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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Review: The Overcoat

My freshman year of college I lived on a very beautiful, but spread out campus. During the winter I would haul myself out of bed at an insane hour but I wouldn’t really wake up until the brisk subzero air hit my face and then I’d shiver and curse my luck at living in Minnesota during the long walk to class.

I was reminded of that experience when Gogol describes the walk to work in Russian climes in his short story The Overcoat:

“There exists in St. Petersburg a powerful foe…. This foe is no other than the Northern cold, although it is said to be very healthy. At nine o'clock in the morning, at the very hour when the streets are filled with men bound for the various official departments, it begins to bestow such powerful and piercing nips on all noses impartially that the poor officials really do not know what to do with them.”

Akakiy Akakievitch is one of those people who seems to go around in life with a giant “kick me” sign on his back. He is always bullied by his coworkers at the office, and he has to make do with a cloak that is so worn it can hardly be called a cloak anymore.

Things finally start looking up for him when he scrapes up enough money to buy a new cloak, but sadly after that it is all downhill for him from there. Through a bit of a supernatural turn, Akakiv Akakievitch does receive justice for the misdeeds against him.

Although my description makes the story sound very grim, the narrator keeps the tone light and humorous. We feel sympathetic for the poor Akakievitch even as we chuckle a bit behind his back at the description of his very boring life.

For me, the fact that Akakievitch did receive a small measure of justice at the end made up for reading about all of the depressing things that happened to him.


Giulia said...

Gotta hand it to the Russians to write those "light, yet grim with a dash of humor" stories.

Bold Blue Adventure said...

G-no kidding. Lets kill off the main character but make it kinda funny. Russians.