Home » F. Scott Fitzgerald » What Does Gogol Teach The Overcoat Research Paper

What Does Gogol Teach The Overcoat Research Paper

Popularity and status are the core of all pieces of literature today. It is the focus of books, TV shows (Downton Abbey), movies (Mean Girls), and plays (Wicked). From when we are little, we are shown that one of the most worthy stories is the story of the unpopular underdog become the popular, rich, beautiful person that they always knew they would be. This is NOT the truth. As we grow, we learn that oftentimes popularity and status changes people because they become focused on staying popular and retaining their high status.

In The Portrait and The Overcoat, Nikolai Gogol taught me that the moral corruption that permeates through many levels of society comes from the search and the working to retain that popularity and status. Gogol teaches this idea through the use of very human characters who often fall into the temptation of being a part of high society and popularity which leads to their corruption.

In The Portrait, we are introduced to Chartkov; a character who plays directly on the archetype of the starving artist but also showcases the moral corruption that occurs when a person is tempted by the allure of popularity and high status. Chartkov is the young starving artist who is talented and wants fame for his art but he is also attracted very much to being part of high society. Chartkov buys a portrait of an Asian man, whom we later learn is a very nefarious moneylender whose clients all end up as completely different people and even dead once they borrow money from him.

While at the start of the story, we see Chartkov completely taken upon with art; he completely leaves behind any thought of art when he sees the prospect of becoming rich, “The packets came unwrapped, gold gleamed, was wrapped up again, and he sat staring fixedly and mindlessly into the empty air, unable to treat himself away from such a subject- like a child sitting with dessert in front of him, his mouth watering, while others eat,” (352).

In that passage, we see the allure that the money, and the alleged popularity and status that comes with money, completely takes over the mind of Chartkov. Everything else no longer seems to matter. This is where we begin to see his corruption as a person and as a character. It is a completely different Chartkov from the one who we see only scene before who states, when asked about what to when he no longer has money to pay rent and the landlord is coming to collect tomorrow, “‘Let them,’ Chartkov said with sad indifference.

And a dreary state of mind came over him completely,” (345). In that quotation, Chartkov accepted his fate as being one where he is perpetually stuck in the life of a starving artist and has resigned himself to having to live that life of not being popular and never having enough money and struggling to continue to survive and continue his art but only a few pages later, we see how Chartkov no longer thinks of art or the things he needs to buy with art, he only thinks of money and the things that money will bring along with it.

Chartkov eventually receives lots of money from the moneylender through the portrait that he had bought and once he has gains the supposed popularity and high status that came along with that money, he stopped being an artist. Chartkov became more focused on retaining his status as an artist who also was a man of high class, a man who appeared rich, who had the same focuses as rich people, and a man who looked down upon those who were not as rich. This is shown when Chartkov states, No, I do not understand,’ he would say, ‘why others strain so much, sitting and toiling their work.

The man who potters for several months over a painting is, in my opinion, a laborer, not an artist. I don’t believe there is any talent in him. A genius created boldy, quickly. Here,’ he wold say, usually turning to his visitors ‘this portrait I pained in two days, this little head in one day, this in a few hours, this in a little more than an hour. No, … I confess, I do not recognize art as somethings assembled line by line. That is craft, not art. (366) This Chartkov is very different. This Chartkov is speaking to rich people, he wants them to marvel at him and see him as their kind of painter.

The fashionable, amazing artist that relates to them and yet is special because he is the artist who will draw their paintings and make them look like gods and goddesses, to make them appear to be of a different kind of human. This Chartkov is a morally corrupt Chartkov. He no longer cares about how he was once one of those men hunched over for hours, he only cares about looking good for the rich people; he only cares about being the popular artist that they will come to; he, seemingly, only cares about being a part of their life; he only cares about the money that comes with that life.

The Overcoat is a story about Akaky Akakevich who is a character with autistic characteristics and who doesn’t seem worthy of having a story written about him. Gogol created Akaky Akakevich as a character who is devoted to his work as a clerk who copies letters and other written works. In this story, Akaky is the character who receives the brunt of the abuse that is created when a person needs to show their superior status and their level of perceived popularity.

In The Overcoat, Akaky does not have many friends and is often taunted and pestered by the other clerks whom he works with but Akaky wants to be friends and be a part of the group that these clerks make up: And long afterwards, in moments of the greatest merriment, there would rise before him the figure of the little clear with the balding brow, uttering his penetrating words: “Let me be. Why do you offend me? ”- and in these penetrating words rang other words: “I am your brother. ” And the poor young man would bury his face in his hands, and may a time in his life he shuddered to see how much inhumanity there is in man how much savage oarseness is concealed in refined, cultivated manners, and God! even in a man the world regards as noble and honorable. (396/397) In this passage, we see Akaky Akaievich’s want to be a part of the group and his want to gain the status that those other members have. He wants the other clerks to see him as a clerk. This passage also shows how this quest to be a part of the group, which is part of the allure of popularity and status- being a part of the elite group in the eyes of the viewer, corrupts one and those in the group.

The other clerks feel the need to show the distinction between themselves and Akaky and to do so, they hurt Akaky because they need to show that they are of a higher status than of him. This is one example where Akaky is abused because the other clerks feel the need to show that they are of a higher status and are part of their group of friends that he is not included in. In The Overcoat, Akaky buys a new overcoat which changes how other perceive him. Before, Akaky owned a very used and old overcoat that was called a housecoat by the other clerks as one of the ways that they taunted him.

When Akaky takes this new overcoat with him to work for the very first time, there is a very distinct difference in the way that the other clerks treat him since they finally deem him a part of the group, because Akaky finally seems to fit the social role that is needed for him to be a part of their group of clerks, “Everyone immediately ran out to the porter’s lodge to look at Akaky Akaievich’s new overcoat. They began to congratulate him, to cheer him, so that at first he only smiled, but then even became embrarased.

And when everyone accosted him and began saying that they should drink to the new overcoat, and that he should at least throw a party for them all,” (409). The clerks in that passage are the same clerks that before had only ever taunted and pestered Akaky for being different from them but they accept Akaky because he finally appears like one of them, showing how these characters only care about whom they surround themselves and are superficial because they only care about how they appear to others and that they all appear to be of a higher class when they appear to others.

Akaky’s new overcoat meant everything to him and it was stolen from him. To quickly resolve this problem, because Akaky does not want to lose his newfound popularity and status, he goes to an unnamed certain important person who does not care about Akaky at all. This unnamed certain important person only cares about he appears to others:

And the important preson, pleased that the effect had even surpassed his expectations, and thoroughly delighted by the thought that his word could even make man faint, gave his friend a sidelong glance to find out how he had taken it all, and saw, not without satisfaction, that his own friend was in a most uncertain state and was even, for his own part, beginning to feel frightened himself. (418)

This passage shows how little the unnamed certain important person cared about Akaky’s overcoat and how he only acted in such a manner over Akaky’s predicament because he wished to display his status in front of his friend so that his friend knew how powerful and important he was. This character is a prime example of the corruption in character that occurs when a person is taken in by the allure of popularity and status and how it causes a person to become someone that they are not because the person wants people to perceive that they are of higher status and more popular than the other.

These beliefs eventually led to the death and the haunting of Akaky who takes it upon himself to take revenge on other people and turn Akaky into a completely different character than whom he was when the story began. Akaky’s character showcases the effects of the competition between people to force others to perceive them as a higher status, “The phantom, however, was much taller now, had an enormous mustache, and apparently making it was toward the Obukhov Bridge, vanished completely into the darkness of the night,” (424).

This Akaky is completely different and changed by the effects of popularity and status and the quest to have others perceive oneself as to be popular and of a higher status, very similarly to how Chartkov had been before he had died. Akaky seems to finally be of a high status and seem to take on the appearance of a man who is of high status because he has finally gained through losing everything that mattered to him. Both The Portrait and The Overcoat, are stories that teach of the dangers of popularity and status in a pre-industrial age Russia and teach that these social constructs affect everyone.

As a teenage girl, I am affected by these social constructs everyday. They surround me because they are often the center of the literature I read and in lots of the media that surrounds me the story of the underdog who becomes the rich person is the story that seems to be the one most retold and these characters seem to go unaffected and unchanged when they experience all the abuses that force them to become who they were. In my life, I have experienced the abuse, like Akaky, when it comes to being popular and having a higher status.

In eighth grade, I had two of my greatest friends turn into my bullies because they had the chance to hang out with the popular squad if they made fun of their old friends, myself included, because we did not fit into the popular group’s idea of what is good enough. It broke my heart because I trusted those friends with secrets and they used those secrets against me. It corrupted their character, the quest for their popularity because the allure of being a part of the popular group was one so great that they left years of friendship and rust behind without a second thought. Recently, they have tried to even rebuild a relationship with me but I cannot trust them and I have to tell them no. I also feel that the story of the The Overcoat applies very much to life here at HB. While many of us pride ourselves on the fact that we do not judge each other harshly, it is a fact that we are a group of girls obbssed with labels and name brands and grades.

I will admit that I rank my friends on the fact that I know that some of them are not as smart as I am and that somehow makes me feel more powerful and sometimes I feel that I use that as a way to one-up those friends because it is rewarding to be able to wield something that is so close to our hearts as a way to help oneself. At HB, we all compare ourselves to each other, or what we perceive of each other. I know many people who have stopped being close because someone lied about their grade on a paper because they felt it was necessary so that nobody thought of them as stupid.

This forces us to change who we are, and the best things of ourself, so that others perceive us as being of a high status. I know that this past Christmas I used my Christmas money to buy myself two pairs of Athleta leggings to wear on dress down days because some of the girls in my mentor group were talking badly about girls who were trying to copy their style and using cheaper types of clothing and trying to pass it off as some expensive brand.

I did not want to be one of the people that they were talking about so I bit the bullet and spend over one hundred dollars on two pairs of leggings, which seems insane even to myself. This is only one of many cases where the allure of popularity and status cause us to change ourself. I am not one to spend that much money on clothes and yet I changed myself because I wanted to conform so that those girls would accept me of being their equal. This problem of people corrupting their character to be perceived of being of a high status and being popular is a problem that continues to permeate our society today.

It is a problem that I see at HB and it is a problem that I see in other places. Nikolai Gogol commented on this materialistic, superficial allure that permeated throughout his society as a way to force people to view this corruption occurring in front of their own eyes. The Overcoat and The Portrait were two stories that forced me to look around and see this corruption occurring all around me and stop looking at the world through such a rose-tinted perspective.

We oftentimes like to trick ourselves into believing that popularity and status do not matter that much in our society; it is true that they do not hold as much importance as they did before, but these social constructs continue to dominate and corrupt us as people. I hope that The Overcoat and The Portrait opened the eyes of other girls so that we, as a community as whole, can make the decision to stop putting so much importance on these social constructs and to stop adjusting our characters so that other perceive us as being “high class”.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.