In the "The Overcoat," at what point does he cease to be "human" and at what point does his wretched existence cease to be life as we know it?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shortly after being appointed to a government job in which he copies documents, Akaky Akakievich becomes dehumanized.  

No respect was shown him in the department. The porter not only did not rise from his seat when he passed, but never even glanced at him, any more than if a fly had flown through the reception-room. His superiors treated him in a coolly despotic fashion.

Those who work with Akakievich shred paper and pour it over him as though it were snow. Furthermore, they torment him to the point that he begs them to stop: "Leave me alone! Why do you insult me?" Also, Akaky Akakievich is ridiculed for his threadbare "cape," as it is called by his co-workers.

Akaky Akakievich is also dehumanized by his job because his sole task is to copy documents. This simple position of copying is of his own choice, however. An official has offered him a position in which he would change the heading and a few words, along with rewriting documents in the third person if they are in the first person. However, a frustrated Akakievich begs to return to just copying documents. 

Akakievich is dehumanized further by his impoverished life in which he is ridiculed for his threadbare coat that others call a mere "cape." He goes to a tailor to have it repaired, but he is told that the old coat is far too threadbare to be repaired.  Although he has some money saved, Akakievich must undergo deprivation to be able to afford a new coat. Because of the sacrifices he undergoes to obtain this garment, as well as his invitation to a party in celebration of it, Akaky Akakievich places great significance upon his coat. Therefore, after the party when he is robbed of his coat, Akakyevich is gravely disturbed. When his appeals to officials to find the thieves goes unheeded, Akakievich eventually falls ill and dies.

It is at this point that poor Akakievich ceases to exist as a human being.

And St. Petersburg was left without Akaky Akakievich, as though he had never lived there. A being disappeared who was protected by none, dear to none, interesting to none.... 

However, his ghost is rumored to have appeared throughout St. Petersburg. Sightings in 

...the form of a tchinovnik [government worker] seeking a stolen cloak, and...under the pretext of it being the stolen cloak, he dragged, without regard to rank or calling, every one's cloak from his shoulders.

jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The simple answer to your question is that Akeky Akekyavich becomes something other than human at the end of the story, when the author describes his actions after his death.

A rumour suddenly spread through St. Petersburg that a dead man had taken to appearing on the Kalinkin Bridge and its vicinity at night...seeking a stolen cloak, and that, under the pretext of its being the stolen cloak, he dragged, without regard to rank or calling, every one’s cloak from his shoulders...

The deeper answer is that Akeky Akekyavich is dehumanized right from the beginning of the story.  He is ridiculed by his colleagues, his job consists of meaningless drudgery, and when he atttempts to recover his stolen coat, he is ignored and abused by government officials.

The only time that his life seems to take on any meaning is during the months that he is saving money to pay for his overcoat. 

his existence seemed to become, in some way, fuller, as if he were married, or as if some other man lived in him, as if, in fact, he were not alone, and some pleasant friend had consented to travel along life’s path with him, the friend being no other than the cloak.

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The Overcoat

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