Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Overcoat II” is an updated version of Nikolai Gogol’s 1842 classic “Shinel” (“The Overcoat”). Parody is a favorite genre for T. Coraghessan Boyle, with such stories as “I Dated Jane Austen” and “Rupert Beersley and the Beggar Master of Sivani-Hoota,” a Sherlock Holmes spoof, and his 1981 novel Water Music, a send-up of travel books and Victorian novels.

Boyle uses Gogol’s story primarily as a means of satirizing contemporary Soviet life, as he does in “Ike and Nina,” in which President Eisenhower and the wife of Premier Khrushchev have an affair in 1959. Gogol’s Akaky dies from the despair of losing his coat; Boyle’s Akaky dies from losing something even more irreplaceable: his belief in the Soviet system.

Akaky is disgusted by the black-market dealings of his coworkers and neighbors; he is perfectly willing to wait in line for hours for shoddy goods. He is willing because “he knew how vital personal sacrifice was to the Soviet socialist workers’ struggle against the forces of Imperialism and Capitalist Exploitation. He knew, because he’d been told. Every day.” Akaky believes what he reads in Pravda and Izvestia. He even clips and saves articles; one about cheese production in Chelyabinsk proves how much progress his nation has made since his grandmother had to make her own cheese. Boyle’s satiric target is not only the Soviet system but also propaganda in general and...

(The entire section is 448 words.)