Dr. D. B. Gavani
THE OVERCOAT – GOGOL
Once upon a time in a town called St. Petersburg, there was a low-ranking officially who was unfortunately named Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin. Akaky was a poor guy, but he loved his job. In fact, he loved it so much that all he did when he went home every day was do more work.
But there's a problem in this mundane fairy tale: Akaky's coat is falling apart. Simple solution, right? Patch it up and the story's over. Not so fast there, kiddo. This coat is beyond repair, and a new one will cost twice Akaky's salary. And don't forget—we're talking about Russia here, so just going without a coat is definitely not an option. What's he to do?
We'll tell you. He scrounges by for a couple of months until he has enough money to get a coat made. When it's done, it's gorgeous. Something you'd get straight out of the fashion magazines. Everyone at work loves it so much that they even throw him a party.
A coat party. Only in Russia.
Oh, we forgot to mention something. Akaky is an awkward loner. So even though he enjoys the party in theory, the noise, people, and drinking get to him. He leaves the shindig earlier than everyone else, but still later than he's ever gone home. As a poor man in 19th-century Russia, Akaky doesn't exactly live in a safe neighborhood. And you know what can happen to a guy with a fancy new coat in a dangerous neighborhood late at night. Yep. Akaky gets mugged. Now the craziness begins. Akaky goes from official to official trying to get someone to investigate the theft of his coat, but no one will work with him. Finally the last official is so mean to Akaky that he dejectedly walks home without a coat in the harsh Russian winter. He gets a throat infection, and two days later he dies. The last official tries to make amends with Akaky a week later, but it's too late. He's dead. In order to cheer himself up, the official goes to a party. But on the way back from the party, he gets his coat stolen by Akaky's ghost. Ah, retribution at last.
We begin with a certain official. A low-ranking one. An ugly one. One with the name equivalent of Poopy McPooper-son. Our protagonist Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin. Now we know what you're thinking: No one in their right mind would name their child after poop. But really, his mom had no other choice because the names his godparents chose just didn't sound right, whatever kind of excuse that is. So she named him after his dad, Akaky. And since -evich is the Russian version of -son, he became Akaky Akakievich. Totally reasonable. As far as anybody knows, Akaky was born in his uniform and had been an official ever since, Benjamin Button-style. Despite that, Akaky gets no respect. People act like he's not even there, and the younger officials make fun of him. None of this matters to Akaky, however, since he loves his job so much. One day, the younger officials stop Akaky from doing his work, and he yells at them to leave him alone. This blows one of the young official's minds, and from that day forward, he can never forget how inhumanely he treated Akaky. Did it get deep in here or is it just us? Anyway, back to Akaky. He loves his job, and even though he's basically a human Xerox machine, he treats his job like it's the best thing since sliced bread. He is totally content with his situation, even refusing a slight promotion from one of his directors. For him, it's copying or nothing.
When everyone else is out partying, eating, or having fun, Akaky is in his room copying papers. And he probably would have continued doing this for the rest of his life if he weren't so unlucky. Akaky lives in St. Petersburg, which is known for its crazy cold winters. Everyone in the city has to deal with the cold, but it's worse for people like Akaky who don't have enough money to buy a fancy warm coat. It's hard out there for a… human printer, in Akaky's case. Akaky owns an overcoat but he starts noticing that he feels cold in his back and shoulders on the way to work.
One day, he suddenly realizes that his coat is basically a pile of rags. Of course, everyone else knew that already and even made fun of him for it, but Akaky is normally too busy copying letters to notice. This man's work ethic is something to admire, that's for sure. So he brings the coat to his tailor, Petrovich. Petrovich is not the kind of guy that we would choose to be our tailor. He drinks all the time, argues with his wife, can't seem to thread a needle, and on top of all that, he's angry. Not a good recipe. Akaky hopes that Petrovich could just patch his coat a bit for only a couple of rubles, but no such luck. The coat is so old that it's literally falling apart. Petrovich isn't going near it. It's time for a new coat, but Akaky doesn't have the money. A new coat would cost 150 rubles, and that's just the basic model. When Akaky leaves Petrovich, he's in a daze. He doesn't even notice that trash is dumped on his head and he gets covered in soot. By the time he gets home Akaky calms down and thinks of a plan. He'll go back to Petrovich on Sunday, when he's still a little drunk and sleepy. That should work. Fast forward to Sunday, and Akaky is back at Petrovich's shop. Unfortunately, Akaky is very unlucky, and as soon as he mentions the overcoat, Petrovich snaps out of his hangover. He's not budging. Akaky has to get a new coat, no if's, and's, or but's. Like we said before, Akaky's problem is that he has no money. Even though it's still pretty expensive for him, Akaky manages to negotiate Petrovich down to 80 rubles. He already had 40 rubles saved up, so Akaky just lives a very simple and very cold life until he can get the other 40. Next, something out of the ordinary happens. Akaky decides to get the coat made, and even though he's kind of anxious, he looks forward to it. So much so that he makes a mistake in his work for the first time ever. This is the guy who even copies papers in his spare time.
Then when it's time for Akaky's raise, he hits the jackpot. Instead of 40 rubles, he gets 60! Looks like it's coat o'clock for Akaky, no more frigid walks home in the cold Russian winter. They go to the store, get the best materials they can afford, and Petrovich works for two weeks making the coat. When it's done, he goes to Akaky and presents it to him like it's the royal jewels. It's the best day of Akaky's life. But then he gets to work. Everyone hears the news and starts complimenting him. At first he likes all the attention, but pretty soon it all becomes too much. He even starts saying that it's not a new coat at all, but to no avail. By the end of the day he's forced into going to a party to elebrate his new coat. The guy throwing the party for Akaky's coat lives in the nice part of St. Petersburg, somewhere really far away from Akaky's house. So to get there, he has to walk forever across the dark, frozen city. As he gets closer to the nice neighborhood, he sees all of these beautiful clothes and advertisements that he has never seen before in his life. When he finally gets to this guy's house the party is already raging. Akaky acts just like you'd expect someone who's never been to a party to act: crazy awkward. Like a cow on a crutch. Even though the party is showing no signs of stopping, once midnight rolls around Akaky decides it's his bedtime and leaves without telling anyone.
Akaky's still got a skip in his step on his long walk home until he arrives at his neighborhood. The sketchy neighborhood. As you probably guessed, he gets mugged in the street and his coat is stolen. He even faints. When he regains consciousness, Akaky screams bloody murder. He goes to the night watchman, but he's no help. He says to talk to the captain in the morning. Akaky goes home a mess. His hair is in disarray and he's covered in snow…definitely not a good look. When the landlady sees him, she's shocked. After he tells her what happened to him, she suggests that he go straight to the superintendent, because the captain probably won't do anything to help. So, that's exactly what poor, coatless Akaky does, but not without difficulty. At first, the superintendent's clerks don't let him in. They only cave when he threatens to report them, but even then, when he talks to the superintendent it seems like he's the one being questioned instead of being helped. All this makes Akaky pretty depressed. He doesn't even go to work, which is a pretty big deal knowing how much he loves his job. When he goes in the next day, he wears his old sloppy coat, and while lots of people feel bad for him, others still make fun of him and no one really helps. One guy tells him that he has to go speak to "a certain prominent personage." We don't know who this prominent personage is, or what he does, but Akaky decides to go see him anyway. This seems like a horrible idea for a couple of reasons: 1) this mystery man seems to be obsessed with making himself seem prominent, 2) he only makes himself seem prominent by being strict and mean, and 3) he is even stricter and meaner to low-ranking people like Akaky. This isn't going to be pretty. By the time that Akaky finally gets to talk to this certain "prominent personage," the dude is really in the mood to show off how mean he can be. It must be hard being so prominent. By just coming to his office, Akaky has somehow insulted him. He yells at Akaky, who stands silently and doesn't even know what to say. This guy continues to lay into Akaky so hard that our sad, coatless hero faints yet again. By the time Akaky wakes up, he has no idea what's going on. He walks home in the terrible St. Petersburg winter without a coat and ends up developing quinsy, an infection of the throat that swells until you can't breathe.
The prognosis is not good. He'll be dead in less than two days. After developing the infection, Akaky turns into a different man. He's delusional and raves in his sleep about the overcoat. He even curses, which he's never done in his life. Then, he finally dies. Akaky doesn't leave anything behind. The guys at his work don't even know he's dead until they ask why he hasn't come in lately. Once they learn of Akaky's fate, they promptly replace him with someone else.
Gotcha. If you know anything about Russian literature, you'd probably think the story would end on this depressing note, but it keeps going. Suddenly, there's a rumor around town that a ghost has started appearing at night and stealing people's coats right off their backs. The police try to catch him, but (duh) he's a ghost. Then there's that "prominent personage," the guy who yelled at Akaky and made him faint. After everything that happened, he starts to feel bad about what he did to Akaky. By the time he tries to help him, however, Akaky is already dead. Talk about too little too late. To take his mind off of how horribly he treated a cold, sad, and now deceased man, the prominent personage goes to a party and then pays a visit to a certain lady friend. The sort of visit that you might call adultery, but, hey, who are we to judge. Everything's going great until suddenly, the personage feels something around his collar. It's Akaky, and he wants the dude's coat.
Akaky grabs the coat, and the prominent personage escapes in his carriage as fast as he can, we magine with his tail tucked between his legs. It's not every day you get jumped by a ghost, after all. Instead of going to see his lady friend, he goes straight home and is so freaked out that he won't tell anyone what happened. A curious thing happens after this event, however: the personage starts to act less like a jerk. More importantly, the ghost is gone. We guess the personage's coat fit Akaky perfectly. Even after Akaky's reign of terror ends, people keep seeing ghosts. But they definitely aren't Akaky, since they are too tall, too huge, and too mustachioed. Who was it? Maybe we'll never know.