Akaky’s overcoat also comes to represent a companion, or a close friend. What evidence is there that the overcoat assumes this symbolic meaning even before Akaky acquires it? What detail in...

  1. Akaky’s overcoat also comes to represent a companion, or a close friend. What evidence is there that the overcoat assumes this symbolic meaning even before Akaky acquires it?

  2. What detail in the story indicates that the overcoat also symbolizes a new identity and a new outlook on the world?

  3. (a) After Akaky has died, what does the overcoat come to represent?

    (b) What details in the story support this interpretation?

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teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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1)Akaky’s overcoat also comes to represent a companion, or a close friend. What evidence is there that the overcoat assumes this symbolic meaning even before Akaky acquires it?

Having noticed how worn and thin his overcoat had become, Akaky takes his coat to Petrovich, the tailor. The tailor refuses to repair it as it is too worn out to make a difference. Although Akaky begs him to reconsider, Petrovich is adamant that Akaky really needs a new coat. Akaky soon comes up with ways he can save up the eighty rubles he needs for the new overcoat. Although he finds the new fiscal restrictions hard, he comes to derive a new sense of purpose in his mission:

He even got used to going hungry in the evenings, but then he was able to feed himself spiritually, carrying within him the external idea of the overcoat-to-be. It was as if his existence had become fuller, as if he had married and another human being were there with him, as if he were no longer alone on life's road but walking by the side of a delightful companion.

So, the overcoat has come to symbolize a new companion to Akaky: the act of saving for his overcoat banishes the usual 'vacillation and indecision' so characteristic of his quiet nature. The making of the overcoat suffuses his life with purpose; he will make sure Petrovich has his input every step of the way. He helps the tailor choose the right materials; the intensity of his obsession is obvious. It is almost as if he is clothing a new bride, or furnishing a new friend with the best gift possible.

2)What detail in the story indicates that the overcoat also symbolizes a new identity and a new outlook on the world?

The day he wears his coat, Akaky is full of good spirits. He is excited to be invited to a birthday party by one of the clerks because this will allow him to wear the new overcoat. He arrives home in the happiest frame of mind; the writer tells us that Akaky 'felt as if it were a holiday.' It is obvious that he feels like a new man in the overcoat.

3)(a) After Akaky has died, what does the overcoat come to represent? (b) What details in the story support this interpretation?

After Akaky's death, rumors spread that a ghost was pulling coats off people's backs. Many presumed that it was Akaky's ghost. Eventually, the important personage who very rudely declined to help Akaky restore his stolen overcoat, is accosted by Akaky's ghost. The ghost tells him:

"I've caught you at last. I've got you by the collar now! It's the coat I need. You did nothing about mine and hollered at me to boot. Now I'll take yours!"

This incident completely changes the important personage: he becomes less insensitive, less rude, and less authoritarian towards his subordinates and lesser ranked citizens. The author tells us that the ghost is never seen again after this incident. However, others swear that the ghost still haunts other parts of the city. Interestingly, this ghost is now a 'much taller one and wore an enormous mustache.' What's more, the ghost has a huge fist, 'much larger than any you'll find among the living.' The overcoat comes to symbolize justice for the downtrodden, and especially for Akaky, who, for most of his life had been ignored and sidelined. It is as if Akaky walks taller in his afterlife because he has received the justice he was so unfairly denied when he was alive.

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