What are examples of hyperbole and grotesquerie in “The Overcoat”?

“The Overcoat” contains many examples of hyperbole, including the narrator's description of public service branches and workers, the story of Akaky Akakievich's name, and the idea of imitation of superiors. Grotesque details include the appearances of Akaky and Petrovitch and Akaky's manifestations as a ghost.

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Nikolai Gogol's short story “The Overcoat” begins with a fine example of hyperbole (deliberate exaggeration for the sake of emphasis). The narrator forcefully asserts that

there is nothing more irritable than departments, regiments, courts of justice, and in a word, every branch of public service.

This is, of course, an exaggeration. There are certainly more irritating things in the world than public service (although it is likely irritating enough to many people), and not every department, regiment, court, or sector is equally irritating. Yet the narrator wants to emphasize this annoying characteristic in a way that stands out, so he chooses hyperbole.

That hyperbole continues in the very next line:

Each individual attached to them [branches of public service] nowadays thinks all society insulted in his person.

Again, this statement is clearly not literally true, but it does emphasize the self-importance some bureaucrats manifest as representatives of society and their sensitivity toward insult.

A little later in the story, the narrator tells how Akaky Akakievich got his name and declares that “it was a case of necessity.” It was not actually such, of course. His mother could have given him any name she chose, yet the narrator uses hyperbole to express what seemed to be the only proper alternative at the time.

Still later in the story, the narrator notes that in Russia,

all is contaminated with the love of imitation; every man imitates and copies his superior.

Again, this is not literally true, but it does represent a strong trend, and the hyperbole lends emphasis.

The narrator also includes some details that appear quite grotesque. Akaky Akakievich's neck, for instance, emerges out of his collar like “the necks of those plaster cats which wag their heads.” This gives us a rather appalling mental image of Akaky as a bobblehead of some sort. Further, this man had a tendency to wear all kinds of rubbish on his hat because he was always walking under windows just as someone was throwing out the trash. Poor Akaky even pays so little attention to his supper that he also ingests whatever happens to be flying around at the time right along with his beef and onions.

Further grotesque details appear in the description of the tailor Petrovitch with his one eye, pock-marked face, and deformed thumb nail, which is “thick and strong as a turtle's shell.” The story ends on a rather grotesque note as well. After Akaky Akakievich dies, people begin to report a ghost appearing on Kalinkin Bridge at night. This ghost pulls the cloaks off the shoulders of passers-by, causing much terror to all but especially to a particular “prominent personage” who had once failed to help Akaky retrieve his own stolen cloak.

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