asks him to intervene. The general scolds Akaky for bothering him with such a trivial matter, and Akaky, nearly fainting with fright, needs to be assisted to leave the office.

Soon afterward, he falls deathly ill with fever. In his delirium, he imagines himself before the general again, at first asking forgiveness, but then cursing the general.

After Akaky's death, his ghost begins haunting St. Petersburg, attacking people and taking their overcoats. Finally, the ghost meets the general and takes his overcoat; after that the ghost is never seen again. But another ghost, that of one of the muggers, continues to haunt the city.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. causes a stir
  2. delirium
  3. impoverished
  4. meager
  5. mended
  6. muggers
  7. obsessed
  8. threadbare
  9. trivial
  10. zeal

  1. creates some excitement
  2. repaired; sewn together
  3. passion
  4. worn; shabby
  5. poor
  6. unable to think of anything else
  7. disturbed mental state
  8. robbers who attack people on the street
  9. of small importance
  10. inadequate; small in quantity

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 15, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. g; 3. e; 4. j; 5. b; 6. h; 7. f; 8. d; 9. i; 10. c