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A whisper of change

A Whisper of Change

At first glance of Nikolay Gogol's novel The Overcoat, one would only see a short

story about a poor man wishing to survive in a cruel world. However, in looking further

into the story, deep symbolism can be found. Gogol lived in Russia during the rise of the

communist party, and was a great dissident of communism. He believed the inevitable end

of a communist government was total failure. He also criticized the other government of

the world for failing to aid Russia in its quest for a better system. Gogol used his creative

mind and his writing abilities to speak out against the evils of the Russian government. He

used symbolism to prove his points, and often risked exile by his own government for

expressing such radical views. Many different objects in The Overcoat can be mirrored

with the objects of true life. Everything from Akaky Akakyevitch's coat, to his

administrator is used by Gogol to symbolize the situation of Russia during Gogol's time.

In truth, the Russian government was against the free-thinking man, and so was against

Gogol.

Akaky himself is used as a symbol of the Russian people. The communists were

against any sort of free-thinking, and respected any man who performed his duties without

question. Akaky is described in the story as being a quiet, hard-working man. He keeps

mostly to himself, having very little to do with the outside world. His entire life centers

around his profession. Akaky's life changes only after he buys his new overcoat. The

overcoats in the story symbolize different governments. Akaky's original "dressing

jacket," is the Russian government in power before communism took over. The

government, like the overcoat, once served its purpose, but is now worn thin and needs a

replacement. The original color of the coat cannot even be seen anymore. Each time a

tear appears in the coat, it is patched and forgotten, but the coat eventually cannot be

patched any longer. Akaky is extremely hesitant in buying a new coat, claiming it would

be too expensive. This compares to the hesitation of the Russian population to switch to a

new government. However, the coat no longer serves its intended purpose, and Akaky is

forced to either purchase a new coat or freeze in the cold. Akaky's new coat symbolizes

the establishment of communism over the Russian people. At first, the coat serves its

purpose, keeping Akaky warm. Though it looks nice and expensive, the overcoat is

actually made of fairly cheap materials. The overcoat gives Akaky a quick glance of

happiness, but is quickly stolen by robbers on the street. Gogol uses the new overcoat to

make a statement about the communistic government. In the beginning years of

communism, the people of Russia believed the system to be efficient and superior to all

others, yet the government eventually proved to be a failure, falling far short of the

people's expectations.

Akaky's fellow workers, the other clerks in the office, are symbolic of other

countries. The clerks neglected Akaky and teased him about his old coat, but after he

purchased his new overcoat, the other clerks gained much respect for him, admiring his

new coat and inviting him to dinner. Akaky was pleased with being treated as an equal.

This is representative of the other countries' view of Russia. During Russia's previous

government, the other countries of the world both pitied and laughed at the once great

nation. However, after communist took control, Russia was viewed with more respect

among the countries. Other nations now recognized Russia as an equal.

The Person of Consequence is symbolic of a great democratic nation, possibly the

United States. The Person of Consequence is portrayed as an egotistical person, afraid of

showing weakness to the "lower grades, " but always willing to smile and enjoy himself in

front of his equals. Here Gogol shows his opinions of the democratic nations. The

democratic nations treat each other with respect and admiration, but each looks upon the

communists with distrust and conceitedness. The nations believe that no cowardice must

ever be shown to the communists. Gogol believed that, once the chains of communism

had been broken by the Russian people, the democratic governments would be hesitant in

helping the struggling country. In the story, Akaky seeks the help of the Person of

Consequence in retrieving his stolen overcoat. However, the Person of Consequence

shows no respect for Akaky, yelling at him and ignoring his pleas. Thus the predictions of

Gogol are portrayed through the actions of the Person of Consequence.

After Akaky's death, his ghost haunts citizens on the streets of Petersburg, robbing

them of their overcoats. The hauntings continue until Akaky steals the overcoat of his

enemy, the Person of Consequence. The ghost then disappears, with only rumors of

further sightings of the ghost. Gogol uses Akaky's ghost to predict the future of Russia.

Once communism falls, the people will begin a search for a new government. The search

will end with Russia evoloving into a democracy, though the democratic nations are the

enemies of communist Russia during Gogol's life. The rumors of coninued sightings of the

ghost perhaps suggest Gogol's believe that some will not be satisfied under a democratic

rule.

Nikolay Gogol was able to escape exile from his country only by hiding his

opinions through the use of symbolism. No one will ever know the true meanings put

forth in The Overcoat, yet Gogol's general opinions can be recognized. In a country so

against the right of mankind to voice his opinions freely, Gogol was able to successfully

speak his mind by using his creativity and his talents. Gogol's works paved the way for

many other Russian authors who, by using Gogol's actions as inspiration, now had the

courage necessary for fighting against the power of the majority. It is men like Gogol who

shape the nations of the world. His influence in Russian society could be compared to

many great authors who have influenced the people of the United States, such as John

Locke and Thomas Jefferson. Without writers such as these, the opinions of the

oppressed could never be made audible, and the desires for a greater future could never

become a reality.



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