The Overcoat (Gogol)

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Summary of the Short Story
from the Collection « Petersburg Stories»
Microsummary: Poor bureaucrat barely saved up for a new overcoat, but it was stolen the same evening. The official died from cold and longing for the most precious thing he had, and his ghost began to take the overcoats from passersby.

The division of the retelling into chapters is conditional.

Akaki Akakievich Bashmachkin

Akakiy Akakievich Bashmachkin served in one department.

Akaki Akakievich Bashmachkin — a poor official in his fifties, short, gingerish, reddish, blind man with a bald forehead, wrinkled cheeks and a gray face, shy, quiet, harmless.

His late mother could not find a suitable name in the calendar and named her son after his father.

Bashmachkin was a perpetual titular counselor.

No matter how many times the directors were changed... he was seen... the same official for letters; so that later it was assured that he... was born that way, already quite ready, in a vismundi and with a baldness on his head.

All the coworkers made fun of Bashmachkin: they made up jokes about him and his seventy-year-old landlady, they poured papers on his head. When jokes began to disturb his work, Bashmachkin would say: "Leave me alone, why do you hurt me? There was something so pathetic in these words that one young man, hearing them, turned away from his fellow jokers. More than once afterwards he "shuddered... seeing how much inhumanity there is in a man, how much fierce rudeness is hidden in a refined, educated secularism."

Bashmachkin served with love. He rewrote papers, and it brought him joy. Once his boss gave him a more difficult job: to rewrite a document with minor changes, but Bashmachkin got scared of the unusual work and refused and stayed on as a scribe forever.

Bashmachkin did not think about appearance or clothes, he did not look around on the street and hardly noticed anything around him. When he came home, he would eat his dinner, not feeling the taste of the food, and sit down to copy again. He never went to parties or to the theater, and at night, having written enough, he went to bed, smiling at the thought of tomorrow and his favorite work.

Bashmachkin decides to sew a new overcoat

Bashmachkin would have lived his life till his old age if he had not found out at fifty that his overcoat was worn out on his back and did not keep him warm at all. This overcoat was very old, its collar was almost entirely patched, and everybody in the department mocked it, calling it a "hood" (coat).

Bashmachkin took the overcoat to Petrovich, who was in charge of mending officials' clothes, hoping that he would somehow mend it.

Petrovich — Tailor, former serf, drunkard, used to be called Grigory.

Petrovich, sober and angry, examined the overcoat and sniffed from the snuffbox, on which was a picture of a general with a paper face taped, in place of a hole. He thought it over and declared that the overcoat could not be repaired: the old rotten cloth would tear no matter how much you sew it up. And a new overcoat would cost too much for Bashmachkin, who was poorly paid. A week later Bashmachkin tried again to persuade the drunken and better-looking Petrovich to repair his overcoat, but he refused again and promised to sew a new one.

Bashmachkin realized that he could not do without a new overcoat. Knowing that Petrovich liked to exaggerate, he estimated that the new coat would cost about twice as much as the amount the tailor had told him. Half of this money Bashmachkin already had, he managed to save, saving a pittance from each ruble he spent. To raise the other half, he gave up his evening tea and candles, and gave his laundry away less often.

Incarnation of Bashmachkin's dream

In six months Bashmachkin got used to starving in the evenings, and his life was filled with meaning, as if "some pleasant friend of life had agreed to walk the road of life with him." The friend for Bashmachkin was a new overcoat, which he thought about day and night.

Having dared to realize his dream, Bashmachkin became more lively and hardened in character. A fire burned in his eyes and he had daring thoughts: why not make the collar of an overcoat of marten? Every month he discussed with Petrovich the cut of his future overcoat, the quality and color of the cloth, and visited the shops to assess the price.

The necessary sum was collected thanks to the director, who credited Bashmachkin with a large annual bonus. Bashmachkin and Petrovich went to the shops and bought magnificent cloth, and instead of a marten - the best cat, which from a distance resembled a marten. Then Petrovich sewed a fine, warm overcoat. Bashmachkin went at once to work in it, and Petrovitch, proud of his skill, followed Bashmachkin for a long time and admired the overcoat.

Everyone in the department knew at once that "the overcoat no longer existed." The coworkers started congratulating Bashmachkin so cordially that he even felt ashamed of himself. At last they offered to "sprinkle" the new car.

Bashmachkin loses his overcoat

Bashmachkin had no money for the party, so one of the chiefs invited everyone to his house, deciding to combine "the splashing" with his own name-day party. Bashmachkin could not refuse.

He was very glad later on, though, when he recollected that he would have an occasion to walk in his new overcoat even in the evening.

In the evening Bashmachkin went to the chief, who lived in a rich area of St. Petersburg. There he was fed and drunk with champagne, which kept him very late and he went home at twelve o'clock at night.

It was fun to walk through the well-lit streets of the affluent neighborhood. The tipsy Bashmachkin became so bold that he even ran after a lady "whose every part of her body was full of unusual movement. But soon poor, badly lighted and deserted streets with wooden fences started up, and his cheerfulness diminished greatly.

The street led Bashmachkin to a vast and empty square - only at the other end of it could be seen a booth with a lonely booth-keeper. He was walking across the square with his eyes squinched shut with fear when suddenly some men stopped him, took off his overcoat, and kicked him.

Bashmachkin fell into a snowdrift, unable to cry out in fear. When he had recovered a little, he got to the warder, who could do nothing but advise him to go to the quartermaster. At home, the disheveled Bashmachkin was met by his landlady, who advised him to go to a private bailiff.

"Significant Person"

The next day Bashmachkin skipped work, went to a private bailiff, and got him to see him. The private bailiff began to inquire where Akaky Bashmachkin had come back so late, whether it was from a brothel, and he paid no attention at all to the identity of the robbers. Whether the case would go through, poor Bashmachkin never knew.

He went to work "in his old hood, which had become even more pitiable. Some people laughed, others decided to collect money for Bashmachkin, but the sum came out quite paltry. One of his coworkers advised him to appeal to a "significant person" who could speed up the capture of the robbers.

Significant Person — a man recently appointed to a high position, outwardly important and rude, but deep down not bad and not stupid, capable of sympathy, married, has three children, his name is not mentioned in the story.

The Significant Person used to be not so significant, but he has recently been appointed to the position of general.

...there is always a circle of people for whom the insignificant in the eyes of others is already significant.

He was a good man at heart, but the rank of general threw him off. He tried his best to increase his importance, and as a result, he became very rude to the lower ranks.

Bashmachkin went to see the important man, but he was talking to an old acquaintance who had recently come to Petersburg. On seeing the aged man in an old uniform, the important person decided to show his severity in front of his acquaintance. He wouldn't listen to Bashmachkin and yelled at him so much, that the poor official nearly lost his senses. The watchmen carried the emotionless Bashmachkin out, and the significant person was very pleased with the effect produced.

Bashmachkin dies and becomes a ghost

The unfortunate Bashmachkin was walking home, feeling neither arms nor legs. A blizzard broke out, and he got a bad blow. He lay down and soon died. Before he died, in the heat and delirium, he turned to a significant person, "profanely blasphemed" and longed for his lost overcoat, which for a moment revived his poor life.

And St. Petersburg was left without Akaky Akakievich, as if he had never been there. Gone and hidden was a creature unprotected by anyone, dear to no one, of no interest to anyone...

The department learned of Bashmachkin's death four days after the funeral. The next day a new official was already sitting in his place.

Then the story suddenly had a "fantastic ending". There was a rumor in St. Petersburg, that on the place where Akaky Akakievich was robbed, a dead official was tearing people's overcoats off, without looking at their ranks and ranks. One of the department officials saw the dead man and recognized him as Bashmachkin. The police could not catch the dead man.

A significant face, not devoid of compassion, was troubled by the thought of poor Bashmachkin. A week later it was reported to him that Bashmachkin was dead. Wishing to amuse himself and drown out the reproaches of his conscience, Significant Man went to a party, and then to his mistress. On the way, the dead Bashmachkin tore off his overcoat and claimed that it was compensation for the damage done to him by the significant other.

This incident so frightened the great man that he became less rude to his subordinates and listened to his petitioners more attentively. And the general's overcoat, apparently, fit the dead man, because since then he was no longer met on the streets of St. Petersburg. Only one night a bureaucrat from Kolomna saw a ghost, but it was taller, with a huge mustache and fists, which "you will not find even with the living.

The retelling is based on edition of the story from the Collected Works of Gogol in 30 volumes (M.: USSR Academy of Sciences Press, 1938).