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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, an anonymous clerk in the Soviet bureaucracy, lives for his work, has no outside interests, has no time for anything but waiting in endless queues for items that may not even be available when his turn finally comes. Even though he shares a four-room apartment with fourteen others, the only dissatisfaction he finds with his life is the cheap, tattered overcoat that does nothing to protect him from Moscow’s below-zero weather. Akaky bought the coat only because a Central Department Store clerk ridiculed the quality of Soviet-made products and tried to sell him a black-market overcoat in an alley.

Akaky takes his problem to Petrovich, a tailor, who assures him that the coat is beyond repair and offers to make him an overcoat “like they wear in Paris” for 550 rubles, nearly three months’ salary. Akaky’s younger coworkers, who wear black-market blue jeans and leather flight jackets with fur collars, make fun of his appearance and drape his pathetic coat over the life-sized statue of Lenin in their office. Akaky loses his temper for the first time during his twenty-five years there and tries to stir them with an oration about comradeship, only to be greeted by a “rude noise.”

Akaky is upset because he sees himself as “a good man, true to the ideals of the Revolution, a generous man, inoffensive, meek: why did they have to make him their whipping boy?” Old Studniuk, one of those living in his apartment, tells him that he is foolish for continuing to believe in the Party, that he must wheel and deal on the black market to get everything he can because there “ain’t no comrade commissioner going to come round and give it to you.” Studniuk explains that Akaky’s fellow clerks despise him because, in his sad overcoat, he acts as if he considers himself a saint.

Because Akaky has, for twenty-two years, sent half of his meager salary to his invalid mother in the Urals, he has to exhaust his savings and sell his television set to pay Petrovich, but the beautiful camel’s hair overcoat with a fox collar is worth it. Akaky is overwhelmed by its beauty and warmth, thinking that it makes him look like a member of the Politburo or the manager of the National Hotel.

His coworkers are equally impressed but suspicious. Rodion Ivanovich Mishkin, Akaky’s lunchtime chess partner, says, “so you’ve finally...

(The entire section is 610 words.)