What are examples of hyperbole in "The Overcoat"?

In story "The Overcoat," Nikolai Gogol uses hyperbole to infuse humor in an otherwise sad story by taking the Marxist concept of commodity fetishism to a new level, where a simple overcoat suddenly takes over every aspect of the life of a simple man, even extending such influence to the realms of the supernatural after his death.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As one of the major influences in the Russian natural school of literary realism, Nikolai Gogol uses literary techniques, particularly metaphor and simile, to convey direct, defiant, cut-throat, and detailed descriptions of daily "stamps" of life in Russia. He also uses irony or sarcasm to infuse humor whole accentuating details that instill in the reader feelings of lighthearted humor, anger, frustration, and awe.

It is through most of his similes and metaphors, and especially in the use of the grotesque as a method of description, that we encounter hyperbole, or exaggeration in Gogol's "The Overcoat."

The grotesque exaggeration of the significance of the overcoat is particularly evident in the psychological mechanism that transformed a simple overcoat into a very hot commodity that, in turn, transforms Akaky's entire persona from the inside out.

That a simple coat would represent so much in the life of a person is already an exaggeration; however, the way this particular overcoat affects and influences every aspect of Akaky's existence all the way to the realms of the supernatural is hyperbolic enough as a theme.

This motif, however, is a reflection of Karl Marx's theory of commodity fetishism, which is rife in The Overcoat as both hyperbole, irony, and humor. An example of this can be found in the following quote by Akaky, which clearly shows an exaggerated view of things, particularly of what this overcoat represents in his life:

This world has its own laws, its own proportions. The new overcoat, according to the laws of his world turns out to be a grandiose event.

The overcoat is no longer an object that protects him and keeps him warm; now, the overcoat takes an enigmatic quality where much more than just convenience and aesthetics are at centerstage.

The ridiculous importance given to the overcoat is a hyperbole itself, used to represent the idea of commodity fetishism. In his essay on "The Overcoat," Sachnowski supports this argument, adding that the meaning given to the overcoat is grotesque, since it an insignificant, material object suddenly takes over the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual virtues of Akaky:

Akaky’s old "dressing jacket" justifies the appeal of a "new" overcoat; the idea of the new overcoat reflects on Akaky's grotesque suffering to save for it; the physical form of the new overcoat grotesquely transforms Akaky's social significance; and the absence of the overcoat signifies Akaky's grotesque bathos.

Gogol's masterful use of exaggeration (hyperbole) is evident in the way he treats the concept of commodity fetishism in the story. His main motif is an overcoat, but the degrees of importance and significance of such an everyday item show hyperbole in different, and equally important, degrees.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team