What does the overcoat represent in Gogol's short story, "The Overcoat"?
The overcoat in Gogol's "The Overcoat" represents the human condition that society offers him Akakiy Akakievitch as he suffers from the lack of compassion and a parallel lack of warm overcoat. In a complex construction of ideas, Akakiy Akakievitch struggles to find both compassion and a new overcoat. When he does achieve half his struggle and has the new coat in his possession, his society shows that achieving compassion is an even more difficult struggle.
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 young officials laughed at and made fun of him ....
His overcoat is callously taken from him; the "district chief," and the "prominent personage," have no time or effort to offer Akakiy so he might try to get his coat back.
The watchman replied that he had seen two men stop him in the middle of the square, but supposed that they were friends of his; and that, instead of scolding vainly, he had better go to the police on the morrow .... “What, what, what!” said the important personage. “Where did you get such courage? Where did you get such ideas?"
In the final analysis, in more specific terms, the overcoat represents Akakiy Akakievitch's basic human needs--for a coat and compassion--and simultaneously the various mechanisms by which human needs are not met.
The Overcoat, in my interpretation of the short story, represents change in social status, protection, oppression, safety or lack of, warmth and acceptance and in the end Karma.
I found it interesting how they thought so little of him based on his appearance in spite of the fact that he was meticulous and smart.
It was only when he got a new coat that he was shown a little respect but even in that act there was a level of disrespect shown by the stepping on of his new coat.
In the end he was always viewed as an outsider because he was poor and homely.
The story was set in a different time but I find the acts reflective on how society views human beings even today and with the use of the internet its becoming more obvious that the more things change the more things stay the same.
This man actually could live without his coat, it was the disrespect, and humiliation that in the end killed him.