Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 292
Akakii Akakiievich Bashmachkin
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Akakii Akakiievich Bashmachkin (ah-KAH-kihy ah-KAH-kihy-eh-vihch bahsh-MAH-hihn), a humble, poorly paid, aging government clerk, short, pockmarked, with reddish balding hair, dim and bleary eyes, and wrinkled cheeks. Possessing a high-sounding government grade of perpetual titular councilor, he is a mere copyist of documents. He loves his work, which he does with neat and painstaking thoroughness, and he even takes some of it home to do at night. Badly needing an overcoat to replace an old one that the tailor refuses to repair, he plans to have a new one made, and for several months he lives in happy anticipation of getting it. When he wears it to the office, he is pleased over the attention it gains him from his fellow clerks; but he is desolated when it is stolen after a party given in his honor. Stammering and frightened by the domineering manner of a Certain Important Personage to whom he applies for help in finding his coat, he stumbles into a snowstorm, becomes ill, and dies in delirium. His ghost, after snatching overcoats from various people, finds the person of consequence wearing a fine overcoat and seizes it. Apparently the garment is a perfect fit, for Akakii never reappears to seize more coats.
Petrovich (peht-ROH-vihch), a one-eyed, pockmarked tailor given to heavy drinking, quoting high prices to his clients, and slyly watching to see what effects he has achieved.
A Certain Important Personage
A Certain Important Personage, a bureaucrat recently promoted to a position of consequence. With his equals he is pleasant, gentlemanly, and obliging, but with those below him he is reticent, rude, and very conscious of his superiority. Strict and a stickler for form, he tyrannizes his subordinates. The ghost of Bashmachkin steals his overcoat.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 714
See Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin.
Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin
Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, the impoverished clerk and protagonist of the story, is one of the first appearances in modern literature of the "little man''—the poor, meek soul overwhelmed by dehumanizing forces in an increasingly technological and bureaucratized society. In introducing him, the story's narrator describes him as ‘‘a clerk of whom it cannot be said that he was very remarkable.''
Akaky is a short, balding man with a bad complexion whose world seems to be defined by the tedious and solitary job of copying the various trivial documents he is given by his superiors. He has performed this work for uncounted years in an unspecified governmental department in St. Petersburg, even taking it home to complete at night. The prospect of a promotion that might give him the simplest editorial responsibility fills him with such fear that he once told a superior, ‘‘No, I'd rather copy something.'' A passive person, Akaky usually responds to the constant teasing of his co-workers by silently carrying on with his work and pretending that nothing is happening.
When he finds himself thrust into the center of attention after buying himself a new winter coat, the self-effacing clerk actually begins to feel a sense of pride. His newfound ability to assert himself is intensified after the coat is stolen: in trying to report the crime and seek restitution, as the narrator comments, "Akaky Akakievich for the first time in his life tried to show the strength of his character.’’ In the end, however, this test of character overwhelms him, and his personality disintegrates. Akaky becomes incoherent and dies more or less as a result of a ‘‘severe reprimand’’ that he receives from the General. The final image we have of him is that of a walking corpse, for in death he finally obtains some of the justice that eluded him in life.
See Person of Consequence.
See Person of Consequence.
Though not directly involved in the events of the story, the narrator is a very strong—and controversial—presence. The ambiguous picture of the narrator that emerges through his many digressions poses some of the most important interpretive dilemmas in the story: How closely should the narrator be identified with Gogol? What is the narrator's attitude toward the other characters in the story?
The narrator's point of view could be described as omniscient or authorial because it is privy to more information than any other character in the story and has access to the characters' innermost thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, there are moments when the narrator's awareness seems limited. He (or she) seems to rely on rumor, for example, in reporting the exploits of Akaky's corpse. The narrator's frequent use of awkward, pompous-sounding phrases like ‘‘as it were’’ and ‘‘so to speak’’— that also characterize the language used by the bureaucrats in the story, including "The Person of Consequence’’ and Akaky himself—suggests that the story is being told by just another office drone like them. In some passages, such as the lengthy aside on the origin of Akaky Akakievich's name, the voice of the narrator sounds as mocking and sarcastic as those of Akaky's cruel office mates. In other passages, the narrator is more sympathetic, as in the description of Akaky's plea to be left alone by his co-workers.
Person of Consequence
"The Person of Consequence'' is a petty official Akaky consults for help in retrieving his stolen overcoat. In introducing him, the narrator paints him as the epitome of all that is pretentious and inconsequential in the strictly hierarchical bureaucracy of Russia's government. Though his authority is only a few levels higher than Akaky's, this man is so intimidating to Akaky that his ‘‘severe reprimand’’—a tirade about the importance of going through appropriate bureaucratic channels—leads to Akaky's fainting, falling ill, and eventually dying.
"The Person of Consequence'' reappears in the final part of the story as he is confronted by and loses his own overcoat to Akaky's avenging corpse. On his way to visit a mistress at the time, the official rushes home to his wife and children vowing to practice better morals, and from then on, he treats his underlings with a little more kindness.