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The Overcoat: The Role of the Concluding Section

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Life of an everyman is a theme of special interest, which Gogol explores throughout his works. Unlike many other writers who are interested in creating an outstanding dramatic character, he believed that the essence of human existence can be best exposed by the example of “small people”. Gogol’s novelette The Overcoat illustrates the author’s vision of an ordinary man’s life, marked by isolation and hardships. Controversial ending of the tale involving supernatural elements reveals the character’s unfulfilled potential to live a full and colorful life.

It is quite obvious that the overcoat is a central symbol of the whole story, which becomes even more striking in its final section. The events after the death of Akaky Akakyevich are quite controversial as they add a completely different intonation to the previous story. In fact, the rumors of a ghost hunting for coats sound much like a type of an urban legend, which typically includes a scary but funny element: “Arrangements were made by the police to catch the corpse, alive or dead, at any cost, and punish him as an example to others in the most severe manner” (Gogol, a year of publication). The absurdity of the situation and the seriousness with which the public takes the rumor creates a magic realism type of tale. At the same time, appearance of Akaky is quite ironic because the ghost seems to have a brighter life than the person it stands for. It would be too plain to believe that the author includes the final supernatural part just to tell a ghost story. On the contrary, he tries to disguise his main message in the final pages causing debates of interpretation. The major focus of the author’s allegory is on the nature of transformation. This alteration is two-fold: firstly, there is a metamorphosis of Akaky, and secondly, there is an obvious change of the environment in which he used to lie. Speaking about the character’s transformation into a ghost, it reveals Gogol’s idea that it is impossible for Akaky to change in his usual way of living since he is poor, isolated, laughed at and very uncertain about his place in the Universe. The overcoat symbolizes his dream that fails to come true. Indeed, the dream to live a different life is very close, but it lasts only for one evening. The coat gives him what he lacks: he is finally accepted by other people. However, the loss of the coat is quite natural as it demonstrates the impossibility of Akaky to fit in with the desired way of life. In this sense, being a ghost is ironically the only opportunity to have enough power to live a different life and lay claim to the joys of this world.

Consequently, the author demonstrates a potential transformation of his protagonist, which is so unrealistic that can be achieved only by means of the supernatural. Yet, not so much Akaky but the environment changes after his death. While he obtains more power, other people lose it. Thus, the Person of Consequence loses his manner to humiliate other people and becomes more cautious. In fact, the ghost’s activity is a way to restore balance and justice in the Universe. It is also possible to argue that the ghost exists only in the mind of certain people as a reflection of their feelings, regrets and pangs of conscience. So the author demonstrates that whenever a person commits a wrong action, a creature will eventually appear in his soul that will remind them about the situation. It is remarkable that the Person of Consequence becomes regretful before he actually meets the ghost. This change confirms the idea that it is a product of his imagination: “Suffering was unpleasant to him, for his heart was accessible to many good impulses, in spite of the fact that his rank often prevented his showing his true self. As soon as his friend had left his cabinet, he began to think abbout poor Akakiy Akakievitch.” (Gogol, a year of publication). Thus, his remorse lasts for several days and intensifies when he is informed about Akakiy’s death.  The more he thinks about the situation, the more intense his feelings get, and finally he needs some sacrifice to restore peace of mind. As a result, he pays his dues when he meets the ghost and leaves his coat, so the balance is restored.  

Thus, the final section of the story is crucial because it demonstrates transformation. When alive, Akaky lives a small life of poverty and routine tasks. When he dares to have a cherished wish and make it come true, he dies because he cannot cope with this dream in reality. He is so small and humiliated that the author does not see any truthful opportunity for him to change as a character in the scope of his usual life. Therefore, introducing him after his death as a ghost is Gogol’s way to demonstrate an alternative reality where the character is changed. This reality is absurd enough to make a new Akaky look natural. He is fearless and can demand everything from life and other people. He addresses the very important person in a straightforward and harsh way: "Ah, here you are at last! I have you, that -- by the collar! I need your cloak; you took no trouble about mine, but reprimanded me; so now give up your own."(Gogol, a year of publication).  It is necessary for him to show the reader the final episode through a way of the character’s transformation.  

To conclude, it is worth saying that the ending section of the story can have several interpretations. It is used by the author to introduce a different kind of reality and to address to the supernatural as a means of transformation. At the same time, the ghost that is mentioned by the author should not be taken literally as it is implied that he is a part of people’s imagination caused by remorse.

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