How do you interpret the ending of "The Overcoat"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The final paragraph of this story, in which the ghost who has been stealing the overcoats of people is confronted by a watchmen, seems to be deliberately ambiguous. On the one hand, it could be viewed as the ghost of poor Akaky, who is now haunting the unjust society that allows the victimisation and bullying of the poor and weak by the strong and mighty. However, what is interesting about this final paragraph is the way that the ghost is described:

But the apparition was much too tall, wore huge moustaches, and, directing its steps apparently towards the Obukhoff bridge, disappeared in the darkness of the night.

The fact that the apparition "wore huge moustaches," which was a symbol of the people who took the overcoat from Akaky in the first place, suggests that this apparition was not actually Akaky at all, but that the apparition somehow symbolises the forces of injustice and inhumanity that robbed Akaky of his life. However, what is significant is that this apparition is not just preying on the weak and defenceless, but on everybody, including the Very Important Person that Akaky went to see in order to plead his case. The ending could therefore suggest that inhumanity towards man, if tolerated by any society, leaves everybody open to similar inhumanity and poor treatment. The ending to this wonderful short story is however something of a mystery as it is shrouded in ambiguity, with the reader being left to determine their own meaning. 

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